The pages of high-end home design magazines often feature families with rosy-cheeked children under five, shown agreeably snuggling with their parents on a George Smith sofa, or placidly playing with German toys in perfectly appointed nurseries. The question that has got to cross every parent’s mind (it can’t be just me …) is, “Why don’t they have magic markers on their walls, and blueberry stains on their upholstery?”
To get the answers, I called up some super-stylish moms of young kids to ask how they manage to keep their homes chic and up to their exacting standards during the Nick Jr. years. What I learned: While their children are just as likely as yours and mine to use the roman shades as napkins, these parents do have some expert knowledge to share on creating décor that stands up to the abuse of small people — and still looks pulled-together. Here are their seven key ingredients of a home that’s both chic and child-friendly:
1. Easily cleaned upholstery
Getting a sofa upholstered in a pale Belgian linen is to set yourself up for a world of pain. Instead, opt for darker colors or patterns that won’t showcase every juice spill or contraband crayon, and fabrics that are easy to clean. “Polyester blends can be cleaned with soap and water without leaving a water mark,” says Stephanie Miziker, interior designer for LA-based James Radin Interior Design and mother to two little girls.
If you’re stuck on having lighter colors, slipcovers are the way to go. “I have everything slipcovered so I don’t have to worry about kid messes — at the end of the week everything just goes in the wash,” says Amy Neunsinger, founder of entertaining resource Cocodot and mom of two sons. While leather has a deserved reputation for durability, it stains easily, notes Miziker, who recommends using a high-quality vinyl instead. “It’s a great choice for an ottoman — nobody will notice that it’s not leather, and it’s so easy to clean.”
2. Dark, patterned rugs
“Inevitably there will be stains when you have small children, and a dark or patterned rug will provide peace of mind and let your children be children,” says Eleanor Ylvasiker, co-founder of Feyt, a new personal style advice and social networking website, and mother to two children.
“Nothing is more precious than my kids, so if something is ruined, I can’t worry about it too much.”
Neunsinger likes striped cotton area rugs like the ones made by Dash and Albert, because they’re easy to take out and have cleaned. Plus, they’re reversible, so if one side gets irreparably stained you can flip the rug and give it a second life. “I usually do a preppy stripe and then layer a sheepskin or a cowhide on top to give it some texture,” she says. Ruthie Sommers, an LA interior designer and mom of three, offers this balanced take on the topic: “Of course you shouldn’t do white carpets, but whatever you do choose, try not to care too much — it’s only carpet, they are your kids — just invest in a steam cleaner and a great vacuum.”
3. Lights that don’t teeter
Table lamps are begging to be knocked over by your little whirling dervishes, which can be dangerous for the kids, deadly for the lamps. “When my boys were young I only had overhead lighting and sconces,” says Neunsinger. Feyt co-founder and mom Ferebee Taube and Ylvisaker favor floor lamps, and both have tripod floor lamps by BDDW “which are sturdy, heavy, and hard to knock over,” says Ylvisaker. (Jonathan Adler makes a less pricey take on the same style.) “Aside from those, the rest of our lighting is all built into the ceilings, which is the most childproof way to go,” says Taube.
4. Walls that can be wiped down
“Never use flat paint, only semi-gloss,” says Miziker. “Matte shows every little finger print, but semi-gloss hides them and is easier to clean.” Though it sounds unlikely, wallpaper can be more childproof than painted walls. “Textured ones can often be swiped clean; they’re fantastic,” says Miziker, who also points out that there are now removable wallpapers sold by the roll, which you can easily apply yourself.
5. Sane childproofing
These ladies refuse to swathe every corner in bubble wrap, but they do make concessions to keep their kids out of the ER. “Pack away the glass coffee table and get a wood one or a structured ottoman with a wood frame inside,” says Miziker, who just ordered such an ottoman for a client with kids, covered in the above-mentioned faux leather. Instead of traditional coffee tables, Taube placed a fabric-covered ottoman and a low leather bench in the rooms where her kids play the most. “I make careful choices when buying items that could be knocked over,” she adds. “We needed a large vase for a credenza, so I chose one that is made of resin and basically feels like rubber. The kids could knock it over, and it wouldn’t make a difference.”
6. A few secret weapons
Being prepared for stains and spills makes them less traumatic. “I swear by Nature’s Miracle spray — as soon as something spills I just spray it on, and the stuff really does work miracles,” says Taube. “It is made for pet messes, but we don’t even have a dog.” When wood furniture is showing the scars of impact with toy trucks or mini lacrosse sticks, fill in nicks with a wax stick that matches the wood, then cover it with a stain stick, says Miziker. To guard against vases or decorative doo-dads being knocked off of end tables or thrown across the room midst-tantrum, Miziker recommends a product called Museum Wax. “It’s a clear paste that sort of glues things down but then can be removed really easily. I’ve even used it with floor lamps and it’s amazing—the longer you leave it, the stronger the hold.”
7. A “que sera” attitude
Despite their smart décor choices, these chic mamas’ offspring can be just as unruly as yours and mine. “Not even bleach can get Sharpie out of slipcovers, so we have some cushions that only face a certain way,” says Neunsinger. “We have walls covered in dings from all the riding toys, and I just chalk it up to having toddlers,” says Taube. “Once they outgrow this phase, I’ll fill in the nicks, but there’s no use in doing it now.” And Sommers jokes: “My two-year-old peed on the Rose Cumming-slipcovered family room sofa, so now it’s like a real English sofa, faded and discolored … you can’t buy that!”
Which brings us to their best advice (and yes, you already know this, but it’s nice to hear it from the style authorities): Don’t pull your hair out over the damage children inflict on your interiors. “Nothing is more precious than my kids, so if something is ruined, I can’t worry about it too much,” says Neunsinger. “And anyway,” reasons Ylvisaker, “I think some of the wear-and-tear of the early years can add character and a lived-in feeling to a home.”
Celeste Perron is a freelance health and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in magazines including Parenting, Women’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Martha Stewart Weddings. She lives in San Francisco and has a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.
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