An industrious young family of four proves that builder’s beige doesn’t have to mean boring

Photography by Philip Pietri

In their four years of marriage, Joseph and Taylor Irby have moved four times and welcomed two beautiful children into the world. Their most recent relocation led them to a fairly standard three-bedroom apartment in the large apartment community, Victoria Manor, in North Lakeland. However, what they’ve done with their dwelling is anything but standard. Personally, when I walk into a newish apartment with beige carpet, beige walls, and anything but distinctive architectural features, I fall into a morose state and stay there, uninspired and with no idea what to do or where to begin. (My first apartment in Columbia, Maryland, would prove my point. So, so boring.) But where many of us see only limitations, Taylor sees options.
The Lakelander: Joseph is from a large family in Arkansas. You’re a down-home Southern gal from Charleston, South Carolina.
did you meet?

Taylor Irby: Joseph and I met in Charleston through a mutual friend. He moved to Charleston to attend the Citadel Military College while I was attending Charleston Southern University. It was at Charleston Southern that I met a dear friend, Irene, who knew Joseph from church. I’ll never forget the day I was sitting on my college roommate’s couch and received Irene’s phone call excitedly asking, “Do you want to come out to Patriot’s Point and go sailing?” In a matter of seconds I was scrambling for my bathing suit and sun hat and heading out the door.
It was on that day that I first met Joseph (even though he argues we met once before) as he showed us our beautiful city from the harbor view. Joseph’s love for sailing always attracted a fun group of friends on the Charleston Harbor, and while he seemed like a fun guy (and very interested in getting to know me), I didn’t know if he was dating material. When he asked me out on a date, I politely declined — maybe too politely, because he continually persisted. I eventually agreed to go out on a date with him where he took me sailing and had a beautiful and well-prepared day trip ready for us. It was then that he shared his passion for traveling and his love for God and family. I saw a new side to him that made me think twice about my assumptions and oblige to a second date. I believe that it was his adventurous demeanor that made me hesitant to accept his initial invitation, but I later learned that this quality is one of the main reasons I adore and admire him so much.
TL: You’ve said that ever since your marriage you’ve led a quasi-nomadic lifestyle, moving about once a year. How did you end up in Lakeland?

We’ve moved quite a bit since we’ve been married. We initially moved from our downtown [Charleston] duplex when we found out that we were expecting our daughter, Inslee, in an effort to be closer to some of my family. About a year later, we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, for Joseph’s work. Eight months later, the company merged, and the acquiring company proposed an opportunity in Florida. The relocation demands were simple: “We need you in Florida.” Knowing that the job would require a lot of travel throughout the state meant Joseph needed to be as centrally located as possible. He pulled out a map and said, “Right here between Orlando and Tampa is a city that seems like it would be perfect.” He was pointing to Lakeland. I went online and researched potential places to live and very quickly became overwhelmed. I found only one apartment complex that seemed like it would be a good fit for our family, and much to Joseph’s liking, it was conveniently located right off of I-4.
The next day, Joseph very enthusiastically announced that he had a distant connection to a family who lived in Lakeland. We both had children the same age and were in our first trimesters with our second child. We connected on Facebook, and I soon learned that we would have wonderful friends in Daniel and Jessica Wilson. As I bombarded her with questions about the city (as I regrettably still do!), she offered to go and check out the apartment complex. She drove over and said that it seemed great. And that was that. As total strangers, she helped our family find a home at Victoria Manor. In a matter of a week or so, Joseph flew back to Charleston and moved our belongings. Shortly thereafter, he came back to Little Rock to drive us to our new home in Lakeland.

Decorating and making our space feel like home is a direct correlation with my spiritual journey to find contentment and joy, no matter the space and no matter the limitations (dollars, time, etc.)

[item title=”DIY”]PAINTING ON GLASS for the PAINTING NOVICE (How I did it, and you can, too!)
DSC_6812STEP 1
Be inspired by a subject that you can’t wait to create. It has to be something you’re really excited about. This enthusiasm gets me through the process when at times it can seem too difficult, or if I’m having a hard time creating what I was envisioning in my mind.
Finding the desired medium. For me it has been finding unique mirrors with interesting frame shapes. Picking out the mirror is almost as important as what I paint on it. The curve of a mirror frame or its color can greatly enhance the painting itself.
Start painting. Since I enjoy using bright colors for the main subjects, I usually paint over the entire surface (leaving some slight streaks untouched) with a neutral color such as white or a light grey. I then choose one color to paint the outline and main features of the main subject (I often use various pictures of inspiration to help guide me through the initial sketch). After you’re pleased with the general shape…
…go crazy with layering colors. This is my favorite part. I feel as if it’s a pure artistic expression where one can play with color combinations and accent the curves and edges of the subject. For me, there’s really no rhyme or reason to this method. I just paint what I’m feeling and watch the sketch come to life in vivid color.
Find a prominent place to display your new masterpiece! [/item]
TL: With all of this moving, and now with two kids in tow, how do you stay inspired to do the fun things, like decorating and making each dwelling place feel like home?
Taylor: I simply can’t help it. It’s probably due to my simple desire to create spaces for my friends and family where they will feel comfortable and relaxed. It’s also an expression of our journey as a family and the way I can tell the story of our life. I love finding decor that represents something significant to my past or has a deeper meaning, such as the magnolia picture which now serves as the centerpiece of our living space. There were magnolia trees completely surrounding Joseph’s home in Charleston, and he would say to me the winter before we got married, “By the time the magnolias bloom, I am going to make you my wife.” The first time I saw the painting it brought back that warm feeling of love and security I got every time he spoke those words, and I knew it would be a beautiful centerpiece for our home.
I truly believe that we are on a journey of becoming better and better as each day comes. I am encountering a new city that holds different experiences, and I’m meeting new people almost every day. I am witnessing firsthand how my life is being transformed, and I know that it is this belief that inspires me to create. Decorating and making our space feel like home is a direct correlation with my spiritual journey to find contentment and joy, no matter the space and no matter the limitations (dollars, time, etc).
TL: Just having small children at home is more than a full-time job. How do you find the time? Do you think beauty intheir environment impacts the kids? Why has this been important for you?

