Joanna is seated on the floor with pillows and babies around her. It is not the norm to have anyone else involved in the interviewing process besides interviewer and interviewee, but here we are in the lovely summertime office with fresh blooms, pastel pillows, tea, macarons, and…babies. The reality of her life is sitting right here with us as we begin. Dressed in a small black skirt and sweet, sleek blouse, she conducts herself confidently and lovingly with her baby, Judah. Her grace and poise is refreshing and inspiring.
E: What is your full name?
J: Joanna Grace Frances Carden. Yep, that’s all of them!
She laughs and I notice the maturity of the sound. It’s not a “giggle,” or an apologetic laughter. Her confidence is feminine and appealing.
E: Is Frances a family name?
J: Yes, Frances is a family name. My mom gave that to me when I was ten because my grandmother and my mom both had Frances in their names. She gave me Grace initially but added Frances later.
E: Tell us about you!
J: Oh, goodness. I’m a mom and a wife.
J: I never really have to talk about myself. I like soccer. I played soccer for most of my life and still do. I did ballet for fifteen years and still wish I did! I love interior design. That’s my biggest passion. I wish I could do it full time or even part time, but that’s not necessarily the easiest thing!
J: There are so many things I like, I can’t seem to just list them!
E: What are your deepest loves?
J: My family. I don’t know what I would do without them or how it would be not being able to be so close them. My family includes Jonathan, my husband, and Judah of course. I love Virginia, meaning the countryside of Virginia! I love the spring. I love watermelon and peaches. I wish I could live somewhere where they’re in season all year round! I love being a wife and a mom. I love the outdoors. I definitely prefer to be outdoors over anything. If anyone wants to go do an outdoor activity, like rock climbing, or something I’m like, “Yes!” I’m all for it and I want to go try new things.
E: Why do you think you have such a “can-do” attitude?
J: I don’t really know, but it might be because I grew up with five brothers. My entertainment was doing whatever they did! You know, I wasn’t going to just play by myself. So I wanted to always be with them and, of course, we were usually outside. This is where we lived and where we grew up!
Joanna's Reveal took place on the property of her childhood home.
E: What was it like growing up in the country?
J:There was just an endless amount of stuff to do. We would build forts in the woods. We would go down to the lower field and play down there. We would play in the creek. We would play sports. We always had something to do. It’s hard since I can’t do that much anymore. I’m not just out in the woods! My life has just changed so much from being a kid. My priorities are not the same, and I kind of miss that.
E: What were your priorities and how have they changed?
J: When you’re a kid, your only priorities are to play and have fun and always find something new to do. Now of course, it’s not as easy to just go out and go hiking or something. I wish I was outside more, especially with him.
E: Aesthetic is very important to you?
J: Yes. Even outside of interior design. It’s in hosting, in how I dress, cooking, everything. It’s not even about what others see my life like. I mean sometimes it is, but I also just enjoy entertaining and making people happy with food and hosting. I love having people over and making them feel comfortable.
E: What does that look like? Cocktails?
J: I do love making cocktails! I just like making new things and making dinner. Decorating our home is so important to me, especially the living room because that’s where we spend most of our time and when people are over that’s where we spend the most time. I want people to want to come to our home and know that they are welcomed. I love when other people’s houses are that way. Of course, it’s about the people, but pretty spaces matter and make you look forward to going to other people’s homes when it’s welcoming and cozy. I probably care about that more than Jonathan (her husband) or most other people, but I definitely appreciate that!
She laughs at herself.
E: Do you think your love for aesthetic was influenced at all by growing up in the country and living with five brothers?
J: It’s funny because my parents have always been the hosts, and my mom always made our home comfortable and welcoming, so that is part of it. But I think maybe because I was a girl with all my brothers, I either learned that from my parents or just learned it on my own. My brothers don’t necessarily love hosting or decorating their houses!
She smiles. Her brothers seem to be a fond subject, one that changes her face to a familiar, down-to-earth smile, and seems to loosen her up and help her relax.
