by Rochelle Riservato
Picture the furnishings from the movie The Christmas Story, which has its own marathon-showing each holiday season. Or reminisce about your grandmother’s or Aunt Mildred’s homes with plastic covers over sofas and chairs. If you can’t remember décor like that, perhaps you’re too young. But be certain, this type of decorating was “in” during the 40s, 50s and early 60s. They called it child-proofing.
During those eras much formality accompanied furnishings such as glass-front china cabinets, dust-free glassware, collectibles, and holiday dinnerware to ward off little hands.
And if your home was grandiose, you may even remember an “off-limits” room that no one ever seemed to go in or use. Certainly not children. They might as well have placed a foreboding red velvet rope guarding the doorjamb as these rooms were about as livable as a museum.
Well, those days are long gone.
Decorating is much more relaxed today—not to say it has to be all plastic and fingerprint-proof—but with home decorating, you can now have it all. It’s now called “family friendly” and it’s both stylish and trendy, livable and homey.
Clean Lines for Easy Maintenance
Casual and comfortable can provide clean lines to a family-friendly living area and dining room. So don’t choose sofas and chairs with skirted bottoms that attract dust, pet hair, and footprints from little ones’ un-wiped shoes. Select tables such as coffee, end, or occasional tables with shelving underneath to keep magazines and books easily accessible—yet out of the way.
Keep dining tables simply adorned without tablecloths. Save those for company. Tiny crawlers are apt to pull on the edges, trying to stand up for the first time—and you’ll be taking a photo of not only their first step, but possibly crashing candlesticks or a floral-filled pitcher you’ve perched atop the table.
And if you’re into antiques and integrate them into contemporary pieces, those well-worn edges are perfectly kid-friendly. After all more wear only makes the patina and edges show more age for that vintage look.
Said Jamie Niblock, co-owner with John Krenek of Spruce Design and Décor in High Falls and Kingston, “John and I are firm believers in our customers and design clients surrounding themselves with the things they love. If one is fortunate to possess beautiful antiques, or simply pieces that are of a certain age that possess wonderful patina, we say use them. If you have children, you must communicate the meaning behind the value and they will learn to respect what you own, as you do.”
You can still treasure your family’s “treasures” by putting collectibles on shelves or furnishings high enough so children cannot reach them. There’s no reason to stow-away cherished items that represent a family’s heritage.
Designating a space especially suited to your children’s entertainment in any part of the family’s living room, den, or even a closed-in porch is vital to family friendly decorating. And with the myriad types of storage bins out there, it’s an easy task. You can choose colored bins that help a child know to organize different types of toys, games and more by color-coordinating certain toys in specific colored bins and make it fun to place the right toy in the right bin. Or if you prefer a savvier, sophisticated look you can choose wicker containers.
The bins can either fit right onto a cabinet, bookcase, of other type of shelving—or placed on the floor, which is easily reachable for toddlers. If you tell your kids this is their own space and each toy must be placed in its special bin before taking out the next, you just might start a clean-up system that keeps the area from looking like Toys“R”Us after a midnight sale. But don’t count on it.
Just remember whatever decorating style you choose — low maintenance and sensibility of placement is vital.
Don’t Sacrifice Quality
There’s no doubt that the down-filled comfy chair or sofa will be used as a trampoline at one point or another with kids around. But when you have children it’s important that you buy quality furnishings that outlast their acrobatics and still remain presentable. So it makes perfect sense to buy the best-made furniture you can afford instead of pieces that won’t last until your kids reach puberty.
Make sure you purchase furniture with solid construction—and not DIY put-together pieces that are destined to be battered and broken—they’ll just end up as fireplace kindling. Seek heavy kiln-dried hardwoods that are screwed, glued and corner-blocked as these will withstand years of abuse and can be reupholstered once your kids reach “the age of refinement.” And, if you don’t want your couch or chair cushions to be used as forts or for pillow-fighting—get a sofa or a chair with a cushionless back and seats attached with hold-down straps or sewn directly onto the furniture. Also opt for tables, countertops and bookcases with rounded edges to prevent bruises, black-eye trips, or (heaven-forbid) emergency room visits.
“Tough”-Love for Fabrics and Finishes
When it comes to fabrics—choose a heavy, flat-weave that’ll hold up better than lightweights or looped materials. Vinyls, pleathers, ultrasuedes, twills, denim, wool, felt, and believe-it-or-not, velvets are all easy-care natural fabrics, especially if they have a bit of a synthetic fiber woven in for additional toughness. Another enduring choice is leather as it wipes clean with just a dampened old sock, paper towel, or dish cloth. It also appears better and softer once it’s well-loved and worn in.
Washable slipcovers with Scotchgard are another good idea. They now have affordable slip-ons that will completely change your décor as well as protect the upholstery underneath until the kids are grown.
And, when it comes to walls, face it, they take a beating—from sticky fingers to crayon masterpieces. Therefore, wipeable paint is a necessity. Eggshell, satin and semi-gloss cleans up nicely. However if you’re into the no-shine look of matte paints, there are new washable flat mattes on the market. Plus, there’s a new way that your aspiring artist can hang artwork without ruining the walls—no tape needed. It’s a magnetic additive that goes into paints and allows magnets to hang up artwork, much like you do with the “masterpieces” on the fridge.
