Am I an interior designer? Nope - not at all. Have I watched a lot of HGTV, looked through a bunch of design books and let the Pinterest and Instagram pages and posts of real interior designers fill my feeds? Yep. And thus you are familiar with my qualifications to tell you all about designing your home with kids in mind. But wait! I do have real thoughts on the matter. Namely, why do we feel like we have to cater our homes entirely to our kids? There are ways to make your house kid-friendly while also assuring the design and aesthetic works for the rest of the family - namely, the parents. I mean, aren’t we the ones paying the rent or mortgage and keeping the house up? I think based on that alone, we deserve to not be buried beneath a barrage of stuffed animals or Hot Wheels cars while we try to relax on the couch. So with that idea in mind, here are a few basic things to consider if you want to make sure your home design works for the whole family - not just the littlest members.
Find Images You Like and Imitate Them
I know. You’re not exactly thinking that’s genius insight there. And you’re right. But I do think it’s worth mentioning that good design, at least for your average person, doesn’t just fall out of the sky. It takes trial and error and actual study in determining what you like to look at and the mood you want your home to have. So look around online and in catalogs at some family designers and see what strikes your fancy. Once you have an array of images, analyze them to find the similarities. Maybe they all have opaque toy bins or maybe they all have upholstered ottomans as coffee tables. No matter what you find, it’s a good exercise to help you pinpoint what it is you actually want. Now here comes my PSA of the week - anything you find online is aspirational. Meaning that room is looking it’s best right then. That picture of the kitchen you love? Think of it as the kitchen’s Tinder profile pic, ok? The angles are all right, the lighting’s been tweaked, it’s had a blowout and a little photoshop, and the photo was taken by professionals without any kids in sight. It’s been majorly curated. So don’t feel crummy about your own space in comparison. That blanket in the picture draped ever-so-casually atop the back of the chair probably took multiple tries to get it just right and the half-peeled clementine on the kitchen counter that looks as though a perfectly behaved child just stepped away from his healthy treat…well, that’s all styling and not real life. And what’s going on behind the lens probably doesn’t look quite as curated and perfect. So don’t let these tailored design images make you feel inadequate about your own space. Take them for what they are - inspiration in helping you find what you like.
Cull Down Excess
I once told my husband I was about to KonMari the hell outta our kitchen cabinets and he said he had no idea what I was talking about, but as long as he could make a sandwich beforehand, he was cool with it. As much as I would love to sweep through the house with a donation bag in hand scooping up the most brightly colored toy offenders that do not spark my joy, I think that would not make me a very good mom. And yes, I have been accused of being unsentimental when it comes to stuff, but oh man, kids can accumulate so much! And it’s hard to stay on top of it sometimes without looking around one day and suddenly thinking, “Dear God, I live in a toddler daycare.” Part of having a home that is designed with family in mind is that it is not overwhelmed by clutter or stuff from one household member - either parent or kid. So weed out some of the toys that aren’t useful or meaningful. (To keep it fair, make sure you also clear out some of your own things that aren’t purposeful or sentimental.) Toys that are broken, no longer played with, outgrown, duplicates or similar, can all be removed. Kids will go through phases though, so with some items, before I donate them, I remove them from sight for several months. If the toy is never noticed missing, then it’s safe to be donated. But if my kiddo asks about it at some point during that out-of-sight time period, I bring it back into commission. (See, I’m not totally heartless!) This may be another topic all together, but I’ve found that with the right curation of good toys instead of just a bunch of things, my kids play more deeply and longer with the toys they have. There’s a real benefit to quality over quantity. Having that culled down collection of only the actual things they play with helps the house not scream, “TOYS”, but rather be all casually like, “Oh yeah, some kids live here but they’re like, totally cool and easy.”
As a little side note, once you’ve cleared out stuff that you don’t really need anymore, be mindful of what you let slip back into the house. Junky freebies and things like prizes from the dentist or the school carnival…meh, maybe we just don’t bring those home anymore. And whenever you do buy something new - whether it’s a toy or something for the grownups - make sure you know where you’ll keep it and that it is really something you want to live with.
Have a Storage System that Works With Your Style
Again, kids have so much stuff. And it’s nice to have a place to put it all neatly so that your kiddos learn to help clean up and take care of their things while also keeping your home feeling less chaotic. I’m a big fan of baskets and storage containers to house toys by category. Ones that can pull double duty are even better - an ottoman that opens or a coffee table with a low shelf. And chests of drawers don’t have to be bedroom furniture - they’re great storage pieces for all those very special collections of little things like princess dolls and their teeny-tiny shoes or art and craft supplies. However, keep in mind that some things may be out of sight, out of mind. So while I love to have storage that closes a lid on something like the Duplo blocks and their bright primary colors, the kids may never reach for them because they don’t see them. It’s a compromise to wrangle them in an open basket, but hey, it’s better than having them consistently scattered all over the floor. And yes, there are going to be some things that are not quite part of the design plan and you have no tidy little spot to tuck them out of the way…say, an Exersaucer or Jumperoo or that huge plastic kitchen play set parked in your family room. Sigh. Yes, some of the smallest bodies in the household get to claim the most real estate, but such is life. It’s not forever that your baby will be bouncing away in that joyful contraption, so embrace it while it lasts.
