Sitting in the living room of her new Pikesville, Md., home, author and blogger Jill Smokler glances out the floor-to-ceiling windows at her lush backyard — her personal oasis, complete with a patio, hammock and pool — the part of the home she fell in love with first.
"I had just come from this retreat in Mexico where I spent so much time in a pool and vowed that I had to find some way to be around the water more regularly, and then I saw this pool," she said. "I didn’t even need to see the house. I just wanted to live there."
The windows were also convincing, making the room that she sits in now feel open and light, something Smokler said she needed after "a long, darkish period."
What seems to be a picture-perfect home didn’t come easy for Smokler. It was the culminating new chapter in the life of the best-selling author who, in 2008, begot the popular “Scary Mommy” blog — which she has since sold — about the highs and woes of parenting. She has has written several books, including Confessions of a Scary Mommy and Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies).
After her divorce from her husband, who disclosed in 2017 that he was gay, Smokler wanted a fresh start. She put what she once believed was her forever home on the market.
“I wanted to find a house that was the polar opposite of anything I ever lived in before, and this was pretty much it,” Smokler said of her one-level mid-century pad.
The 3,800-square-foot house symbolizes the next stage of her life, in which she hopes to continue some of the candidness she’s known for, but this time as a single, dating mother of tweens and a teen. She hopes to start a podcast, but with her children now on social media, “it’s a little more complicated than when they were toddlers," she said, "where I could write little stories and they’d never know.”
Smokler bought the mid-century home in November 2017. Renovations began shortly afterward and took about eight months, which was especially grueling because Smokler and her children — Evan, 11; Ben, 13 and Lily, 15 — had moved in.
The home looked like something straight out of an 1980s film, covered in floral wallpaper that coordinated with toilet seat covers, bedding and pillows. “It was really, really ugly,” Smokler said. “Until I really dove in, I don’t think I understood the scale of what I had to do.”
She designed the renovations herself; contractors did the grunt work. There was the stripping of window treatments, curtains, valances and mahogany wood floors, which she had lightened. The home’s entire electrical system had to be redone. A major load-bearing wall had to be knocked down so Smokler could open up the kitchen the way she envisioned, and bathrooms, each with pastel toilet bowls, had to be renovated.
The family was without a kitchen for four months — which meant many nights of pizza, sandwiches and Kraft Easy Mac.
“In retrospect, I would not recommend gutting a house while living in it, especially with three kids,” she said.
The result, however, was a huge payoff. Her new spacious home has four bedrooms, an office, a kids lounge area, a den and four bathrooms — decorated with a mix of decor purchased from consignment shops, HomeGoods, and Target.
The children’s game room and living space is primed for fun, with a vintage “Indiana Jones” pinball machine, baskets filled with Nerf guns and comfy seating, including a large L-shaped couch. Their individual rooms are tailored to their tastes — Smokler’s room is the most colorful, with a hot-pink wall. Ben’s room, though a random assortment of books and toys, features skateboard bedding. Evan has a dinosaur theme, and Lily, a theme of grays and pinks with marbled wallpaper.
The office, a neat space with a dark-blue wall, features artwork and homages to Smokler’s past life, with a “Scary Mommy” pinboard and photos of friends and celebrities, including Queen Latifah.
A hallway, which leads to the den and bedrooms, is filled with artwork of airplanes that Smokler’s father had in his room as a child. The den features new carpet, a leather couch, and mahogany woods.
The living room, with its light hardwood floors, is Smokler’s favorite room. A gray backdrop comes alive with splashes of color from artwork and a corner bar stocked with pretty liquor bottles she picked out for aesthetics alone. A clear spherical chair hangs suspended from the ceiling. It’s reminiscent of Anthropologie, the apparel, furniture and accessories store where Smokler once worked in visual merchandising.
The decorating process is much different as a single woman, she noted.