Kid-friendly decor can be stylish and chic

As I sat perusing Pinterest for décor inspiration, I quickly realized that my dream of creating a Martha Stewart-inspired home for my son’s first Christmas in our new home was not going to happen – not this year, anyway. 

For weeks I had daydreamed about getting a real Scotch pine tree for the corner of our living room, with glittery, colorful lights, delicate glass ornaments and sparkly garland in a color scheme I hadn’t quite worked out yet, when reality quickly set in.  

I have a high-voltage toddler who may not only smash any ornament within reach to pieces (or at the very least, pick them up out of curiosity and then fling them onto the floor), but would probably take down the entire tree in one shot with a tiny pull on a needle (and take himself out while he’s at it). I’d rather not have a vision of my son lying flat on the ground with a 20-pound tree on top of him, thank you very much. 

Before becoming a parent, I remember a friend with two little kids telling me that she doesn’t keep their Christmas tree in the house. Instead, they decorate it and then plop the tree outside in the cold and snow (in Canada). At the time, I thought this was very odd and cruel of her. How can you deny your children a Christmas tree to look at for weeks on end? Now I get it. But I’m going to go out on a limb (pun intended) and state that a real pine tree would probably not fare well in our Cayman heat and blazing sun for more than a day or two. 

The topic of decorating one’s home in a stylish and chic manner when you have small children is one that I’m all too familiar with. When we moved into our new abode a year and a half ago, it was exciting picking out the décor and furniture from scratch – at first. My husband and I would look through countless magazines and visit the various online stores, as well as the ones on island to get our inspiration and ideas. Unfortunately, the conversations between us went something like this: 

Husband: “I love this coffee table. It would look perfect in the living room.” 

Me: “The kid will kill himself with those corners. Need something round.” 

Me: “This dove gray couch is incredibly elegant and sophisticated. It’s perfect. Come here and feel its soft, luxurious fabric – it screams ‘lay down on me!’” 

Husband: “We need dark leather. If he gets his dirty hands on there or spills his grape juice all over it, it’s game over. With leather, we can just wipe it off before it stains.” (Side note: It is a male affliction to gravitate to leather furniture and turn a room into a “man cave.” Although I gave in to not one but two leather couches, I quickly shut down his request for the two matching La-Z-Boy recliners.) 

Little things that you never would have bothered to think about before kids become ridiculous to even consider buying afterward. This includes: anything with glass or pointy corners, lamps of all sizes and shapes, wide-open cupboards, and low-level shelves. And don’t get me started on our TV unit, which I bought without consulting my husband and am still hearing about many months later, as our son – like most kids his age – is obsessed with TV remote controls and every button or cable on our DVD player, cable TV box, Apple TV, modem, and stereo receiver. The beautifully crafted wood TV unit is wide-open and at hand- and eye-level, rendering its contents irresistible for a 3-foot-tall electronic wizard. I bought it in a moment of weakness while at Beacon Furniture. Loved it immediately, and still love it, but if I could do it again …. 

Some things can be fixed temporarily without too much compromise. Yes, baby-proofing the house does wonders. Kitchen cupboards are on lockdown now, same with our built-in shelving unit (helped by having no knobs), but there are some things you don’t want to – and shouldn’t – compromise on, hoping that your kids will just grow out of their busyness and heed the warning of “Don’t you dare go in there with that food/drink/friend!” 

I remember my aunt having an “off-limit” room, quite simply called the “White Room,” which was the formal living room. Whenever my cousins and I used to play together at their house, we were very sternly told to not go in there under any circumstances. The room consisted of a white couch and matching white upholstered fabric chair, white chintz balloon valances, and a white shag rug (hey, it was the early ’80s). Whenever she left to go shopping, we would descend on that room in one minute flat. The magnetic attraction was only topped by our desire to flirt with danger. Luckily, we never spilled anything and left everything in its place before hearing the car pull up and bolting quicker than the combined efforts of Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson. 

You don’t hear about these “off-limit” rooms anymore. Parents just create family friendly, functional homes, sometimes sticking with Ikea furniture until the kids leave for college. After all, you can’t get your hands dirty in a pristine house; kids are messy, and life is messy living with them. Besides, you can’t really turn down their requests to fingerpaint or their offers to help you make those chocolate chip cookies, now can you? It is very possible to create a functional yet chic and stylish home filled with objects you love by incorporating a few common-sense tips … but maybe just stay away from the color white. 

Now, about that pine tree – I’ve decided that some things are not worth compromising on. I’m going to pick one up this weekend, along with a harness for my son to strap him to the leather couch on Christmas morning.  

Hopefully, the tree hasn’t died in the Caribbean heat by then. 

Tips on decorating with small families  

Kids have opinions too! If they have a say on fabric or paint swatches, they may think twice about drawing on the walls and putting their sticky fingers on the furniture (when they’re old enough to understand, of course). 

Embrace colors and textures with rich patterns made of indestructible materials to hide dirt and spills, i.e. washable paint, chalkboard paint, heavy fabrics like leather, denim, velvet and ultra-suede. Washable slipcovers are also a great trick. I use Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to remove stains from everything. And of course, Scotchgard what you can!  

Forget window treatments. Instead, go for plantation shutters or other wood blinds and Roman shades, but make sure the pull cords are out of reach and out of the way. It may put a damper on hide-and-seek spots, but it is also safer when little ones decide to pull on curtains just for the heck of it. 

Area rugs are a durable and inexpensive option for high-traffic areas. In Cayman, seagrass and sisal rugs add texture and also help create that Caribbean “outdoor/indoor” vibe; low-pile rugs are also a good option. Carpet tiles are a hot trend. Just replace and reconfigure if one area becomes stained or worn out. 

Create an off-limit zone for parents! Whether it’s the kids’ bedroom or a corner off the living room, a zone for play is the way to go if you have the space. Make sure there is ample space for sword fights, karate moves, paint easel and games table. 

Aim high with objects you really love. Display your favorite or delicate items, whether vases, candles or picture frames, up high (at least 45 inches) and out of the reach of curious fingers. 

Make storage a design element so your house is clutter-free. Coffee tables, chests and entry benches can all double as storage for toys, games, puzzles and shoes. 

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As lovely as this scene is, a white shag rug and a white couch are a recipe for disaster if you have kids in the house.

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