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In her delightful new book, Design Mom blogger Gabrielle Stanley Blair emphasizes making rooms in a family home as multipurpose as possible. This dining room, featured in the book, has been completely transformed into an inviting playroom for the kids – but one that can still pinch-hit as a dining room when needed. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

Full disclosure: I’m a busy working parent, and when I get home, I often have little energy for big projects around the house. Putting my kids to bed at night and getting them to their one or two lessons each weekend is about all I can manage. In addition, I’ve worked in the world of interior design for the better part of 20 years, and I see my share of great rooms and savvy ideas on a daily basis. So when I reviewed Design Mom recently for H&H’s “Home Library” column, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it and by how fresh and inspiring Gabrielle Stanley Blair’s ideas are.

Early on in this smart, stylish guide on living with kids, Blair puts her finger on the crux of the problem: “Kids come with all sorts of gear — and it multiplies.” The down-to-earth solution, says the popular blogger and founder of the Alt Summit, riffs on William Morris’s adage “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Blair says: “Think of the beautiful teapot you use every single day. This should be your goal when choosing any object in your home — high function + high beauty.”

But should we change our decorating for life with kids? Blair thinks so, saying “design affects us and can alter relationships in a very real way.” She plans her own homes (and her family has had a number over the years) to encourage togetherness, even if everyone in the room isn’t focusing on exactly the same thing. Her book, she says, aims to teach us, “How to live with kids, and not just how to live, but how to live well.… One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that design doesn’t have to disappear when kids appear.” 

Blair is my hero when it comes to copyrighted cartoon characters. “It’s 100 percent possible to make a room your child will love without involving Olaf the Snowman,” she insists. I wholeheartedly agree. She created this enchanting bedroom for a youngster in love with Finding Nemo – and it’s surprisingly chic and parent-friendly. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

The interior designer and mom of 6 (!) features reams of vibrant, approachable, livable rooms that lean slightly toward the contemporary but also incorporate a good dose of the quirky, the creative and the colourful. She sagely tackles the various zones and hotspots of the family home, offering unique and seasoned tips for the entryway, living room, kitchen, kids’ bedrooms, family room, laundry room, bathroom and family office, weaving together the wisdom she has gained wearing the two hats: mother and designer.

Her ideas are thoroughly practical and flexible. Idealism be damned – she's not afraid to advise, “Be willing to adjust to the current situation.” Likewise, as a relatively harried working parent, I appreciate her idea on timelines. “There’s no deadline. You’ve got a whole lifetime to work on it.”

Her warm ideas for family living have helped reinvigorate my goal to be a fun, involved parent and given me some fresh ideas for achieving that. I'm inspired by her recommendations to hold monthly interviews with each child; to do some goal-setting as a family; to crank good tunes during dinner cleanup and get the whole crew in on the action; to start a collection together as a family (even if it’s as simple and budget-friendly as collecting a couple lovely rocks on very trip we take); to create a stage-type space in my house for our pint-sized performer; keep a couple of thin, roll-up mattresses on hand for sleepover guests (which would keep us from having to drag a standard mattress through our narrow hallway from room to room when the girls have overnight guests…); and, perhaps most helpful for me, the family packrat, how to sort and purge kids artwork.

On the design side of things, she expounds on plans like establishing a functional command centre at the front door; rotating toys and clothes seasonally to make the odds and sods you’re living with on a daily basis more manageable; storing things where right you’ll use them; the best ways to make rooms multifunctional. She discusses the best family-friendly options for small-space seating, rugs, countertop materials, coffee tables, dishware, clothing and shoe storage and more. And she also includes several easy DIYs for making things like inexpensive but stylish cement planters, a “meaningful words” poster, a fabric-covered bulletin board, a customized laundry bag and a Sticky-Note calendar. 

