I’m always amazed when we have people over to our house, especially other parents, how much they ooh and awe over how nice everything looks. At first I’m flattered. After all I do put a lot of time and effort into making our house look nice and reflect our family’s values, but as I follow them from room to room listening to their appreciative sighs I always wonder “there is nothing really special about our house is there?” I mean we do all the work ourselves on a tiny budget. Honestly anyone could replicate our look. Then I started going to other people’s homes for play dates, and I started to realize what all the fuss is about. I have many friends (all of whom will remain nameless) who have two children but judging by their homes you would think they run a daycare. It’s not that their homes are messy, they’re not. It’s that there are entire rooms dedicated to toys. The only artwork is done by the kids or is pictures of the kids. It’s as if the children decorated the house instead of the parents. In fact it’s almost impossible to even find the parents style in the house. So for those of you who think you can’t have a beautiful house until the kids grow up I’m here to tell you to TAKE BACK YOUR HOUSE! Below I’ve compiled a list of my best tips for reclaiming your house from the “daycare look” and how to keep your kids from destroying your hard work.
Rethink your kids role in the house
I’ll be honest with you. We do not have a child centered house. We have a family centered house. Do you know the difference? The way I look at it the kids only make up 50% of the household, so why should every decision we make be based on what is best for the kids or what the kids would want? I’ll tell you what the kids want: My Little Pony wall decals and an indoor tree fort. Now I know there are parents out there who would gladly give their kids those things, but I’m not one of them. Why? Because it’s MY house; I just let them live in it. One day my girls will grow up and have their own homes and they can gladly plaster My Little Pony pictures wherever they want, but for now I am the parent, I pay the bills, and I clean the house which means I get to make the decisions about decorating the parts of the house that the family shares. Now I’m willing to compromise. I gave each child their own room, decorated especially for them (when they are old enough I will gladly let them express themselves by decorating their own rooms), and I even let them make a mess in them. Just to prove I’m not a decorating Nazi, here’s what Sophie’s room looked like after she “cleaned” it this morning. As you can see she is exhausted from all her hard work.
I want you to let go of the idea that your house has to be set up to accommodate the children at all times. I want you to imagine what your dream home would look like if you didn’t have to worry about your kids destroying all your hard work. The tips below can be utilized in any room and with any decor and will allow you to create a beautiful home around your family instead of in spite of them.
1. Baskets, Baskets, Baskets
The joy of baskets ( or containers, storage ottomans, ect) is that not only do they look nice in a room but they allow you to hide clutter in a matter of minutes. Even better they allow your kids to hide their own clutter in minutes. I find it’s much more productive to tell my 3 year old to put all the toys in the basket than to just tell her to clean them all up. We have baskets in just about every room of our house. They allow you to keep the kids stuff out of sight yet still close at hand.
Below you can see 3 baskets under our TV which hold all our DVDs. The basket on the right is entirely dedicated to children’s movies.
We also have a large toy basket in the corner of our living room next to the chair that hold any toys that I find laying around on the floor.
In Sophie’s room there are 3 baskets under her bed that hold a variety of different toys that are labeled with small chalkboards.
Baskets on shelves in our hall bath keep kids towels, band aids, medicines, and other bath accessories wrangled and out of sight.
2. Move priceless objects up and move replaceable objects down
I feel like most parents got the first part of this statement. You go into their house and everything is placed 4 feet or higher. The bottom shelves of book cases are empty while the top ones are over flowing. I probably don’t have to point out that this doesn’t create a very balanced look. The solution is to place your most treasured and breakable objects on the upper shelves while moving unbreakable or less important objects lower. Check out how I styled our living room book selves below:
The two bottom shelves are the only ones our kids can reach. To start with I placed books on these shelves that they were the least likely to mess up or that I cared the least for. This included art books, photo albums, garden books, and children’s books, almost all of which are hard back. You’ll also noticed that while the books on the upper shelves are styled in different ways these bottom shelves are all styled vertically across. This is because my kids are constantly taking the books off the shelves and placing them vertically is the quickest way to put them back. The accessories on these shelves are also more durable than the ones of the upper shelves.