J: It just started out when I was in high school. I loved to rearrange the furniture in my room, and it always felt good to rearrange and make it look nice. I started to realize I really enjoy that, and it kind of evolved over the years into more than just decorating.
E: Did you always live in the country?
J: Well, yeah. I lived there until I got married, so 23 years I lived on the same property.
E: Did you go to school during that time?
J: I was home schooled, then I did a few years at Patrick Henry College. When I decided what I wanted to do, interior design, I switched to a different program. There’s not a lot of interior design at Patrick Henry! I realized the program was more about the business aspect of things. It was only a two year program, but I decided I really wanted to just work on my own or work for someone because I thought I would learn more from actually doing things than just reading about doing things.
E: What was your plan after you left school?
J: Well, before I met Jonathan I was going to go to London for an internship. It was for a year I think and I was going to go, but it was expensive. Then I met Jonathan. Even though he encouraged me to go, there was no way I was going to go!
E: How did you meet Jonathan?
J: He went to Patrick Henry, but we never met at school because I lived at home. There was a period of time I didn’t want to be there and already had preconceived notions of what it was going to be like, so I just shut myself out. I was 18 or 19. So I would go to class and go home. I’m pretty social, but I’m also not going to just go up to people and say “Hi.” Like if they talk to me, I’ll talk to them. A couple people were really nice and came up and talked to me, but I was of the mindset of, “I’m just going to go to class, get out, go home, and get this over with.” So I might have seen him but never met him, but we had a couple mutual friends. This one time I was out in Arlington with one of my friends for Halloween, and we were just walking around the downtown area. I walked past this group of guys, and I recognized one from Patrick Henry. So it was kinda like, "Oh, hey I know him!" Jonathan was with them and that guy I knew was like, “Oh, I recognize her from Patrick Henry!" And Jonathan was like, "She didn't go to Patrick Henry, I knew the girls who went to PHC." So he saw me and asked the guy to contact me and see if I was actually from Patrick Henry and, of course I was. He ended up contacting me on Twitter of all places.
We laugh and just then both of our baby boys go for chips and salad within their reach. As we grab for our babies, we comment about the authentic nature of this meeting. Less posh and put together than your average interview, and yet so beautifully representative of a life incorporating the precious gift of our sons, even at the expense of dainty porcelain plates and flowers on the coffee table. Joanna is confident and chill, a refreshingly poised yet "real" kinda gal.
We spend a few minutes agreeing on the picture of authenticity being our boys destroying things behind the scenes of every picture on our Instagram accounts. We share another laugh and pick back up.
J: So, he contacted me on Twitter, and we realized that I actually knew his sister. We just talked for a week or so on Facebook before we finally went out on a date. Yeah, we made the transition from Twitter to Facebook.
She laughs, and I start giggling.
E: Like all healthy relationships.
The laughing increases.
J: Yeah, so the rest is history I guess.
E: How long did you date before you two got married?
J: I think about a year and a half. For me it was like forever. It felt like an eternity, and I would joke about it with him like, "What took you so long to decide to marry me? Was there something wrong with me?"
She laughs and seems to be thinking back.
J: He was just waiting for the right moment, and really a year and a couple months is not that long as far as dating goes.
E: What was that transition like? From being single and thinking about studying in London to getting married?
J: It's funny because people always joke about girls going to get there "Mrs. degree" at schools. That wasn't my plan at all, but I always knew there was the possibility that I could meet someone there. It's funny though, since we never actually met there, but he did come from there.
Single is obviously great because you can do whatever you want, but I've never been someone who just wanted to be "single and free." I always wanted to get married. I wasn't that person who just dated a guy because he was single. I wasn't ever into casual dating. Like, if I met a guy and I liked him I was thinking, "Would I marry this person?"
It's probably just the influence of my family. It was never them telling me I need to get married. It was really just my own natural desire to be a mom. I never thought, "Oh, this is what I'm supposed to do as a Christian." So, it really wasn’t a difficult transition. It was hard to give up the thought of living in London for a year and just being out on my own. Even though I hate change and am very reserved, I just wanted to do something that was outside of my comfort zone. And then it never happened!
She laughs and looks in the direction of our baby boys playing.