Blair suggests using eye-catching dressup clothes as room decoration, which has the added benefit of making the outfits readily available for the kids to use. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

So … what has Blair inspired me to change at my house? First up, I’m going to gussy up my laundry room.  I log several hours a week in there – why not kit it out ... even if it’s just for me! Then, I’m going to rotate out a bunch of my kids’ toys. I do it with their clothes each season – why not the toys, too? Don’t tell them, but some things may get rotated out permanently. Next, I’m going to invest in one of those clear plastic sets of drawers at a big box store and completely reorganize my art-supply cupboard. I’m never going to have enough space in my small city semi to have a separate craft or wrap room, and I’m the mom who hosts crafts parties for the kids in our gang, so why not indulge myself? Finally, I’m going to rethink my (extremely tight!) front hall and decide whether there are any ways I can make it better. After all, Blair insists, “setting up a functional entry is key to gracefully managing a home with kids,” and as her latest disciple, I’m going to see about making my busy life a bit more graceful. 

Photo credits:

1. The Land of Nod
2. Kristen Loken
3. Lesley Colvin


Katie Hayden 

Can we go outside yet? I know the trees and flowers have been blooming in Victoria for weeks, and Calgary's had some nice weather, but we're definitely still shivering away in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. But that isn't keeping me from daydreaming of days spent in the backyard — bringing our garden back up to speed and the kids passing full Saturdays and Sundays out in the fresh air.

With the sun not quite as strong as in summer and humidity not yet an issue, spring can actually be nicer than summer for outdoor pursuits. To inspire your kids to get out there, consider adding something new — like one of these five toys — to spur on play and venture into the cooler weather.

1. Disc Swing

We have the simplest board-and-rope swing in our front yard, and it never fails to entice every single kid who comes to our house. Installing a disc swing is even simpler than a two-rope swing because you don't have to contend with levelling the two sides of the swing. Retailers like The Home Depot and Canadian Tire stock inexpensive versions, and there are handsomely crafted and stained version on Etsy. To make your own, check out the blog Dukes & Duchesses.

2. Skateboard Swing

I'd hazard a guess that skateboard swings use more of a child's muscles and help develop large-motor skills like balance. But to kids, all that matters is that they're just plain fun. Here's an easy how-to.

3. Hanging Hideout

The Victorians are said to have loved their fresh air. If your house doesn't have a wraparound veranda like they had, a hanging chair is a lovely outdoor retreat. It's like a hybrid of a swing and a fort. The Cacoon hanging tent (left) is good-looking and fun. And the egg-shaped rattan hanging chair (right) designed by Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel for Sika Design in 1957 is a classic that appears to be having another comeback this year.

4. Balance Beam

Don't have the space or budget for a palatial play structure? A balance beam is something quick and easy to add, but that will foster all sorts of play, not just balancing. I'm seriously contemplating one for our postage stamp-sized backyard. Cedarworks (above, top) has a sturdy outdoor version. And Ikea (above) has an indoor one that I'd use out in the yard when it's not too damp. Ikea's is higher, so I'd pair it with their Plufsig folding gym mat for extra cushioning when my kids fall.

5. Sandbox

There's no denying the appeal of a sandbox. My girls started playing in them as babies and my 9-year-old can still while away an hour or so in the sand. But if you're doing one, why not take it to another level? Here are two unique examples: a recycled wooden boat-turned-sandbox and a rolling version featured in Domino magazine years ago.

6. Theatre Or Puppet Show Curtain

My kids love to put on shows. They sing, dance, recite poems ... you name it. Last summer, when we were camping with seven other families, they strung up a rope between two trees, threw a few beach towels and sarongs over it and performed a concert lit by lanterns and headlamps. Wouldn't a stage curtain like this up their game? I spotted it on Etsy a couple of years ago. Sadly, it seems like it's not available through House That Lars Built anymore, but I flirt with the idea of stitching up a replica when I have the time. For kids who love puppet shows, this doorway puppet theatre curtain would be a hit.

Hopefully the temperatures will heat up soon and we can all venture outdoors!

See what else you can do with a small backyard in our photo gallery.