3. Give kids their own space
This could be their own room, but also carve out small niches for them in other rooms. Any child psychologist will tell you that rather than just tell your children “no” you should try to redirect them. This is much easier when they have their own items to play with. When children have their own objects to touch they are much less likely to touch yours.
In our living room the kids have their own book shelf for their books and their own basket for DVDs.
The black buffet in our kitchen houses all the kids cups, bowels, and utensils. They love to throw them all over the floor, but they almost never touch the other cabinets.
I also hung a cork board in Sophie’s room to hang up all her art work. She loves to hang up all her special pieces on this board and for the most part it keeps them off of my fridge. We put only the most special pieces on the fridge and if she wants to put a different one of the fridge then we move the previous one to her board.
4. Use durable materials
Furniture is expensive, so don’t buy something that your kids are going to destroy in under a week. This does not; however, mean you a have to buy cheap or unstylish items for your home. I have found that the 3 best kid resistant materials are leather, wood, and microfiber.
Our living room furniture is all brown leather which was not at all cheap but has stood up the test of time to two kids and two dogs. This furniture had been jumped on, peed on, puked on, and spilled on more times than I can count. The thing I love about leather is that all you have to do is wipe it down. After 7 years we have couple of minor scratches from the dogs but absolutely no stains. I’m a leather convert for life!
The thing I like most about wood is that it can be refinished. You’d be hard pressed to find something your kids could do to wood that can be buffed, sanded, or painted away. Low gloss or waxed finishes are ideal with children. Even crayon and markers can be erased with a good sanding or coat of paint. Remember when I refinished Sophie’s art table to clean it up?
Mid-grade laminate floors and carpet cost about the same. Pick the laminate floors! I can’t tell you how many times a day my kids drop and spill stuff on our laminate floors, but I never bat an eye because these bad boys are practically indestructible. 7 years later they look as good as the day we installed them.
The coffee table Cody built be out of pallet wood is sealed with marine grade varnish making it impervious to liquids. It’s even playdough proof!
Wood dining chairs are super easy to keep clean but I wanted something a little more comfortable for our dining room, so I choose cushioned chairs covered in a textured micro fiber. You can see by the chair on the left that Sophie has no problem spilling and staining these puppies; however, the benefit of them is that the look brand new again after a quick steam cleaning making them great for the long haul!
5. Cover everything
The key to decorating successfully with kids is understanding that they are going to try to destroy everything. With that in mind I make sure that all readily available fabrics are washable. For pillows that means pillow covers versus solid pillows. For the yellow pillows below I made the covers myself, but similar ones are also widely available at places like Pottery Barn. The benefit of pillow covers is that they can be repeatedly washed without destroying the integrity of the pillow itself. Especially important of you have down pillows.
I feel like our whole master bedroom is one giant cover. The shams, euro shams, and decorative pillows are all covers. I also urgently recommend that you use duvet covers instead of comforters. They are easier to wash and dry and protect the comforter underneath. Recently Sophie puked all over our bed including the pillows and boy was I glad that everything was covers then.
You may also want to consider slip covering furniture. This is actually my favorite way to have white furniture as you can simply throw the cover in the wash when it gets dirty. Ikea has a great selection of slip covered sofas and chairs.
6. Use Patterns
Use patterned fabric for heavily trafficked areas (such as area rugs) and highly touched surfaces (like towels and pillows) as they help hide stains and dirt. Below is a sampling of patterns found throughout our house. All of them have stains on them now, but for the most part you don’t notice them unless I point them out to you. Our living room rug (middle of first row) in particular has held up really well. Between the subtle pattern and the taupe tinge is hides just about everything!
To sum up:
- You do not have to wait until your kids grow up to have a beautiful house.
- Invest in pieces that are easy to maintain and clean. Assume your kids will get them dirty.
- Decorate in a way that infuses the kids into your home without allowing them to take it over.
So, there are my tips. What are your best tips for decorating with children? How do you make room for your children’s stuff without letting them take over the whole house?