J: But it was worth it.
E: What do you dream of now in the place you are in with your current circumstances?
J: Honestly, I have no idea how I would do it, but I would LOVE to somehow get into interior design. It's something I think about all the time, like everyday all day. Other than Judah and Jonathan that's something I think about all the time. I would love to do that at some point, and I feel like that's something I can do as a mom. That's definitely something I can do part time. I do really enjoy working, the feeling of accomplishing something. Not that being a mom doesn't!
We laugh in unison. Because if being a mom isn't accomplishing something, I'm not sure what the definition of "accomplish" is. She's sassy and spunky, so we have a good laugh about it.
J: I just don't want to go my whole life wishing I did something and then not doing anything with it. But I need someone to give me direction...
She seems hopeful, but cautious. Almost like saying it out loud might make it less possible. And yet, she is clearly ambitious for this seemingly impossible goal.
Alright, quick intermission. This Reveal was shot and recorded approximately a year ago and since then Joanna has quickly reached her dream and launched an interior design company, Joanna Carden Interiors, which has been featured in Washington Post, Washingtonian Mag, Hollistic Fashionista Mag, Independent She Mag, and others!
E: Do you want to have any more kids?
J: Yes! Yes, I think because I was a nanny, grew up with lots of brothers, and have lots of nieces and nephews it's just always been what I wanted. Even before him.
She smiles and looks at Judah.
J: I couldn't imagine the thought of loving any kids more than I loved my nieces and nephews.
J: Because I just loved them so much I had no idea how that was even possible, how I was going to be able to love my own kid more than that!
E: So it was possible!
J: Yeah! It's just completely different.
E: What are the highlights of your day?
J: Well, Jonathan laughs about this a lot. Because in the mornings I’ll hear Judah crying and just roll over and groan. But Jonathan talks about it like, "You'll hear her every morning just groan, then she walks in to see him and goes 'Hiiiiiii! How are youuuu?!'" It's as I see his face smiling back at me, and I immediately feel better! You know not like, "Oh, I have to go take care of Judah."
E: So seeing Judah in the morning?
J: Yes, him just being so excited and seeing his little face light up just makes me the happiest person in the world.
We laugh and divulge into a conversation about babies and all the "real" they can teach you. Our boys share some salted caramel, raspberry linzer, and pistachio macarons with us, and we continue. The interview process is long but sweet with the little ones around. I see how integrated Judah is into Joanna's life. She's not trying to make him a separate thing, but bringing him along in her endeavors and adventures. It's inspiring.
E: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
J: Ahhh. They're all going to be negative! No, let me think.
Her response is silly, followed by a giggle and some resolve to really think on the question.
J: Caring. It sounds silly, but I am. I really do care a lot. Hmm, giving. I love hosting other people, like if I can give anything to them to make them happy whether it's food, or gifts, or a service or something. If there's something I can do to make someone smile or make someone's day easier, then I do! And, let me see. Friendly is such a generic, basic word. I feel like there's a better word than that, something more descriptive.
E: Maybe extroverted?
J: Extroverted? No, t’s more like I like to help people feel comfortable. So if I meet someone who's quieter than me, I really like to help them feel comfortable and settled. Because I know how that feels, just to sort of be there.
J: Yeah, I think so. I mean I am. I just like to go out of my way to make people know we're friends or feel like we could be friends.
So many words come to mind as she is talking. Inviting, cordial, kind, welcoming. She does this for me in my home, and I wonder how it would feel to experience this same comfort and care in her own space.
E: What does it look like when you're giving and hosting in your own home? Can you describe that more?
J: The biggest thing is I like to make a big meal and have drinks for people. I really like pretty drinks. I love things to taste good but also look good. I like making our living room cozy, having candles, having flowers, having somewhere comfortable to sit. In our townhouse we have the worst lighting, like the worst lighting possible, so I changed out all the fluorescent lights in our living room. In our kitchen we have this huge fluorescent light, and I just never turn it on because it makes me feel awful. It just changes your mood so much. So lighting plays a huge part in how I want to make people feel. I'll turn on every other light in the kitchen and just use natural light, that's part of it. There are certain things I feel when I go to other people's houses that I enjoy, so I like go and make other people feel that way.