Photo credits:
1-3. VintageSwings, Etsy
4. Dukes & Duchesses blog
5a. Cedarworks
5b. Dig This Design blog
6a. Cacoon hanging tent
6b. Shoot Factory
7. Cedarworks
8. Ikea
9. Desire Empire blog
10. Domino via Nonchalant Mom blog, photography by Melanie Acevedo
11. HouseThatLarsBuilt, Etsy


Katie Hayden

We never really set out to renovate our bathroom.

And yet here we are with a new space that feels as breezy and fresh as a whitewashed summer cottage. A crisp white vanity is a definite upgrade on the old one (see 'before' photos below), and its style is echoed by the sweet shelf/towel bar — which also lets me have a display spot in this relatively utilitarian space. The big 12" x 24" slate floor tiles from Creekside Tile are chic and outdoorsy. The palest sky blue — Borrowed Light (235) by Farrow & Ball — on the walls is a bit more playful and vintage-y than white, and it's contrasted by the warm plum tone of the drapes in the hall outside. H&H senior design editor Sarah Hartill, who coordinated this charming makeover, finished the look off with some pretty flowers.

So how'd we get here?

Our bathroom was a small addition to our house, completed just 10 or 15 years ago by the previous owners, so it functioned fairly well — and it wasn't as dated as the adjoining kitchen. (It has a large, walled-in shower stall at one end, which we left as is.)

But in renovating the kitchen (featured in our March 2015 issue), we decided to run the new slate kitchen floor right into the bathroom — a natural choice because the two spaces were connected without a threshold, and it would have almost been harder to maintain the old bathroom floor than jackhammer it out when we were ripping out the kitchen floor.

In the process, our old vanity got banged up, and my husband, Scott, and I decided we'd replace our toilet with a low-flow version while it was removed from the room for the installation of the new slate floor.

The new vanity is outfitted with smart see-through Godmorgon inserts and organizers from Ikea, which helps keep this hard-working family bathroom operating smoothly.

A tailored linen blind (Sarah had it made by Tonic Living) replaced a fussy (and really hard to clean) plastic slat blind.

Because it was an unplanned expenditure, Sarah and I tried to keep the budget low and the look simple and timeless. We chose clean-lined white pieces, and just a few accents to add character.

Here's a list of what we used in the transformation:

Construction, installation, contracting, Ikea Installation Services; Hemnes/Rättviken sink cabinet with two drawers, Ensen faucet, Musik wall lamp, Ronglan mirror, Kolja mirror, Hjälmaren towel hanger/shelf, Savern steel lidded trash basket, drawer inserts, towels, flowerpot, garbage can, soap dish, towel hook (background), Ikea; trim and ceiling colour, Wimborne White (239), Farrow & Ball; drape fabric (background), blind fabric, drape and blind sewing, Tonic Living; painting, Vintage Fine Objects; toilet, Kohler.

Pick up our March 2015 issue for before and after photos of my kitchen, plus watch a tour of the kitchen on Online TV.

Photo credits:
1, 3, 5. Ashley Capp
2, 4. Katie Hayden


Katie Hayden

I have a new baby nephew coming any day now, and he'll eventually share a bedroom with his almost-2-year-old brother — which has me thinking about boys' bedrooms.

I've always been more partial to warm colours, and I have two girls myself, so my comfort zone is rooms full of pinks, reds and oranges. (Though we painted my girls' room in Farrow & Ball's Skylight (205), which is a really livable pale blue that sets off the bright colours.)

It turns out there are piles of great boys' bedrooms out there — even ones that woo a romantic like me, who thinks whimsy and fun are essentials in any child's room!

My favourites have rustic leanings; they feel almost like you'd find them in a log house in the woods or a summer camp cabin.

Maps always inject loads of colour and pattern, inspire wonder and wanderlust and are fun and educational. In Desmond's Ottawa bedroom, his mom Giulia Doyle set off the blues, yellows and greens with hits of bright red in the wall-mounted lamp, sock monkey stuffie and army-style blanket.

