Home. A small word. Two consonants. Two vowels. Yet this humble word matters. This word counts. It can conjure up a million different images and evoke a thousand different feelings in all of us. Familial abode, physical space, or emotional solace; it connects us to what matters. For Kendra Carlson, who claimed the whole west coast as home growing up, this word has since come to evoke something much more specific. These days, a renovated old house in Lincoln, Neb., is the hub from which Carlson’s world emanates.
An unconventional childhood spent traversing the west coast with her family, living out of a 35- foot trailer, and doing home school with her sisters, made her long for the perceived normalcy of other people’s homes. It was not until she was in junior high that her family settled in the Midwest, and Union became her logical choice for college.
Graduating in 2004 from Union College as a graphic design major, Carlson credits her teachers with providing her with a bigger worldview. It was while at Union that she met and fell in love with her husband, Brian Carlson, while they both were working at Christian Record Services. A Union College alum, he had graduated in 1998 with a public relations degree, and would later earn an education degree in 2006. It was when he began working at College View Academy during their engagement that Carlson realized she would be putting down roots in Lincoln.
“I’ve dreamed of making a home since I was a tiny girl. This dominated my grown-up imaginings more than wedding plans or babies,” she shares. “Whether I was picturing my first apartment or a farmhouse, it was always warm, comfortable, safe and full of love.”
Home has since become an older house bought and lovingly renovated—a dream that both Carlson and her husband shared. Accomplished with not much renovating know-how and four long months of constant hard work except during Sabbath hours, she calls the experience an “adventure with God” that required an initial leap of faith and then moment-to-moment dependence on divine help.
With her husband now the principal at College View Academy, Carlson currently is busy at home writing a blog she started this last summer (havemercyat.blogspot.com), while undertaking occasional graphic design projects and homeschooling their six-year-old twins, Chandler and Cadence. With the family’s living space, her office, andthe children’s school all under the same roof, Carlson has merged her love for design, home fashion and beauty to be both highly functional and deeply personal. She sees their home as a celebration of their story—as a family and as a couple.
“Decor shouldn’t be impersonal,” she said. “I feel as you look around your space, you should be reminded of the best parts of your story by seeing how much you’re loved or how well you’ve loved. I use pages from special books, beach wood from vacation, and a door taken from the house where we first kissed to keep us focused on how rich we are—in a people way.”
Referencing her nomadic childhood, she admits to not being able to attach the feeling of home to a particular house while growing up. Now, more than just the warm and welcoming physical space she has created for her family, Carlson views her home as being an emotional space, “a safe place to grow.” For her own children, she wants a home where kindness is key, where there is a “willingness to be flawed and apologize, [and a] commitment to communicate honestly in a building up way—even when it’s painful,” she says.
Which means that an important guiding principle in the Carlson home is, “valuing and seeing everyone as wonderful, like Jesus does, regardless of the package—whether that be body or behavior,” she shared. “I believe in goodness and beauty—that it’s the light shining through sin that speaks to us of God.”
Her philosophy on beauty is refreshing and illuminating. “I believe beauty is powerful for soul-deep good. It gets a bad rap and is called superficial because of how it’s misused, but I think it echoes at time when everything was perfect and when we see it, it’s like we’ve been here before...”
As a reflection of this, Carlson shares a Navajo prayer she plans to display in her home.
May it be beautiful inside me.
May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful all around me.
I am restored in beauty.
In this prayer we can sense the essence of Carlson’s vision for her home as a place reflective of God’s love: a beautiful, safe and welcoming space. Home.