Amanda Jane Jones of Kinfolk: on Minimalism, Motherhood and Making a Home
Amanda Jane Jones, be still our design-devoted hearts.
You likely know Amanda from her work with Kinfolk, where as the founding art director, her minimalist and sharp approach to layout changed the game of modern magazines. Or perhaps you recognize her kind smile and cute kids from Instagram, where she’s gained a sizeable flock of followers.
Or maybe you’ll get to know her for the first time here. You’ll soon love her as much as we do, we know it.
So how did Amanda go from a little girl in Kansas City to a quiet and kind powerhouse in the design world, with an impressive client list, two adorable toddlers, a supportive husband, a beautiful home in Chicago and a humble heart and attitude?
We asked. She told.
It all started with a missed audition. As a student at Brigham Young University, where Amanda intended to focus on Jazz Studies, she went to the wrong audition – oops! – so, as a fingers-crossed backup plan, she applied to the design program.
She got in. Miracle, Amanda thought, as at the time they only took 12 students into the program each year.
“I’ve always felt like my missed audition was serendipitous,” Amanda says.
Quickly after falling in love with design, she fell in love again, with her now-husband Cree. While interning in New York City at Mucca Design, Cree took the train from Philadelphia to take Amanda on their first date. That was it.
“He was pretty charming. I left the most embarrassing voice message on my mom’s phone, which she then played for him on his first visit home.”
Amanda and Cree were married a year later, and then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Cree earned a joint degree in Public Policy and Law. There Amanda worked at a local firm full-time and devoted nights and weekends to design work. Two years later she quit her 9-to-5 to give freelance a go. Good timing, as that very week she quit, Nathan Williams of Kinfolk approached her to start a magazine with him.
From there, everything moved fast. Kinfolk flourished. Her design career was kickstarted. Then, in 2013, immediately following the birth of their daughter Jane, Cree and Amanda moved to Chicago. (Immediately as in, immediately. As in, as soon as Amanda was discharged from the hospital in Ann Arbor, they drove – now as a family of three – to Chicago.) Two years later son Miles joined in on the fun.
These days Cree is in the midst of earning a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in economics, while Amanda takes on a myriad of design jobs, and together the two of them are consciously raising two kind kiddos.
“I always say I’m a full-time mom, part-time designer. I have a small home office that is covered in kids’ art supplies and my desk is scribbled all over, but it’s worth it, knowing my kids are nearby.”
We have so much to learn from Amanda. Here, she answers our questions about the beginning days of Kinfolk, what we don’t see in her Instagram posts, motherhood in these trying times and that dreaded “b” word: balance.
You’re most known for your work as the founding art director of Kinfolk, which changed the landscape of so many things: the revival of the thick quarterly magazine, a slow living lifestyle and quiet, minimalist design. What was it like to be there from Day 1 and see it grow into a cultural movement?
It was a pretty amazing ride. Nathan had a great vision and I was excited and honored to be a part of the founding team. We strived so hard to make Kinfolk seem less like the magazines of our time and more classic in layout, like a book. It was new and unique and I think the simplicity really spoke to many. In school, my professors would always say that my work was too minimal, but I’m glad I’ve always stuck with my gut.
The magazine has changed so much over time and is now owned by someone else, but I’ll always be grateful for the experience and momentum and attention it brought to my work and minimal design style.
“In school my professors would always say that my work was too minimal, but I’m glad I’ve always stuck with my gut.”
Now that you’re freelance, what do you spend your days working on? A little project here, a big project there? Any projects you can share with us?
I love freelancing. Every day is different. For example, today I’m working on packaging for a coffee shop, branding for an artist, text for a new print of Pride and Prejudice and an exciting new collaboration with a woodworking company that I can’t share yet, but I’m dying to. With freelance, I get to work when I work, wherever I need to. It’s allowed our little family to travel the world and ultimately spend more time together.
We also have a couple new Gathre play mats launching soon, just in time for the holidays and I’m so excited for those! Also, a new dress collab with Wren and James is launching soon. The photos turned out so dreamy. I can’t wait to share those as well!
We’d recognize your work on any newsstand, on any corner of the Internet. It’s sleek, but cheeky. It’s smart, but not too serious. How would you describe your own work, and is your design aesthetic generally a reflection of your personality?
