How To Design A Kid-Friendly Home

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.

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