The Do's and Don'ts of Family-Friendly Design

Are you looking for ways to design your home to make it friendlier and safer for kids? Here are some do’s and don’ts for decorating a home with a family in mind.

By: Mina Hochberg
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Don’t Use High-Maintenance Fabric

When picking upholstered furniture, do your research and choose a fabric or material that repels spills and stains — and is resistant to snags. Leather and microfiber are great high-performance fabrics, and tight-weave fabrics are more snag-proof than loose-weave fabrics like tweed. Designer Emily Henderson of Emily Henderson Design used Crypton for this family room sofa to meet her need for a stylish yet stain-resistant fabric.

Do Offer Low Seating Options

Whether it’s beanbag chairs, floor cushions, stylish poufs or sofas with low profiles, kids enjoy seats that are low to the floor. “I am a huge advocate of a pouf,” says Emily Henderson. “It adds texture and warmth to any room, and it’s nearly impossible for your kids to hurt themselves on or around it.”

Don’t Put Rugs Under the Kitchen Table

If you’re not a fan of cleaning rugs that are crusted over with applesauce and spilled beverages, just do away with rugs under the kitchen table. While a rug can add warmth to a room, it may not be worth the hassle of cleaning stains and messes that are bound to happen with kids. Designer Cortney Bishop kept the floor bare underneath this dining table, making messes much easier to sweep and wipe.

Do Use Tables With Easily Wipeable Surfaces

If your dining table is a popular spot for crafts and coloring activities, it might be worth picking a table with an easily wipeable surface. Kalina Todorova, interior decorating expert with BoConcept, suggests glass tabletops, which are easy to clean when markers and glue stray from paper. Glass tables are also easy to wipe down after messy meals.

Don’t Clutter High-Traffic Areas

Resist the impulse to clutter high-traffic areas with too much furniture and decor. Entryways and family rooms are common areas for congestion and chaos, so think twice before filling them with accent tables, lamps and other non-essential decor. Design by Cortney Bishop.

Don’t Skimp on Kitchen Counter Space

If the kitchen is a gathering hot spot for your family, designate some counter space for kids to snack, draw, chat or help with cooking. Outfit your kitchen island or counter with comfortable stools that invite family members to gather ‘round. Bria Hammel Interiors outfitted this expansive quartz countertop with eight customized bar stools to accommodate extended family gatherings.

Do Add a Banquette

Banquettes are a perfect solution to accommodate wiggly, squirmy kids during family meals. They’re especially great for expanding seating capacity in small spaces. A banquette with storage under the seats is an added bonus. Design by Alicia Weaver Design in partnership with Schulte Design Associates.

Don’t Forget About Storage

Whether it’s bins, baskets, consoles or built-in cubbies, you can never have enough storage in a home with kids — especially in mudrooms and family rooms, where kid gear is most abundant. “Functional, beautiful storage pieces can be a great way to quickly hide kid toys when guests stop over at the drop of a hat,” says Bria Hammel of Bria Hammel Interiors.

Do Choose Furniture That Ages Well

Invest in furniture that ages well and improves with wear and tear, such as vintage items and leather upholstery. Interior stylist Leah Ashley placed vintage toy bins in this console unit made of distressed wood. Nicks and dents will be less noticeable and add to its vintage charm. Photo by Madeline Harper.

Don’t Use (Too Much) Open Shelving

Shelves overflowing with toys and games can be an eyesore. They can also make it look like kids have commandeered your living room. The solution? Use closed storage. “Closed storage is your best friend because it massively reduces visual chaos,” Emily Henderson says. “I like to mix open and closed storage. That way your kids can see some of their toys and easily help clean up.”

Do Get Creative With Storage

Kids come with a lot of stuff, so look for unexpected spots to add extra storage, such as on walls, behind doors or underneath furniture. Pegboard walls are a creative way to store toys that you want to put on display or access easily. They can also be used to hold bins of everything from craft supplies to Legos. Design by Killy Scheer; photo by Ryann Ford.

Don’t Resign Yourself to Queen-Sized Beds

A king-sized bed makes a world of difference for morning family snuggles — and for those nights when kids come crawling into your bed. Get an upholstered frame to make snuggling even more cozy. Curated Nest Interiors chose a stain-resistant fabric for this king-sized bed.

