Beautiful design, with kids and pets? Yes, you can have both.
On any given day of the last 20-plus years, as I’ve cleaned up fur balls from my living room area rug, puppy pee on my Saltillo tile floor, and 2 a.m. vomit from yet another area rug, courtesy of an adult dog with an upset stomach — or try to restuff and sew up a torn couch cushion a puppy went wild with — you’ll hear me grumble to myself, “This is why I can’t have nice things.”
Anyone who has lived with pets and, of course, young kids, has home decor war stories to share — drawing on the walls, leaky diapers and stained sofa cushions, scratched up leather chairs, spills, breaks … the list is endless. But neither you nor I need to live without nice things, because there are many ways to include beautiful design that is resilient to common household atrocities.
And it’s not just about defensive designing. If you live in a household with kids and pets, you can also trick out your home in winning ways to include the evolving needs of your children, dogs and cats.
Raili Clasen of RailiCA Design loves creating high-end, well-designed spaces that incorporate the reality of living with kids and pets.
“I love doing kids’ bedrooms and bathrooms,” she said. “The goal is to make it really reflect their personality, because kids, as they grow older, spend more and more time in their bedrooms. I try to interview them or have them part of the design process, starting at 5 years old.”
But, she acknowledged, the big hurdle is that they’re very different at 5 than they will be at 8 and later at, say, 13. So, her strategy is to not put something in that’s so permanent, it can’t grow with them.
“The key to designing spaces for them is to start with neutrals and then all the personality will come in with artwork, bedding, rugs, things that can be changed out over the years,” she explained.
Clasen pointed to a steel loft bed sold by Room & Board that she uses many times on kids’ room projects. A loft bunk bed is also available.
“What I love about the loft bed is that it’s customizable,” she said. “You can get it in any color and they’re super easy to repaint or re-powder coat. For instance, if you have a little girl who wants hot pink and grows into a 16-year-old who wants a white boho room, it’s a super easy fix. And those beds are so sturdy, they can’t be ruined like an upholstered bed could be.”
Designer Traci Taylor of Arise Interiors also takes kids into account when designing kitchens, for instance.
“When we have clients who have the opportunity to do creative solutions, we’ll do things like toe-kick ladders to help kids reach the countertop level to help cook,” she said.
Like Clasen, Taylor is about longevity of materials. Clients with young children sometimes suggest using cheap furniture, like Ikea. But Taylor points out that it’s likely to get chipped or break and is going to need to be replaced after a couple of years.
“It’s better to use higher-end good material for ease of maintenance and longevity. And it’s just a bit more green because we’re not redoing things all the time.”
For dogs and cats, there are both cool design solutions that incorporate their needs, as well as defensive solutions that will help keep them from ruining your furnishings.
Taylor is excited about small pocket doors that function as high-end dog gates.
“Instead of a baby gate to keep a pet in or out of a room, there are custom-designed pocket doors about 30 inches or 36 inches high that fit in with the rest of the home design,” she said.
Taylor has built little kennels into kitchen cabinet areas that also hold food, leashes and other pet paraphernalia.
If you’re indulgent of pets on the furniture, Clasen suggested using slipcovers on couches and chairs in quality indoor/outdoor fabrics from companies like Sunbrella, Perennials and Crypton. And, she added, she typically uses a throw blanket because, while the bottom cushions may be protected from dirt and liquid, pets also like to use the back cushion.
“I do a corner throw that can be washed. And that also helps with the kids, because when feet go on a sofa, it can get dirty.”
Flooring can be its own challenge when kids and pets are traipsing through the house. There’s currently a huge desire among homeowners to have beautiful hardwood floors. If there’s no talking you out of them, go for lighter tones: Dark wood stains show scratches. And go for textured, not smooth coat hardwood, said Clasen.
“You can still have your beautiful oak floors, but the texture protects them so that scratches are nonexistent,” she explained.
She and Taylor also agree that for a hardwood look without the vulnerability of wood, the quality of vinyl flooring is getting good — and it’s about a tenth of the cost of hardwood.
Then there are area rugs. They seem to be a magnet for dogs and cats for peeing, vomiting and hairballs. And kids can be hard on them, too, with spills and dirt. Clasen is a fan of indoor/outdoor rugs, especially for kids’ rooms.
“You can literally take them out and hose them down with a little OxiClean and set them out to dry,” she said. “Don’t go with thick pile shag rugs. There’s too much that can get settled in the pile.”
Taylor, who has two young children, has been buying Ruggable rugs as runners in her kitchen and entry. The rugs are machine washable, but, she noted, they’re very thin, so you must decide if you want to get a thin or thick pad for a more luxurious feeling.
“I think the goal with having pet- and kid-friendly spaces is to create an aesthetic that the homeowner loves, and a space that has to ‘double function’ well,” Taylor said.
Both designers offered some tips for selecting materials to design your home with kids and pets in mind.
- Tile backsplash behind toilet: Taylor, who has a 5-year-old son, suggested using tile as a backsplash behind the toilet, instead of just paint, to make the results of inaccurate aim easier to clean up.
- Melamine for lower kitchen cabinets: That same child also inspired Taylor to use hardy melamine instead of stained wood on lower kitchen cabinets, again to ease cleanup and because it’s more durable. “A tricycle can run into it, and it doesn’t matter,” she said.
- No flat paint: Clasen advised parents not use flat paint in rooms where there are kids 16 or younger. Instead, go with an eggshell finish, which is wipeable. Taylor likes Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select Interior Matte. A matte finish is usually a no-no, but this one is cleanable.
- Easy-to-wash bedding: For bedding, use cotton, not linen, which absorbs every oil stain, Clasen said. And, while it may sound counterintuitive, she’s a big fan of white bedding because it can be bleached. Patterns can hide stains, but she gravitates to solids and layering in colors or fun pillows. And use a cotton duvet instead of a delicate quilt.
- Wool and synthetic blends for area rugs: Stay away from thick pile shags, which trap dirt, food and other nasties. Jute is fine, Classen said, but there’s no cleaning it once it gets trashed. Its benefit is that being less expensive, it’s easier to replace. Fabrics she liked for rugs include indoor/outdoor materials, wool and wool blends, synthetic blends and, surprisingly, vintage rugs (except in high traffic areas) because, she said, the more they get worn down the better.
- Stay away from treated fabrics: Taylor said you do want performance fabrics for upholstery that are stain- and water-resistant, like Crypton or Kravet Smart. But she advised staying away from treatments that are applied or added on because they don’t wear well.
- Select slipcovered sofas and chairs: Clasen not only prefers slipcovers, which can be removed for cleaning, but she likes to order two sets — even in different tones to change things up while one is being washed.
- Choose stone tabletops for coffee tables: Wood is beautiful for coffee tables, said Clasen, but not with pets — or even adults, noting issues with scratches and stain rings. She liked stone tops, like marble and granite, and paired with a wood base. Also, she recommended, check out metal tables or something with a metal top.
Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.