Athena Pelton’s house in the suburbs of Minneapolis feels how a home should—a place to escape. This fresh and minimalist home exudes a sense of ease, founded in neutrals and accented with fresh pops of color.
After getting her degree, Athena began working in medical sales. She always had a creative bent, but after her first daughter was born she bought a camera and followed her everywhere. This humble gal will tell you she’s just a medical sales manager, but when friends could see how talented she was with a camera, she started getting requests to shoot weddings. After enough pleading, she finally agreed. This was the birth of her photography business, which she hopes to take full-time very soon.
The medical sales manager by day, creative by night (and weekend!) is now enjoying life in this fresh and minimalist suburb home with her husband and daughters. The girls can play outside with the neighborhood kids and mom isn’t far from work.
Read on to find out more about Athena’s decorating process, how she balances work and family, and life in the suburbs.
Name: Athena Pelton
Current job/company: Medical Sales Manager
Education: Marketing and Business
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I was a bartender throughout college, a path that was anything but linear for me. I met a woman at my first serving gig—she connected me to a job at the company I work at now. I dropped out of my junior college to accept a position within the organization and finished my degree while beginning my career and starting a family.
You work in medical sales and are also very creative. How do you balance a job, being a mom, and finding the time for your passions?
I set pretty strict guidlines for myself regarding work. Because I work away from home full-time, I only take a limited number of weddings and other sessions. It’s important for me to ensure I still have time to focus on my day job and spend time with my family, as well as making sure that I’m not overloading myself (which doesn’t do myself or my clients any good).
I keep at least one weekend each month as just mine—no clients, no gigs, no work, no commitments. Usually I go do something adventurous with the husband and my womb-fruits. We like to camp and hike, so my off weekends are largely spent outdoors and disconnected, which helps recharge my batteries (big time!).
I became a photographer about five years ago and for the past year or so it’s been my goal to become a full-time creative. That’s what I’m driving toward, which is a huge motivator to push through and continue to do it all right now. Especially when it gets tough and all I want in life is enough free time to sit on the couch and go into a Netflix coma. It’s incredibly difficult to balance everything. I try really hard to be transparent about that to others so that they know that it’s not impossible. It does take sacrifice, but it is absolutely worth it.
You and your husband built your home last year. Tell us a little bit about that process: What were the fun parts? Ugly or not-so-fun parts? Any advice you have for those who want to build?
The building process was actually wonderful! We hired a large commercial home-builder so our choices were much more limited than if we had hired an architect and custom builder, but it was still enjoyable. We chose all of the finishes for our home (flooring, wall color, cabinets, etc.), which was absolutely a highlight and a lowlight. It would have been nice to have more options for finishes and to be able to change some design aspects.
I really wanted a farmhouse style sink in the kitchen and I’m still sad about it. Advice I have for anyone building is to do research on your builder beyond the build process. How your builder handles warranty issues is a big deal, and a lot of them aren’t so great. So make sure you talk to people who have previously built with the builder you choose.
In a perfect world, what does your career look like? If you want your creative work to take over, what does that process look like for you?
I absolutely plan to become a full-time creative. That process is in effect right now, and will hopefully come to fruition early 2016 (fingers crossed, darlings!). In a perfect world, I’d like to still stick to 15 weddings a year and fill my calendar with boudoir sessions, more commercial and editorial endeavors. I’d also love to team my calligraphy and hand-lettering with more brands and develop a solid portfolio of that type of work.
The process is slower than I’d like given my status as breadwinner (my husband is a stay-at-home dad), and my hustle hours are limited. A girl needs her sleep! So I’m trying to make the most of the hours in the day I do have. I work really hard to build a solid brand, to show my work and let the world know what I’m capable of, and to develop relationships with people who are genuinely interested in seeing me succeed.
I think there is so much power in teaming up with other creatives to help each other—the community over competition concept that is sweeping the interwebs has been written on my bones since I started my business. I don’t want to compete with anyone. I hope we all make it. There’s room for all of us.
What do you think the key to success is in life, family, and work?