That’s so kind of you to say. Thank you! I love things to look classic and modern at the same time, if that makes any sense. I want it to look timeless but also current and smart. I don’t know that it’s a reflection of my personality; I’m quite socially awkward and not very eloquent, so maybe it’s more of how I’d like my personality to be. I’m not sure. That’s a deeper question that I think I can wrap my head around. I design what I like.
We won’t mention the “b” word – balance – but we imagine getting any work done with two toddlers at home is a challenge. How do you set boundaries of when you work, when you play and when you sleep?
My husband is a huge part of this. In the beginning, I’d get up at 4:00 a.m. to work before my daughter would wake up and then work during naptime. That wasn’t sustainable and now with two it’s impossible, so Cree and I have worked out a system where we each work 20 hours a week. It actually makes us both more productive. Our time is limited so when it’s our work hours, we try to be super focused. It also gives us both plenty of quality time with our kids, which we love. They are only going to be little once, so we feel lucky we get to structure our time like we do and spend so much time with our kids. I expect when he graduates it won’t be the same story.
As for boundaries, I make sure my clients know that I only work 20 hours a week and I don’t do rush jobs. I give myself ample time to complete projects which takes away a lot of the stress that comes with quick jobs. I definitely lose out on cool projects because of this, but I’d much rather have that time with my family than a new job. That’s why I worked such crazy stupid long hours in my 20s: so I could work less in my 30s.
You’ve been freelance for a few years now, so you’ve learned the ins and outs of setting limits, airtight contracts, and the ever-present hustle. What are your top three pieces of advice for someone going freelance? And what have you learned the hard way – a “Don’t do what I did!”
Oh my gosh. I’ve learned so much. One of the first biggest mistakes I learned my first year of freelancing was to set aside taxes in a separate account if you can so you for sure have enough.
Secondly, a good contract is worth so much. Make sure you cover all the possible mishaps – rush fee, kill fee, late fee, timelines. Be as specific as you can so there is no grey area in expectations.
Third, value your work! When I started out, I did work for free (Kinfolk started out as free!) and it ended up amazing. And other times I worked for free, it was a disaster. You’ve just got to use your gut. Will this project also be beneficial to me? Will this be good for my portfolio? And in that same vein, if it’s a start-up that claims they can’t pay, write a contract that ensures you get paid later.
Your daughter Jane is four and your son Miles just turned two, and they are cute and precocious as could possibly be. Tell us about them.
Oh man, I could go on and on. I never dreamt I’d have so much fun with my kids. Jane loves to work on “pwojects.” She is always working on something. It’s the only time she sits still. If she’s not working on a project, she’s singing, dancing, jumping… always moving. She is so compassionate. She’s always making sure everyone is okay. I still remember morning sickness with Miles. I’d be bent over the toilet, throwing up and I’d feel her little two-year-old hand patting the back of my neck. She’s just always been like that.
Miles is a happy little goofball. He is always growling or telling some intense story that is barely decipherable. He is such a sturdy guy, always has been. He’s not as active as Jane and it cracks me up. Jane was climbing out of her crib by 18 months; Miles is two and still wants me to carry him down the front stoop. He is cautious and cuddly and content. He’ll sit on my lap and read books until I’m so tired my eyes can’t see straight. He comes up to me often during the day and says, “Mama hold you.” He just needs to be held and rocked and I adore that about him. He is also a little ornery. He knows just how to push his sissy’s buttons and then gives a sideways smile afterward.
What do Monday mornings look like in your house?
Miles wakes up first and we bring him into bed to cuddle and read books. Then sissy follows shortly after and we talk about our week – work schedule, school schedule. Jane is a planner like her mom and needs to know what’s going on. Then breakfast and off to school!
….And what about Sunday nights?
Sunday nights are usually pretty low key. If we’re lucky Cree and I can trade off napping while Miles naps, and then we usually go for a family walk or bike ride to the lakeshore and then come home for a movie with apple slices and popcorn.
The world is a little, well, you know, rocky these days. What are you most adamant about instilling into a growing little girl? And a growing little boy? And how do you do your best to do that?
I’ve been thinking about this so much lately, and I don’t have the perfect solution, but we’re trying. We have what we call “Family Home Evening” every Monday night. We all get together and have a little lesson – usually about being kind or being honest. And then we play a family game or make a treat. It seems so small, but my parents did the same for me and I remember those family nights and I remember the lessons they taught and they have stuck with me. I hope it’s the same for my children as well.
