Those of us with children in our lives know how difficult it can be to create a beautiful yet practical and durable environment in our homes. As a designer, I long for those sophisticated spaces I see in various media, but as a mother of three I realize that most are extremely impractical for families. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that may be helpful for you as well.
1. Marine Grade Vinyl is not just for boats, but can also be a great upholstery option for highly used pieces like dining room chairs and benches. Ease of cleaning and its anti-microbial attributes make this fabric a no-brainer for those of us with children. Unlike its leather counterpart, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to replace. There are also many colors and textures now available. A good piece of advice is to get your re-upholstery work done by a RV and Marine upholstery shop, as their prices tend to be better than the typical residential upholstery shop. They also tend to have a larger selection of the high-grade vinyl that you would want to use. This is a very different higher quality of vinyl than the ones you find in most typical fabric stores.
2. Slipcovers are your friends. That new couch, even the expensive one, will not look or smell good for long if you can’t wash the covers. Just saying. Also consider leather, as well. My problem with leather is that my children find it cold feeling to their skin & say its not cozy - go figure.
3. Only make children’s beds with a fitted sheet and a big comfy comforter & one pillow. Even a three year old can make their bed if they don’t have to fiddle with a flat sheet and this is usually where kids have the most problems making their beds.
4. I’ve said this before, but it begs to be said again. Have a landing place in your home for their backpacks and coats. This can be a simple row of hooks or an entire coat closet.
5. Organize and design your kitchen so that the children can easily get their own cups, plates and silverware and then help you put it away. We even have a special low drawer that houses all their lunchboxes, thermos, containers and bags, so they can fix their own lunch, too.
6. Make sure your floors are appropriate for children. This may not be the time in your life to have thousand dollar rugs. A few floor treatments to consider that stand up to the abuse of children are vinyl, tile and carpet tiles. They may not be the most high-end options, but they can be easily replaced if damaged and withstand daily abuse. They are much easier to clean, too.
7. Consider upgrading carpets for family areas. Higher quality carpets have better stain treatments and actually last longer than their cheaper counterparts.
8. Scotch Guard everything you can. Enough said.
9. Create communal spaces in your home that you can just "be" as a family without having to entertain the children constantly. Keep computers and televisions in communal areas within the house, so children can be safely monitored. Some ideas include; eat-in kitchen with large durable tables where kids can do homework, art projects or play games, oversized coffee tables with large floor pillows underneath for children to sit on, play/homework area in your office area so everyone can work in the same place. I find that an open floor plan works great when your children are small so you can keep your eye on them more closely. As they get older, they will naturally want more time and space away from you, but you'll always want to have that capability to come back together as a family at different times throughout the day.
10. Always try to use high quality paint on your walls that is at least an eggshell or satin finish. Kitchen and bath paint is really the easiest to clean. Flat paint should be avoided at all costs unless you enjoy repainting every few years. I've also been told not to paint teenage boys' rooms dark colors and to not specify dark colors for their beds. If you have a teenage boy, you probably already know this. I was a little shocked & grossed out as to the reason why as I didn't have little brothers growing up, so I didn't know. My friends schooled me in this reasoning and for the classiness of this blog I'm not going to go into detail on this, but find a friend who has one and ask them - they'll tell you.
11. Avoid high-gloss furniture. The high gloss finish shows scratches and wear more easily and is difficult to fix. Save your sanity and go with rustic, industrial and distressed finishes (especially for table tops). If you must have a high gloss finish on a tabletop, consider adding glass or Plexiglas on top of the existing tops.
12. Cut your clutter everywhere. Your sanity will thank me.
13. Make your home cozy by adding textured pillows or maybe a basket full of coordinating blankets by a large cozy chair and a pretty bookshelf with lots of interesting books. This will encourage reading in your home by giving your children a dedicated space to read.
14. Have proper lighting in their homework & play areas. Avoid table lamps made of glass or porcelain.
15. Have a system in place to deal with the incoming artwork, pictures, etc. The endeavors and work of children should be honored in our homes. Having a special place to display their artwork and achievements and then a file system to file that piece away when new ones come in make our homes organized and reduce visual clutter.
16. Use hooks instead of towel racks. By using hooks at a lower level will ensure that you’ll have less of a problem with towels lying on the floor. Hooks are easier for children to manipulate.
17. Make a habit of taking off shoes when you enter your home. Not only will your home stay cleaner and the floors stay protected, it will be more peaceful, too. Sock and bare feet are quieter than shoes. Provide a low shelf or basket for all the shoes.
18. Make sure each toilet has its own plunger and teach the children to use it. You don’t really want to know how I know this, but I do and trust me its necessary…
19. Avoid long draperies in children’s rooms. They climb, hang and swing on them if they’re there. Best to play it safe and stick with a high valance paired with a simple shade, blinds or shutters. Just be careful to address any hanging strings that could pose a safety issue. Consider black out shades or liners for babies rooms to keep them asleep regardless of time of day.
20. Please don’t put shelves of decorative items or art above a baby’s crib. I see this all the time in magazines and televisions, and it drives me crazy! As soon as the baby can pull up and stand that cute art or shelf of vintage toys is going to come crashing down when the baby grabs it. It’s a real safety concern. The same goes for canopies over the baby’s crib, too. You’re really not safe to have a canopy over a bed until at least 8-9 years old and even then the canopy can be pulled down and can cause damage or injury.
I could write all day about designing for children. It’s so close to my heart and I believe everyone should have a beautiful, peaceful home to live in even those with children. With just a little extra forethought and planning, we can achieve spaces that are not just practical and extremely livable, but beautiful, too. Happy Designing!