When we were pregnant with our first child, friends told us to take photos of our house ‘…because it will never look the same again’. The advice was a forewarning, and I’m willing to admit it made me a little apprehensive.
More than a year on, and I can say my house has changed a lot since having a baby, but I’ve actually enjoyed seeing it evolve in to a family home. Sure, it’s a little messy and chaotic at times (did I mention we have two dogs?) but, rather than trying to fight unbridled Fisher Price and rogue vegemite fingers, we’ve come to expect this type of thing and manage it with our choice in furnishings. Having kids doesn’t have to mean you won’t know what it’s like to be house-proud again until you’re empty-nesters (which in Sydney I believe is around the time your youngest is 30). Here are my style strategies for helping you make right choices in furniture, finishes and planning so you can have a home that the whole family can enjoy now and for many years to come.
Choose furniture that is built like a Mack Truck
It might seem paradoxical, but it is wise to invest in quality pieces when you have kids. Well-constructed furniture made of robust materials will sustain the rigorous use of family life, offering you better value for money in the long run.
Resist the temptation to purchase a ‘cheap-fix’ now, with the intention of redecorating with quality when the kids are older. I can attest that, for most families, the pledge to redecorate further down the line is rarely honoured.
A quality sofa should come with a manufacturer’s warranty on the frame, springs and foam to ensure it holds its shape and stays comfortable for at least 10 years. It should come upholstered in a sturdy fabric with removable cushion covers for easy washing and dry-cleaning. Good bones in your sofa mean, when the time comes, it’s worth the effort and cost of reupholstering and you’ll enjoy another decade or two out of it. In comparison, cheap sofas have a relatively short shelf-life and the cost of reupholstering by far outweighs their value, which is why most of them end up on the roadside or as land-fill.
Rustic or recycled pieces of furniture better withstand the battering over the years. In fact a bit of brutalising just enhances their character, so you can relax about daily wear and tear.
Non-porous, matte surfaces like timber, brushed metal or polyurethane are very low-maintenance and easy to clean, but every room needs some softer finishes like fabric for warmth and comfort.
Leather is hard-wearing but, contrary to what most people think, it’s not the only child-friendly fabric on the market. A heavy-duty upholstery fabric will perform just as well as leather and I personally prefer the softer, ‘cosier’ feel of woven fabrics. Ideally, you are looking for a fabric that is a graded at least 15,000 double rubs in the Martindale Test, consists of a blend of fibres (natural and synthetic, not pure natural), is backed and is Teflon coated. When deciding on a colour, choose a shade with a rich texture featuring a blend of colours to camouflage the stains.
For upholstered pieces of furniture, removable covers in a hard-wearing, washable fabric will help keep your furniture looking good. Have a few spare dining-chair covers so you can rotate while some are in the wash!
Outdoor fabrics have come a long way from their original plain, stiff nature and are now commonly known as ‘indoor/outdoor’ so as not to preclude their suitability for indoors. They are also no longer limited to plains and deck-chair stripes, but now include everything from animal prints to botanicals and geometrics. Indoor/outdoor fabrics can be a little more costly but are a dream to live with. They are typically soft to touch while being fade-resistant, water-resistant, stain-resistant, mildew-resistant, non-allergenic, washable and dry-cleanable. All of these sturdy qualities make indoor/outdoor fabrics perfect for banquet seating, sofas, upholstered stools and dining chairs.
If nothing else, choose fantastic lighting
Table lamps can be a little precarious for young children, but you can introduce some allure and style in even the plainest of rooms just by having bold, feature overhead lighting. An upholstered drum shade in a vibrant fabric that draws on all the colours of the room can transform your room, as can a funky pendant.
Utilise your vertical space!
Keep decor off table tops and instead use floating shelves up high to showcase photo frames, books, flowers, and delicate ornaments.
Whether you have tiles, floorboards, polished concrete or carpet, rugs are cosy underfoot and will protect your floor coverings in high-traffic areas by catching stains and spills.
Avoid loop-pile rugs and carpets as they quickly becoming reminiscent of an old woolly jumper when pet paws and little fingers catch and pull on the pile.
Look for a rug with a dense cut-pile so that spills and dirt remain on surface of the fibres where they can be easily swept or wiped away, rather than penetrating down to the basecloth. When shopping for rugs I gage density (and therefore quality) by using a scientific method known as the ‘finger test’. Basically, if you can’t wriggle your finger tips down to the base cloth, the pile is nice and thick. A cheap rug will easily part like Moses and the Red Sea.
Get a trunk for your junk
We all know that kids come with a lot of clutter so every family home needs ample storage! One of my favourite pieces of furniture is an old trunk or chest. Not only is it a charming piece of furniture, but it’s super handy to stash away toys and books and it also makes a practical coffee table or ottoman. Upholstered ottomans with internal storage offer the same advantages without the sharp corners plus they provide additional seating if required.
In your frenzied family life, don’t be afraid to make a stylish feature out an organisational tool such as a calendar, meal planner or pin-board. These features are not only helpful for how you live, but the orderliness emanates a feeling calmness to your home.
Accessorise for the Kids
A family-friendly home is about having shared spaces which reflect the variety of personalities that use the space. Mix in a few fun and youthful elements amongst your grown-up furnishings and indulge in some splashes of colour. Floor cushions in the living room, a chalk board wall in the kitchen or some framed children’s prints throughout the house keep the tone casual, fun and welcoming to visitors of all ages.