Our family also volunteers and serves quite a bit in our community and we always include them in that. It’s obviously not always easiest to bring them with us, but we feel like it’s important for them to see us helping others and taking care of our neighborhood.
We keep a stash of dollar bills and extra snacks on hand when we go out to pass out when there are people in need on the street. I forgot some a couple weeks ago and Jane was so distraught about it, she gave a man her half-empty bag of fruit snacks. He was so kind about it (which I was grateful for), but I was impressed with her desire to care for her fellow man. It’s so hard to teach your children and to know what you’re teaching them is right and lasting. I know there are a million ways I can do and be better, but I keep telling myself, “I’m trying my best and doing the best I know how.” My mom used to say that too.
For better or worse, what traits of Jane and Miles do you see and say, “Oh, that’s totally me!” or “Oh, that’s totally Cree!”
Ha! This is kind of embarrassing, but the very minute we get home, Jane wants to strip down and put on jammies. I’m very into getting cozy, and I’m afraid she’s inherited that from me.
Jane is also determined and not deterred by failure. She falls or messes up and just tries again. She likes to practice things. Sometimes I hear her whisper under her breath “try again” and it breaks my heart. That is very much like her dad.
Miles is happy and content – a trait he most certainly gets from his dad. Cree is a Steady Eddy. There isn’t much that can shake him and I see that in Miles, even though he is two. Miles is also very cuddly. He needs to be loved and craves human touch.
“I grew up having a home that was a safe haven – messes and crumbs and all – and I hope that’s what I can create for my kids as well.”
Sometimes, at the end of the day, hair didn’t get brushed and crumbs are crushed into the carpet and you don’t remember the last time you ate sitting down. But on those days, when everything seems to have gone wrong, what can you say, “Well, at least I got _____ right…” about?
This happens all the time. This is really embarrassing, but yesterday Jane came home from school and said, “Mom, you forgot to put on my underwear.” She only had tights on! Ha! I was so embarrassed. They were thick tights so you couldn’t tell, but still!
I read something recently that said something like people won’t remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Which I think for children is especially true. I just want them to feel safe and happy and loved at home with their dad and me. I grew up having a home that was a safe haven – messes and crumbs and all – and I hope that’s what I can create for my kids as well.
As an art director, I imagine it’s important for you to encourage creativity with your children, whether through art projects, imaginative time or otherwise. How do you do that, and how did your mother do that for you?
My mother had a closet full of fabric, paper, art supplies that she said we could use whenever we wanted. I’ve tried to create the same for the kids. We have a little desk in Jane’s room with a mini-cupboard with drawers. Each drawer has pencils, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, string, tape, beads – all sorts of supplies for all sorts of projects. It does get really messy really fast, but I’ve found they are entertained longer when their toys and supplies are within their reach.
How has becoming a mother changed how you work with clients?
I’m definitely more compassionate. Everyone is someone’s baby! Having kids has most definitely made me want to uplift more and be kinder.
It’s also made me really evaluate my time. We are very purposeful about our work time and also our playtime. I think it’s important to work hard, but I also think it’s important for kids to see you playing with them and enjoying life. So I guess making more time for quality time, slowing down. Cuddling your kids in the afternoon and doing the dishes later – those kinds of things.
Let’s talk about your style. It’s minimalist, neutral, easy breezy. Has this always been your style, or how did you come into it?
I think generally, yes. I was very into vintage clothing in high school and college. I wore dresses all the time. I still wear vintage, but not as often and my day-to-day style is much more casual and comfortable. I really like wearing unique pieces; I think that’s what first drew me to vintage. It was usually, by the time I found it, one-of-a-kind.
How does your clothing style fit your lifestyle? Any particular brands or designers you’re loving right now?
I’m the biggest ace&jig fangirl. I want everything they make. They are great because they don’t really need to be ironed and I can dress them up and down, so I can wear it to preschool pickup and also on date night. I also love Coclico shoes. They are comfortable, but also beautiful. Everlane is a favorite day-to-day brand. Their cuts are spot on and the styles are easy to maintain. Right now I need easy fabrics – cottons, knits, denims – things that can be thrown in the wash. I have a beautiful silk dress that I love to wear, but it gets something on it every time I wear it. (Thanks, Miles!)