This room takes the travel theme a step further, with the addition of vintage suitcases, a steamship trunk, a stuffed giraffe and kangaroo and scientific illustrations of exotic birds. An old iron bed, understated bed linens and grey-on-grey Union Jack pillow balance the look.

I'm sold ... bright green is great for a kid's room! It's fresh and strong, but not at all overbearing. And set off by buffalo-check bed linens, it looks mod and playful. A patterned rug, strapping-topped stool and toy car add depth and character. I'm not the biggest fan of taxidermy, but it works here — and, of course, it's not real.

The worn wooden beds in this room remind me of old-fashioned sleighs. Along with the painted-wood floors, checked and striped bedding and bright red toadstool, they give the room a fairy-tale quality. And there's lots of space on the floor to flop down and play cars or colour.

I'm not certain many boys play cowboys anymore, but they did when I was a child. I'm pretty sure my nephew, Rafa, would find it fun to have thundering horses on his walls! A horse-patterned bedspread and saddle-blanket-covered headboard cushions continue the theme, while the canary yellow of the bed frame and side table clash a little bit with the rest of the room, keeping it from feeling too perfect.

Animals are a universally loved theme for children's rooms. While the wolf cub on this bedding is charming, the look is graphic, crisp and clean. First-aid-style accents bring in layers of details. (This bedding was from an H&M home collection. I can't find it available anywhere now, but H&M's wild cat bedding has a similar look, as does ByNord's wolf bedding.)

For more inspiration, check out our gallery of Editors' Favourite Kids' Rooms.

Photo credits:
1. Apartment Therapy, photography by Giulia Doyle
2. Ty Pennington
3. Interieur Inspiratie
4. Light Locations
5. Poligom, photography by Lucas Allen/GMA Images
6. Met Melk & Suiker


Katie Hayden

We have a small, raw pine table and matching pair of chairs on our front porch. They're dotted with glitter paint, marker smudges and stickers. The chairs are a wobbly (they're desperately in need of having all their screws tightened). And they just might be the most used pieces of furniture in my whole house. This morning, my girls dragged the chairs into the living room for eating breakfast at the coffee table. On Sunday evening, they were out on the front lawn — where the glitter paint was used to make Fathers' Day cards. Last weekend, they hosted a lemonade stand on the sidewalk. They've seen it all: puzzles, tea parties, colouring books, Grade 3 math workbooks.

The set cost me about $25 at Ikea 7 years ago — perhaps the best $25 I've ever spent on the kids. Here's a similar version, they seem to have discontinued the ones we have. Here are 15 other great ways to get your money's worth from children's play table and chairs.

1. Cover it with oilcloth
My colleague Jaimie Nathan spotted this idea on the Yvestown blog years ago and promptly had a sweet floral oilcloth cover stitched up for the play table in her living room. Hers is removable (because her little table was an expensive piece she didn't want to put holes in), but if you're not worried about that, staple the oilcloth in place so it will protect the tabletop from stains and spills and is easy to wipe down.

2. Use it to differentiate kid and adult spaces
This handsome version works as part of a shelving installation in the corner of a living space, with upper shelves displaying elegant, grown-up accessories — and keeping them away from little fingers — while offering plenty of interesting playthings to keep kids busy down below. Outfit play tables with an array of books, craft supplies and toys so they're extra-inviting to busy toddlers and preschoolers.

3. Paint it out to match the trim
Another way to make a play table work in a home's public spaces is to re-imagine it to suit its surroundings. To make a wee play table fit in in her rather traditional West Yorkshire, England, home, artist Anna Roberts painted it in a soft robin's-egg blue to match her elegant mouldings and built-ins.

4. Coordinate it with your child's style
In a pretty in pink-wallpapered girl's room, a quiet, vintage-y table set works well with the casually hung own illustrations and collections of wee Calico Critters, while graphic black chairs and a bold red table complement the aesthetic in the modern white and grey room.