Creating zones is always a safe bet. Think an arts and crafts table, a game space, a little workspace for school stuff, a spot for parents where they can read or watch tv with a drink, etc. Breaking up a space to delineate what activity happens there not only visually organizes a room, but can also separate your design style somewhat. In the zones more geared toward the kids, lean towards design choices that cater a bit more to them and in the more adult-centered areas, keep the ginormous Mickey Mouse Clubhouse out of the way. You can visually unify the areas by sticking to a pared down color palette. And by all means, if you have the space to give your kids a playroom, go for it. Having their own designated area that gets played with fully (which usually means messily) with a shut-able door for when your eyes need a little quiet does wonders for the feel of a home. Just keep in mind that oftentimes kids want to play near their adults as opposed to being shut off in a playroom far from the heart of the house (and we want to be close to our kids, too). So a playroom established in a recess of the family home might not get as much use as one in a little corner right off the kitchen.
Opt for Durability
So I think it’s pretty important that kids learn to value and respect what they have as well as what other people have. Those quippy shirts that boast “I’m the reason we can’t have nice things” bug me. Don’t we want our kids to learn that destruction of their homes isn’t necessarily a cool thing? I don’t want my own kids treating my living room console like a piñata as much as I don’t want them treating someone else’s furniture that way. But, that being said, we are living in our houses a lot more these days and it’s helpful when things are as durable as possible to handle that extra wear and tear. So look for things that will last or patina over time. Put some thought into fabric choices. Indoor/outdoor fabrics can handle a lot more than the average textile, velvet is durable, and washable fabrics are never a bad choice. Carpet tiles can help define a space and they are super fun and durable. I had them under my dining table for years of toddlers and never had any issues with staining. With surfaces, think of wipe-ability, stain resistance, and the ability to look seasoned with some wear and tear as opposed to worn out. For instance, go with a farm table in your kitchen that will gain character with each knick or indent or written letter impression that goes through the workbook page. Use a vintage rug that has pattern and color to disguise spills but also has age and wear as part of its character. It’s been my experience that choosing items that age well often means spending extra money and investing in good quality (or, picking up a sturdy second-hand piece of furniture). While I love being able to achieve the look that I want for a less expensive price tag and definitely do this with smaller items, it’s been my experience that lower quality furniture shows shabby wear and tear way sooner than a higher quality item will. So make sure to check out online marketplaces and garage sales to score something high quality for a lower price.
Create a Gallery Wall of Family Pictures
Reflect your style as well as tell your family’s story through a gallery wall of family photos. So many of us aspire to do this and just never get around to it. We have pictures floating in the cloud and trapped in our phones that should be on the wall for our family and friends to see. When my nephew was born, my son asked me what he looked like as a baby. Um well, let’s see here. Just follow me into the office, let’s get my laptop up and running, open Photos, scroll back a couple years, ok hang on, it’s loading…and there! There’s you as a baby! Honey, where’d you go? And my child had already wandered off. Mom fail. I should have those special family pictures hanging in my house! Stylistically, a gallery wall adds an interesting design element to your home, but also infuses your space with warmth and shows the spirit of your family. Those photos can be such a great way to capture significant or small but happy moments you all share together.
Evaluate What Matters to You
Decide what really matters to you and set rules that will work with your design and lifestyle. I lived with a train table in my living room for two solid years but here’s the deal, my son played with that thing for hours every…single…day. So was worth it to me to live with something that was decidedly NOT my design aesthetic? You bet it was. Did I design the entire color palette of the room around Thomas and Percy and Gordon (where my Thomas and Friends fans at?!?) I most definitely did not. In this case, the importance of my son having a toy he loved to play with outweighed my desire for an adult-feeling living room. And in the grand scheme of the universe, it was fairly short-lived so I tried to embrace it. So weigh what matters to you and how it all fits with your family and let that be the guiding force for designing your family space. Decide what will and what won’t stress you out. For instance, if ‘fussiness’ in a room is going to bug you, ward it off. Because if you’ve got removable couch cushions, those bad boys are getting removed for forts. If you’ve got a slew of throw pillows and blankets - they’re getting thrown. If your ottoman is on casters to easily roll for new positioning - you guessed it, it’s getting repositioned. And this isn’t a bad thing! But if it bugs you to have a little disarray, then don’t make room for it in, say, your living room at the front of the house. Maybe allow for it in a play room or a kid space if you’ve got it. Can you handle a white couch with a two-year-old? I know I can’t. But some people can…and I bet they have really good stain removers. The basic idea in designing a space that your whole family can enjoy is that if it feels like you and you’re comfortable and happy in there, then it’s good family design…even if it doesn’t turn out looking like it belongs on an Instagram post!