Taylor: We are busy, to say the least. I very quickly learned that there is a time and a season for everything and that throughout these seasons it is impossible to do everything “right” or to the fullest potential as you would if any one project was your sole focus. There have been times where I am particularly drawn to cooking beautiful and somewhat complex meals every night, which my family gets to join in on and experience with me. There have been seasons where I feel my mind is focused more toward sewing or painting or even meticulously organizing a space (which comes in handy with apartment living!).
I feel free in my home to explore these avenues and dedicate my spare time to doing them as well as I possibly can.
Which leads me to “spare time.” This most often means my children’s nap times or after they have gone to bed for the night. I must admit that there are times when I sacrifice spending one-on- one time with my children to pursue hobbies or side jobs. For the most part, I think for our family, this is OK. I think it’s beneficial for my daughter to see that Mommy can paint a picture of her favorite animal in all of her favorite colors, or to see that the scraps of fabric she picked out from the fabric store can become a place where she can rest her head every night and feel like a princess. Anderson is still quite small, but as he gets older I’m eager to see how he becomes involved with our little craft projects around the house.
With all of these fun and creative endeavors come two ever-challenging factors for me: priorities and balance. Priorities such as spending time with my family in the morning, making sure they have a wonderful breakfast while teaching my kids spiritual truths, or laughing at silly things that happened the day before. Balance such as allowing them time to play and explore while I split my attention between their playtime and whatever creative avenue I’m currently pursuing. It’s important to me to strive to maintain a home where my family feels secure and loved so that they can more fully appreciate that our home is a space for all of us to be free to create and grow and even to make more beautiful.
TL: They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That proves true in your home when it comes to the glass paintings hanging throughout your apartment. After exhausting your usual thrift-store haunts in search of the perfect idiosyncratic piece to display on a newly painted wall, you stopped looking for the perfect thing and gave it a go with your own two hands, dusting off some acrylic paints that had been sitting in a closet and settling on a gilded mirror as your medium. The result was splendid, and now you have a whole series of glass paintings stretching throughout your space. What inspired you to paint on mirrors? What attributes do you find to be distinctive to painting on glass versus canvas or another surface?
Taylor: What initially inspired me to paint on the mirror was that it was a framed surface that I already had. I thought it would look substantial and finished if I could somehow translate my ideas to the surface. At first I was hesitant to attempt painting on a mirror because I didn’t want it to look like a DIY project and was afraid the paint wouldn’t conceal the entire surface. What I found is that it indeed was possible to conceal it, but I actually liked the quality of the painting more with leaving small hints of the mirror in view. The reflected light gives the painting a new dimension.
Additionally, in my experience I feel as though it’s easier to edit your work if you’re working on glass (and can even wipe or scrape off any “oops” spots). I also enjoy that, unlike using canvas with acrylics, you’re able to go over a stroke with a different color and can conceal the initial stroke if desired. You’re really able to mold your work throughout the process, and the smooth surface of the glass makes it feel effortless.
I particularly enjoy using a lot of variation in strokes with multiple bright hues. The first time I painted, all I had to work with was an inexpensive craft sponge brush. I found it to be perfect for what I was trying to create and have since used one for every painting. I never wash, clean, or wipe it off throughout the process, which I feel gives it a sense of fluidity as I move from section to section. Mixing all of the bright colors through one sponge creates a variation that I feel, for me, would be more difficult if I were working with one color at a time or with multiple sponges.
TL: You’ve been in Lakeland over a year now. Do you think you just might stay?

Taylor: I think we might! We are making wonderful friends and have come to love that Lakeland has so much to offer families like ours with small children. We’ve enjoyed finding the little gems of the city such as the great “hole in the wall” restaurants, and, of course, all of the great parks and lakes. The Saturday morning farmer’s market downtown has been so much fun for us and is slightly reminiscent of my home in Charleston. We also have found that within Lakeland there are many opportunities for our family to serve others and to help those around us. We love those whose paths have intersected with ours and hope to be here for some time to continue to grow and nurture those relationships.