5. ...Or make it suit your style
The play table in her children's bedroom has an authentic mid-century modern look that resonates with Charleston, S.C., interior designer Angie Hranowsky — and it's harmonious with the look she's carried through the entire house. The table is actually a new piece from Room & Board.

6. Stretch it out to fit a crowd
While my tiny Ikea table really can't accommodate more than my two girls, these ones — at least when they're pulled out from the wall — have space for at last four wee crafters. The cube stools with this console-style desk all tuck neatly away, saving space, and can be turned on their sides to fit smaller and larger kids.

7. Go for a vintage vibe
Old wooden gymnasium benches make great kid-level play spaces. Press one into service as a table to seat three or four kids — and pair with mismatched chairs for a quirky salvaged look.

8. Pair it with a chalkboard for a schoolroom feel
Coat a wall in chalkboard paint — like Swedish stylist Emma Persson Lagerberg did here — or the surface of the table itself, as Australian furniture designer Mark Tuckey did on his Kid's Chalkboard table.

9. Set it up to host a tea party ... and more
Somewhere along the way, my daughter Tessa shifted from holding tea parties (the most memorable was tea for 12 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee two summers ago) to playing restaurant. Either way, a play table is indispensable — as it is in a play kitchen, where it can be pressed into use as counterspace when it's not set up for dining

10. Top it with a dollhouse
Every time the early-childhood educators set up one of the four tables in my 3-year-old daughter's daycare room with dolls, a dollhouse and tiny furniture, the table is swarmed. Why not steal a page from the experts! (The mod A-frame here reminds me of the dollhouse I had as a child in the '70s; it's available through All Modern.

11. Turn it into a Lego table
Transforming a surface into a mecca for Lego is as easy as adding a couple Lego baseplates ; a 25 cm x 25 cm sheet is $8.

12. Supersize it
When blogger Trina McNeilly of La La Lovely Things turned her dining room into a playroom for her four young kids, she plunked a big play table in the middle of it. I can't think of a more inviting centrepiece! While her space (which was photographed, above, for the Land of Nod catalog) has residual elegance from its time as a dining room, the other room here feels more utilitarian: ready to house a crowd for puzzles or painting without decorative flourishes to distract from the task at hand.

13. Get serious about arts and crafts
My kids would go nuts for this craft table, which puts all supplies right at their fingertips. If only our small house had an inch of extra space! (It's by Guidecraft, and I've also seen it available through DwellStudio and Sunny Street Toys.)

14. Let it inspire you to reuse or recycle other pieces
Flip sweet little garbage cans and add seat cushions and cut down old worktables (watch for them at flea markets and garage sales).

15. Make use of an empty corner
This little play table — chairs included — takes up perhaps eight square feet in the corner of a Malmö, Sweden, apartment, but offers space for two to colour, read or play with tabletop toys. Layers of lighting makes it inviting and usable.

Photo sources:
1.(Left) The Haystack Needle. Photography by John Granen; (right) Oilcloth Addict
2. Revel! blog
3. La Petite Magazine blog 
4. (Left) via Ideiacor blog; (right) Kidsmopolitan blog
5. Photograph by Julia Lynn via Lonny
6. (Left) via Mommo Design blog; (right) Tyler Dawson Design
7. (Left): via Anne Sage blog; (right) via Nietylkodzieciaki blog 
8. (Left) Photograph by Petra Bindel, Elle Decor. Photograph by Mikkel Vang. (Right) via Pure Green Design 
9. (Left) via Kotivinkki blog; (right) Kidsomania blog
10. (Left) via Sofiajon Tumblr blog; (right) Apartment Therapy
11. Photograph by Asia Citro via Fun At Home With Kids; (right) via My Ideal Home blog
12. (Left) Images courtesy of Land of Nod, via La La Lovely Things ; (right) Kidsomania blog  
13. DwellStudio
14. via Pastelowo blog 
15. via Revedecor blog. Photograph by Bolaget


Katie Hayden

Childhood is finite. And despite our best intentions, and the urgings of our favourite parenting gurus, most of us can't help but let our kids get caught up in the hustle and bustle that is 21st-century life. I can't offer a fix for busy lives (I can barely keep mine on the rails most days!), but I've got a great idea for adding a bit of fun to your kids' rooms. It's something you can do this very weekend — and the kids can help!