Defining it for you. It’s really easy to get caught up in society’s standard for success (money) or the industry’s standard for success (money/travel/adventure/free time) or any number of things you should be able to tick off some invisible list before you call yourself successful. But, pardon my language here, I call bullshit on that. No one gets to write my story for me. I say if I’m successful. I say if I’ve “made it.”
What is your favorite part about the city and neighborhood you live in? How did you choose to settle down there?
We live in the suburb that my husband grew up in. I’m a city girl at heart so it was really difficult for me to come to terms with building a forever house in the suburbs. Now that we’re here and we are settled, I actually quite love it. Our neighborhood is comprised of 30-something ex-pats from the city, like us, who have children and wanted to live in a solid school district and have a real yard.
There’s no way I could have envisioned loving it here as much as I do and if you told me 10 years ago that I’d be happily living in the outer-ring suburbs of Minneapolis, I’d have spit out my Diet Coke and died laughing. But hey, sometimes things change. Often it’s for the better.
How would you describe your style? Tell us a little bit about your approach to decorating.
The sofa was the starting piece. When we selected the floor plan of our home I knew we’d need a sectional. After seeing the price tag on the West Elm one that I still dream about, we opted for the IKEA version and it was then I decided to design around it.
I knew I wanted white walls and dark floors and black and white with spaces of color. I wanted it to look modern and minimalist but still feel kid-friendly and lived in. That was the most important for me. I didn’t want clinical.
How did you decorate with your children in mind?
I didn’t want to set “off limits” spaces for the womb-fruits. We don’t have any ridiculous or abnormal household rules. The girls are old enough to know not to take the plants off the shelf or play with the glass frame by the sofa or touch mom’s cameras. If I had babies or toddlers it would be an entirely different story.
You’ve created a great space on a budget. What tips do you have for people wanting to do the same?
One word: IKEA. That is probably my single largest design tip when people come to my home. I’m smitten with European design and minimalism so for me it was the perfect answer. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Anthropologie and West Elm and Restoration Hardware, but I don’t have the means to fund furniture from high-end retailers.
Much like with fashion, you can gather inspiration from high-end sources and find less expensive alternatives. Also, everything goes on sale sometime. This is my shopping mantra.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
This is two-fold. First, don’t worry about what’s next. Your goals are going to be linear and defined and you’re going to work your ass off—still that path will bend and curve and somersault right back to where you started sometimes. Trust the journey. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
Secondly, don’t worry about what people think of you. No matter what you do, someone out there is going to judge you for it and say you’re doing it wrong. Do it anyway. Life is short. It’s fleeting. It’s going to whiz past you in the blink of an eye and the last thing you want is to be someone who wishes they would have believed in themselves a little bit more. Exhale the bullshit, inhale the good shit. And just keep going.
Athena is The Everygirl…
Perfect weekend in Minneapolis?
Motorbike riding, local beer, tacos and bonfires with friends. If I’m free on a weekend though, chances are you won’t find me in Minneapolis. I’m off the grid under the stars somewhere north. I’m a rugged, motorcycle riding, tattooed Everygirl. We all come from different molds.
How do you start the day?
Bulletproof coffee and The National. Sometimes I do remember to do my sun salutations.
Banff National park with my camera, my family, and my motorbike.
Go-to music while you work?
I love Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist. Lately I’m either listening to that or Bjork.
Nope, I don’t believe in them. I don’t feel bad for any of the things I love. But OK… romantic comedies. Seriously, I love them all. I’m a glutton. It’s bad.
Accent chair, IKEA
Fiddle fig, Bachman’s
Chevron runner, vintage from grandmother
Gallery wall, collected over time
Dining room light fixture, CB2
Dining table decor, West Elm
Craft office, IKEA
Ship painting, Bear Fox Chalk
Cow rug, IKEA
Throw pillows, IKEA, Homegoods, DIY with Echino Fabric
Stairway light, IKEA
Coat rack, thrifted + DIY
Entryway rug, Overstock.com
Kitchen stools, Target
Bedroom furniture (master), IKEA
Bedroom wallpaper, Anthropologie
Bedroom lighting, Target
Girls room furniture, vintage
Lace wall feature, DIY
Calendar, Electric Supply Co.