Do Create a Cozy Reading Nook

Encourage kids to read by creating an inviting and cozy reading nook. You can place a comfortable beanbag chair near low bookshelves, or you can go all out and design a built-in nook. Bria Hammel Interiors designed this bookcase and reading nook under the stairs.

Don’t Overlook Velvet

Count velvet as one of those fabrics that seems off-limits and overly fussy for family use but actually isn’t. “It may seem counterintuitive, but velvet is actually super kid-friendly,” Emily Henderson says. “Plus, it’s super beautiful.” Velvet is soft and doesn’t snag like some woven fabrics, so it’s an especially smart choice for sofas that see a lot of kid action.

Do Use Sofas With Attached Seat Cushions

If you want to keep sofa cushions off limits from fort-building and general playtime chaos, Kalina Todorova, interior decorating expert with BoConcept, recommends sofas with attached seat cushions. The less wear and tear on those cushions, the longer the sofa will last.

Don’t Just Shop for Kid-Themed Art

Having kids doesn’t mean that you have to cover the walls with dinosaurs, princesses and art specifically marketed to kids. Instead, pick grown-up art that also has kid appeal. “Just because it’s a kid’s space, it doesn’t mean kids can’t be exposed to quality art at a young age,” says Denise Davies, CEO of D2 Interieurs. “Nothing dates a room more than a juvenile mural or painting.” Pop art and abstract art are good places to start if you’re looking for colorful pieces that appeal to all ages.

Do Frame Your Kids’ Artwork

If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind art to hang on the walls, you can’t get much more one-of-a-kind than your own child’s artwork. Curate your child’s art file and pick out several frame-worthy pieces. They will instantly personalize a room without looking like you just slapped an art project on the wall. Designer Emily Henderson decorated the wall of this family room with framed kid art and other family mementos.

Don’t Be Afraid of Color

Use color to bring a sense of play to a room. You can go all out with a boldly colored sofa or bright accent wall. You can also punch up a muted color scheme with colorful accents, such as throw pillows or art. Designer Cortney Bishop brightened up this neutral-toned entryway by hanging candy-colored coat hooks on the wall.

Don’t Use Furniture With Sharp Edges

Furniture with sharp edges can keep parents of young children on a constant state of alert. For peace of mind, use furniture with round shapes or curved corners. Large ottomans are a great alternative to coffee and side tables with hard edges. Design by Betsy Helmuth.

Do Get Bunk Beds for Sleepovers

Bunk beds are traditionally used for multiple siblings to share rooms, but they’re also great for sleepovers once your kids are of sleepover age. Designer Cortney Bishop packed this room with single beds as well as bunk beds, with plenty of built-in drawers.

Do Expand Sink Space

A double sink can help avoid bedtime bottleneck in the bathroom when kids are trying to brush their teeth and wash up at the same time. This bathroom from Cortney Bishop Design incorporates a trough sink, a stylish alternative to double sinks.

Don’t Buy Furniture That Will Be Quickly Outgrown

Consider the longevity of your design choices and opt for furniture and decor that your children can grow into. If you think your kid will outgrow a bedframe or color scheme within a year or two, it may not be worth the investment. “Think about how the child can grow into the space as a young adult,” says Chelsea Allard, VP of Design & Social Media at Case Design/Remodeling Charlotte. For this bedroom, Case Design created a bunk bed with the idea that the extra bed may someday be converted into a desk.

Do Shop for Stylish Kid-Sized Furniture

Make your kids’ spaces just as stylish as the rest of your home with small-scale versions of on-trend furniture. Bria Hammel Interiors picked a sleek midcentury modern table for kids to work on in this playroom, along with simple metal chairs to complete the look.

Do Bring Nature Inside

Plants bring a room to life and foster a child’s connection with nature. Young children, especially, take joy in watering plants. Designer Killy Scheer used plants to accessorize this sunroom. A trio of plants fills one corner while a snake plant adorns an opposite wall. Small plants add color to the white countertop and shelves. Photo by Ryann Ford.

Do Design a Space for Play and Exercise

Dedicate a space for kids to get the wiggles out, especially for those days when outside play is not an option. Smart D2 Playrooms converted this three-car garage into a kids' gym complete with climbing wall, climbing rope, tumble mats, saucer swings, art center and individual nooks for the kids.

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