Together, you can craft a quick and easy bunting or garland to make his or her room just a splash more festive and colourful for spring. It's surprisingly simple to achieve good-looking results, no matter how basic your paper-crafting or sewing skills are.

Let's start with the easiest project first. Print this free "I Love You" download designed by Two Brunettes and found on the Ruffled blog (they provide a full alphabet, so you could do your child's name instead), snip out the flags, glue them onto a length of string and hang. Done! Feeling craftier? Read on...

At our house, rainbows and polka-dots always mean good things. Put the two together, and they're going to spell f-u-n! Craft your own with paper from stationery or art-supply stores, or order these online from Hip Hooray party suppliers.

This joyous washi-tape garland reminds me of confetti: it's lightweight, vibrant and intense. It'd be a great rainy-day or car-trip activity. Simply sandwich a long piece of twine between strips of washi tape, fold the tape together and clip the ends into reverse points. (Used blunt-ended children's craft scissors, if you're working on it in the car.)  

Here's a washi-tape garland in action in a sweet party image created by Estonian designer Marlen Kärema.

This garland of simple paper circles created by Sydney, Australia, blogger Nicola Brooke is even faster to make than glued paper ones. Cut dozens of same-sized circles from coloured paper — let the decor in your child's room dictate the palette — then stitch them together quickly with a sewing machine.

A few years ago at Christmastime, Tessa, her friend Claire and I felt pretty clever when we crafted paper-circle garlands like these from leftover giftwrap and red-toned Christmas flyers. We still use them every year on the tree! I also love these — made with clippings from vintage atlases by Jellybean Studio and available on Etsy.

A cloth bunting like this is going to be my next DIY project — it's just so doable. I've made plenty of glued-together paper garlands and buntings, but I haven't stitched one yet — in fabric or paper. I have a boxful of pretty fabric scraps from old projects; I'll just snip out elongated triangles with pinking shears and sew them onto a length of jute twine. It'd also make a great baby gift or shower decoration. (P.S. The pictured baby, six-day-old Elizabeth, and setting could not be any cuter!)

Colourful pennants look especially bold against chalkboard-painted walls.

With its dainty flags and slightly wider band, this bunting — in a vintage-inspired shared girls' room in London, England — looks more twee, but equally fun!

A clean-lined, neutral-toned wool version is a subdued alternative for a boy's room.

A simple white bunting turns this sweet outdoor playhouse into a beacon for adventure for the three young children of Michael and Jane Frosh at their home outside Sydney, Australia.

When I was in Australia a few years ago, garlands of felted-wool balls were everywhere, and I feel in love. I should have picked one up, but never got around to it. Since then, I've been thinking of learning to felt myself, but haven't had the opportunity. This one created by Rochester, N.Y., jeweller Jenna Thompson is used as a Christmas decoration, but with its rainbow colours and simple construction, it's just as fitting for a kid's bedroom or playroom. She has directions on her blog and also recommends these from Purl Soho.

Until I learn to felt, I'll make do with one of these: jewel-toned pompoms threaded onto string. I'll get my girls to help...

Photo sources:
1. Two Brunettes "I Love You" Download, from Ruffled Blog
2. Dottie ecoGarland from Hip Hooray
3. Parcelpost Wordpress
4. Tõnis Kärema, Remodelista
5. Concrete and Honey blog
6. Jellybean Studio, Etsy
7. Meg Duerksen
8. La Factoría Plástica
9. The Boo and the Boy
10. Vintage Junky
11. Sharyn Cairns, from Homelife
12. Small Bird Blog
13. Captain and the Gypsy Kid


Katie Hayden

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