According to Gregg Amato, director of Paint Operations at Herzog’s Home and Garden Center in Kingston, he suggests zero level Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints as a healthy alternative when repainting a home. VOC-free paints are becoming more popular with environmental awareness and Amato explained there are no organic compounds to go airborne. He added that although most of the paints at Herzog’s are known for a low odor, VOC-free paints are virtually odorless and are best for families concerned with various allergies or chemicals in the air.
Amato also suggested another paint that adds fun to family friendly decorating. It’s called chalkboard paint. “It’s great for kids’ rooms,” he said, as it can transform a wall area into a blackboard for chalk-art.
Imagine the great message center that chalkboard paint could make out of an unused alcove or door in a kitchen—perfect for leaving reminders and shopping and chore lists that are large enough for everyone to see.
For the high-traffic walls such as hallways and mudrooms that endure an excessive amount of use, you may consider installing bead board (wainscoting) painted with an easy-wash semi-gloss or satin paint.
Wall Décor that’s More!
To decorate a child’s room that can change with their age and tastes, stenciling can transform a room with minimum furniture shifting and mess according to David Pillard of The Tender Land Home in Phoenicia.
Said Pillard, “Stencils are a great decorating alternative to give a little lift or change to a child's room without the whole room needing repainting. A mural or a few decorative motifs and images sprinkled around the walls can transform a room…and kids can help or do it themselves with water-based paints.
Pillard suggests that boring bookcases, shelving, beds or cabinets can be customized and transformed to reflect the creative imagination of children when they select the images themselves. A bedroom can turn into a woodland paradise, or a playroom can magically become a castle.
Stencil 1, the brand carried by Pillard, offers graphic images of birds, butterflies, deer, trees, leaves and even peace signs—and they can be used on walls, furniture, T-shirts, and just about anything you can paint.
The possibilities are endless and definitely a fun way to make rooms unique and special—and family friendly.
As for wall décor such as family photos and paintings, make certain they’re placed high enough so they’re out of reach, yet still appreciably observable.
For entryways, halls and family rooms make sure you have the convenience of a damp-mop clean up. Tile, wood, laminate and linoleum do the trick as does rustically pre-distressed matte-finished hardwoods for no-skid safety. Wall-to-wall carpeting offers comfort for crawlers and first-steppers, is easy on the knees, and provides padding for falls. However, overall carpeting can be difficult to keep pristine with kids—so stick to a low-pile, a palette of middle to dark range colors in nylons and wool-nylon blends, or softer all-wools and wool-blends as both wear well and defy stains.
Area rugs are another option as they warm up your décor and protect hardwood floors. You can even border them with alphabet, animal or other carpet tiles available at toy stores in either rubber or carpet. Like puzzle pieces they add whimsy, are easily moved around for design multiplicity, and are easily replaced when worn or stained. As you can see, it doesn’t detract from the rug’s design and also engages the kids to enjoy and even learn.
Other area rug choices that add texture and are exceptionally durable for high-traffic areas are jute, sea grass and sisal. However, whatever type of rug you prefer, always decide on an easy-care, low-pile with a no-skid pad or double-sided tape underneath to prevent precarious edges to diminish the incidence of tripping.
Minimal gives Maximum Benefits for Window Treatments
Keep it simple. Forego drapes that gracefully cascade onto the floor—at least until young’uns don’t want to use them to swing on, as a hide-and-seek location, or pull themselves up for their first striding. They’re not only a tripping hazard for kids, but also adults. And aren’t drapes a bit faux pas in this age of design simplicity? Best to decorate with a minimalist approach and select easy-wipe wood blinds, roman shades or bamboo—all able to be pulled up to heights that allow light in—and adventurous hands off.
Cut Down Chores with Family Organization
If you have other areas of the home, such as a mud room, laundry area or basement, you can also set up comfort and convenience quite easily. A little bit of ingenuity saves much stress. Provide hooks, cubbies, and shelving at various heights to accommodate reachability for all family members. Low hooks for coats and low bins for shoes will encourage independence and give children the feeling of empowerment, plus reinforce responsibility. For a personal touch each area can have a family member’s name on a bin or above a hook—they even have hooks that have a nameplate attached at the top.
Putting a tray or basin in a mud room can eliminate wet footwear reaching the main house—and can be set up at an entrance or back door if a mud room is not in your home’s design.
Another great idea is a simple bench to sit on while taking off or putting on boots and shoes. If you have one with a lid, that’s optimum as it can supply storage for seasonal clothing, such as winter mittens, gloves, hats and scarves—or bathing suits, towels or swimsuits in summer. It’s also a great place to store sports equipment.
Laundry rooms or areas for a washer-dryer can contain personalized set-ups with receptacles for each family member’s soiled clothing. Or simpler yet, a single hamper or bin for colored clothing and one for whites. It’ll save sorting time and also give children an additional lesson toward the responsibility they’ll have as adults. These seem like small tasks, but they’re actually learning experiences that’ll cultivate a sense of pride as children look forward to the praise of their accomplishments.
As the saying goes, “Home Sweet Home.” In order to ensure your lifestyle is full of sweet experiences, decorate your home with the entire family’s needs, habits and ages in mind.