E: So you're moving to DC this summer.
Since this Reveal Joanna has moved to DC, posh-ed out a beautiful apartment, and moved to a gorgeous new home she is currently making nest in. You might want to follow along her journey here.
J: I'm really excited to host and just enjoy DC.
E: What are the most common things people know about you?
J: With some people, I know they'd say I listen whenever they need to talk. With other people they'd probably say I talk. It really depends on the person and how they are.
E: So hospitality really does affect your whole life. Even so much that you would bend depending on the other person and their predisposition.
J: Yeah, I guess I always saw that as kind of a bad thing. Hmm, I love being outdoors. And I think that whole "introverted/extroverted" thing is not just a one size fits all. I'm introverted in the sense that I'm a little reserved. I can be quiet. Sometimes I need to be by myself. Sometimes I enjoy being by myself. Other times, I just want to be with everyone and go to every party I'm invited to! If there are other people I can have a good conversation with, then I just love that. But I get nervous when I am somewhere I don't know anyone and just have to start a conversation.
Her poise and confidence makes this so hard to believe.
E: When do you feel most yourself?
J: When I'm with Jonathan, because I know I can act however I want and he won't judge me! He’s seen the worst. He's my best friend. I think you would want to be that way with your husband, or with anyone you call your best friend, I guess. It would be pretty sad if you were walking on eggshells around the person you call your best friend. Yeah.
E: What makes you feel exhilarated?
J: When I'm around a big group of my friends, or we have friends over, or any time we go out with good friends. Any time we go out, I just want to fit in as much as possible because I don't want to miss out on anything or seeing any one person, which can be good and bad because then I end up doing too much!
E: Is there anything else we should know about you?
J: I mean, I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Hmm, I have a hard time knowing whether people like me or not. I mean, unless they're really obvious about it. Like I don't want to reach out unless I know they enjoy my company, because then they might say yes when really they're just like, "Oh, darn. Now I have to go hang out with Joanna." So sometimes I don't really reach out because they don't reach out and I'm afraid of that, when really they might feel the exact same way. Yeah, that's a huge insecurity. Thankfully, Jonathan has helped me a lot with tons. So someone doesn't want to hang out with me. I invite them and they don't want to spend time together. So I may as well try and be friends and be rejected, rather than just decide no one wants to be friends. I'll really try to make them feel cared for. It's interesting that the thing I really like to do, go out of my way to show people I care about them, is also my weakness, feeling insecure and not wanting to do that.
E: Interesting, too, that our greatest strength is often our greatest weakness.
J: Yes, definitely. Exactly.
E: Do you think you're more likely to just befriend most people?
J: Yeah, especially when I was in high school, at homeschool groups I always wanted to be friends with everyone, didn't matter who they were, what classes, or what age, or what group they were in I just wanted to be their friends. Even if we weren't the best of friends, I wanted to have that relationship where we could joke around and say hi. I never wanted to walk past someone and not even acknowledge them just because they were in a different group than me or they were like five years younger. I think I was really aware of that, because I always wanted to be treated that way. I wanted people to treat me kindly. I think because I was always wondering what other people thought about me, I wanted people to know that I thought of them as a friend. Even though I don't think a lot of other people think like that and wonder what other people think of them.
E: I relate! And I think a lot of other people do too! It's surprising to hear from someone so polished and put together.
She laughs again.
J: I definitely do not think of myself that way! But thank you.
E: What advice would you give to other women who are feeling this way?
J: Honestly, and a lot of this comes from Jonathan, he says...Oh! And something actually made me feel this way again last week. It still happens all the time. But basically, if you want to be friends with someone and you make all the effort, then if they're worth being friends with, you will. But if you try to be their friend and you make a lot of effort and they don't want to be friends, then it's not the end of the world, you know? They just don't want to be your friend, even though it feels like the end of the world. That's hard, especially with people you used to be friends with who you're not anymore, maybe because you're just in different places in life. And that's fine, you're just different people now. That's been hard getting married and just going through that transition of not being friends with some people. It's definitely a really hard struggle always wondering what other people are thinking of you because it's like 99% all in your head and they’re probably not even thinking about you! I've apologized so many times for things I've thought I said that maybe hurt them, and they say, "What? I didn't take it that way at all."