You recently moved into a new home in Chicago, and it is gorgeous, full of white walls and classic furniture. How would you describe your decor style?
It’s evolved to be pretty minimal. I want our home to feel peaceful and calm, which can be tricky with two toddlers. Because I work from home though, this is important to me. We use a lot of woods and neutral tones. I get tired of decor quickly, so I like to keep the basics simple – rugs, couches, chairs, etc. We just got a couch and rug from Article that we love and then we accent with colors that can be switched out easily.
What don’t we see from your picture-perfect Instagrams – piles of laundry, unhung artwork, spilt Cheerios?
Yup! Totally piles of laundry. Miles wakes up first and so he doesn’t wake up sissy, we let him have a bag of Cheerios in our bed… there are always Cheerios in our bed!
Jane’s room is usually pretty messy, especially that art desk, and so is my makeup “window ledge” in the bathroom. We don’t have any drawers so I use a vintage box that never really gets organized and is always overflowing.
We try to pick up at the end of each day, but then it just starts again the next. A never-ending cycle! That’s why we try to stay so organized with all of our boxes and bins. It’s easier to keep it clean when everything has a place.
You’ve seemed to have made traveling – even with two young kids! – a priority for your family, having recently been to Iceland, Venice, Geneva, Paris and around the States. Traveling coincides with tolerance, patience, wonder, and somuchmore. Why is travel important to you? And where to next?
We love, love, love to travel. When I was young, my family and I moved to Indonesia. It introduced me to new cultures, making new friends, as well as difficult topics like poverty and sickness. I felt like having that early introduction to cultures other than my own was an important part of developing compassion as a child and so we’re trying to give our children similar experiences. With the move, we’re just excited to be settled for now and plan on staying close to home this year, but I’m sure the travel bug will bite again soon and then who knows!
Say you have a Saturday off to spend with your family. How late do you stay in bed, where do you adventure, what makes you laugh the hardest?
With kids, we don’t stay in bed very long! Probably ‘til 7:00. We love to go out for breakfast and take family bike rides. We also love to visit photobooths. The kids are getting really good at it! And we love family movie nights.
My kids make me laugh so many times a day. I remember one time Cree and I were having a disagreement and Miles said something funny (can’t remember what) but it made us both burst out laughing and immediately forget why we were disagreeing. They just make life better and always bring a smile to our faces. Even when they are grumpy they are cute.
Look around your office. What are you currently…
Listening to? The Amelie soundtrack
Having a hard time finishing? Cleaning off the big pile in the corner of my desk. I hate piles!
Snacking on? Pistachios
Tripping over? Ha! I should take a photo. I see a toy elephant, a sheep, Jane’s sweater from yesterday, Jane’s sweater from today, my six-foot-long iPhone charger cord (such a good investment!), the Halloween costumes are still out (the kids were Girl Scout Cookies) and the diaper bag with all of its contents spread out across the floor.
Browsing for inspiration? The new Schoolhouse Electric catalogue.
Tell us your of-the-moment favorite…
Part of your new place: Our front room
Instagram account to follow: Hannah Carpenter, Present & Correct
Street in Chicago: It’s not a street, but a trail! The Lakefront Trail.
Band to see live: We just saw Fleet Foxes for the third time. I was either smiling or crying all night long.
Children’s clothing designer: Mabo, babaà, wolfechild, Soor Ploom, Zuzii.
Place to find recipes: My friend @myndidfood. Everything she recommends is good.
Thing your children say: Miles says, “no fanks!” He also puts his hands on my cheeks and says, “Hi Mama.” Jane says, “Guess what? I love you” and “I hate criss-cross applesauce.”
What are you most looking forward to – this holiday season, in 2018 or beyond?
We are starting a service advent calendar! I’m so excited about it. We are going to have small acts of service and learning opportunities for the kids on each day for the month of December. I’m just starting it now, so hopefully, I can get it done in a meaningful, non-stressful way.
Images 1 – 12 by Stoffer Photography Interiors, image 13 courtesy of Amanda Jane Jones.
Megan McCarty is a writer, editor, etc.-er who has written about life, love and – shh, don’t tell her mother – s-e-x for Garance Doré, Apartment 34, Rue and more. While based in Minneapolis, she’s always ready, willing and oh-so-eager to pack a bag, board a plane and wander new streets.