Many people think if you want a kid or pet-friendly home, you have to sacrifice style. But practicality isn’t about overriding beauty. Often in the design world, the most beautiful choices are the most practical ones. It’s just that the beauty in the final result distracts you from the underlying practicality.
However, when you’re designing a custom-home for small children (or rough hewn adults) and loveable fur-covered creatures, there are some special considerations. First and foremost, you want the space to be safe. Secondly, you want the materials to be easy to clean. Finally, you want your home to be highly efficient. A good designer can make all of these amazing things happen in a gorgeous and subtle way.
Easy To Clean Wall-Coverings
You know how kids love to put their (adorable but grimy) fingers on everything? Of course you do. And that’s why flat paint is only for ceilings. Flat paint absorbs oil on contact, and fingerprints and smudges never go away. Eventually dust clings to the oil and it’s not pretty. That’s why I always recommend paint with a satin or eggshell finish for walls.
Cat-lovers and parents of wall-scribbling-aged people will want to avoid grasscloth, silk and linen wall-coverings. These options can be easily shredded by claws, in addition to being difficult to clean. So what should you choose instead?
There are vinyl grasscloths and silks that look very authentic. It’s a great option, if you want something that adds a little color or texture to a space. Vinyl wipes up in a snap, and it’s moisture-resistant, which means it can be used in full baths.
Safe, Sustainable Flooring
For carpet and rugs, I like 100-percent natural fiber (think wool) or high-performance synthetic options. Natural fibers are easier to clean than most synthetics and they’re easily treated with eco-friendly stain protection, but some synthetics are manufactured specifically to be stain and odor-resistant. Indoor/outdoor rugs clean well, and these days, they’re often just as soft and luxurious as interior rugs.
What should you avoid? Viscose or rayon rugs show wear quickly and hold stains forever. If you have a dog or a cat or a human, you just shouldn’t.
For a high-traffic kid area, such as a playroom, you may want wall-to-wall carpeting for safety. Consider carpet tiles rather than a single roll. If a stain doesn’t come out, you can simply pop out the offending tile and replace it with another, rather than re-carpeting the entire room.
Seeking a South Bay coastal vibe? Jute and sisal hide spills and layer well. I like to use a jute rug to define a space and top it with something smaller and softer. If the smaller rug becomes frayed or stained, you can easily replace it.
Mosaic Versus Large-Format Tile?
Porcelain tiles are an excellent choice in utilitarian areas, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms. They clean easily, and resist wear and tear. For bathrooms—particularly kids’ bathrooms—I prefer mosaic patterns. Because of the grout lines, mosaic offers better traction than large-format. I know firsthand what it’s like when someone has slippery little feet, fresh out of the bath, and how easily and quickly it can become an unsafe environment.
Fabrics That Hold Up—Again & Again
Performance fabrics aren’t what they used to be—because they’re so much more! I love using solution-dyed acrylic fabrics with custom-designed furniture, cushions and throw pillows, both indoors or out. There are thousands of options, so there’s something to fit every style. Often these fabrics encourage spilled liquid to bead, rather than absorb. And if something does leave a mark, you can clean it with a diluted bleach solution. If your ancient dog has a perpetual icky stomach, at least your furniture won’t broadcast the news.
Not Your Grandma’s Slipcover
When you hear “slipcover,” do you think frumpy and ill-fitting? Former generations of poorly-designed slipcovers have given them a bad rep, but the truth is, you probably see slip-covered sofas all the time and never realize it. That’s because today’s high-end slipcovers are sleek and curve-hugging. Slipcovers are simple to tug off and wash after a juice spill or a muddy-paws encounter. You can even have more than one made, and cycle them out like you do bedding.
Leather is a good option for easy-to-clean furniture, but I like faux leather even better. That’s because it looks like the real thing, but it doesn’t crack with time or require conditioning. Homes with kids almost always use an island or bar for quick meals. The stools get filthy, so I use a lot of faux leather on barstools.
Faux leather and high-performance fabrics are also great options for dining chairs. If you love a beautiful but high-maintenance fabric, why not custom-build your dining chairs using two different fabrics? On the inside, which is most vulnerable to spills, use a performance or wipeable fabric. The high-maintenance fabric goes on the back, where it will be safer.
There are marble people, and there are not marble people. If you’re worried about stains and streaks, you are a “not marble” person. Instead, try a marble backsplash and synthetic countertops. If you’re trying to recreate the look of marble, porcelain often works better than quartz.
Southern California is in an earthquake-zone. This means you should never place a glass frame over a crib or child’s bed, and you shouldn’t place items that could fall off shelves near changing tables and play spaces. Safe decorating options include light frames with plastic rather than glass, colorful murals, fabric art, or paper wall-hangings suspended from lightweight wooden rods. Tall furniture like bookcases or dressers should be anchored to the wall using discreet furniture straps.
If you have active small children, you may want to consider a plush-ottoman instead of a sharp-edged coffee table. Go with curved, softer edges on end tables and chairs, rather than choosing pieces with extreme angles and random jutting bits.Avoid window-dressings with cords (kids have strangled themselves) and opt for push-pull Roman or automated shades. Always use slow-close hinges for window-seats with hollow storage below, to avoid crushed fingers.
If you’re big on safety cameras, you may want to install the cords behind the drywall. This is an aesthetically-pleasing option that also eliminates a pulling/chewing hazard and created a kid & pet-friendly atmosphere in the home.
Design for Efficiency
Kids mean clutter, and space is limited in the South Bay. Hidden built-ins provide a highly efficient way to hide clutter. Built-in media consoles and hollow window seats in playrooms are great places to store large toys, such as race-tracks. Add a cushioned top, and kids have a cozy nook to read or daydream.
Need to fit two kids in one room? Built-in bunk beds maximize floor space. You can even add built-in storage beneath and alongside the beds. Built-in bookshelves and dressers keep kids organized, as well as safe from toppling furniture.
Do you have a bedroom over another bedroom? Or two small children—one who reliably wakes at night, and one who only wakes when the other wakes her up? Do you have a budding musical genius, and while you’re proud, you’d rather not deal with a constant soundtrack? We can do magical things with strategically placed area rugs and a special kind of insulation. We’ll help you keep sound in—and out.
We have kids and pets and messy adult humans in our lives.
At White Sands, we know how to custom-build and design a beach house that accommodates all of your imperfectly perfect family members, yet still feels like a luxurious haven where you can relax and find inspiration. Our clients benefit from both our personal experience (one kid-sized concussion later, all the furniture in my own living room is cushioned and rounded), and our client-honed expertise. We love our kids and our pets, and we think “home” should be comfortable and safe for everyone—but that doesn’t mean it has to look utilitarian or like a nursery school. You can see some of our other kid & pet-friendly projects by clicking here.