E: So we need to remember that most of our wondering what other people are thinking of us and coming up with negative thoughts is probably mostly in our head?
J: Yes, definitely. And you just make an effort and invite those people over and stop thinking what the worst possible thing could be, because they probably don't even feel that way or think that way about you. Yeah, my biggest advice is its all in your head.
E: I have a really strong, clear picture of you, of who you are. You always come back to caring for other people. You said you were worried about sounding and being generic, but genuine care for others is far from it! It sounds as if you are trepidatious because you're not sure that other people have that heart and, quite frankly, most people don't.
J: Right! And unless you really know the person, you'll never know those things. You'll never know what they're actually thinking unless you're best friends or they're just one of those people where you can't really tell. That's why you have to just brush it aside, and if they are really mean you have to let go!
E: What else should we know about you?
J: I think one thing that kind of surprised me about myself as far as my physical appearance goes is I constantly feel insecure about how I look to other people. I feel more comfortable around people who I know don't prioritize their looks over everything. But when I'm around people who clearly do, I want to be seen that way too. What surprised me was after pregnancy everyone talks about getting your body back and getting rid of your stomach, getting rid of your stretch marks and I was just like, "Oh my gosh it's going to be really hard to go through that." I was really surprised because after pregnancy none of those things were an insecurity. I'm insecure about other things, but nothing having to do with pregnancy. I’m not afraid of my stretch marks; they're not an insecurity. My loose skin in my stomach is not an insecurity. I'm not like, "These are my battle scars," but I'm like "That was well worth the skin on my stomach. That was well worth a horrible pregnancy and some stretch marks. I'm not going to go lift up my shirt and show the world my stomach, but it's also not something I'm trying to hide. So that was really surprising to me, just because so many other things are an insecurity. There were days in high school I can remember thinking, "No, I could never go out in public without my hair done and without any makeup." But like I said, now there are just certain people I'll be around where I feel like I have to put myself together. It's only been in the past year or so where I can go out without makeup on and just be happy. I mean, this is who I am.
A year later Joanna describes that this struggle is never fully over and that even now she still struggles with her body as a whole. Her honesty and authenticity is astounding, encouraging, and inspiring. Perhaps we can all take a page from Joanna's book and be okay with the journey to being fully comfortable and happy in our own bodies.
Her words are casual, but they have a profound impact. "This is who I am." And if we contemplate the view of the general public (that you are unacceptable without makeup or otherwise altering), we may have some rethinking to do. She doesn't put on airs. She just says it and let's it be exactly what it is, truth.
J: It's really the most unpleasant thing to sit there and wonder what people think and question, "Is my makeup okay?"
E: What would you say to other women who feel the same way and don't want to constantly be wondering what others think of them?
J: Well, you know those videos of women describing themselves and then other people coming and describing them, and their descriptions are totally different? That's so true! We always see all our own worst flaws. I definitely see all my own flaws. A lot of people tell me, "You look great without makeup," or "You look good,” and I know they aren't just saying that to be nice, especially Jonathan. He wouldn't be like, "You look great!" when I actually look terrible. So everyone sees what they don't like about themselves, but that doesn't reflect how you actually look on the outside. And if they do care and they think you somehow look terrible, then they're not really someone worth being around. Don't be friends with them! People do not see you the way you see yourself.
Babies crawl or walk about the office and we keep talking for a long, long time. Joanna is captivating. Her tone is relaxed, confident, easy-paced, and she lets you into the heart and mind of her very creative, driven, unassuming nature. I can tell she is a friend to many and stranger to none. The authority with which she made her thoughts and feelings accountable to the truth leaves me inspired and hopeful. Perhaps we can follow her example of boldly declaring to ourselves and to others, "This is who I am."
Introducing, Joanna Grace Frances Carden.