FAMILY-FRIENDLY DECORATING: THE FORMAL LIVING ROOM

Photo by Martin Poole/Digital Vision / Getty Images

Nothing should be too precious when decorating a house with young children. Between the spills, splats, unidentifiable crumbs, mystery stains and marvelous mishaps, a home can certainly bear the brunt of its kiddo occupants. The desire to create a family-friendly home is something that I hear over and over again from my clients. As mom to a toddler, I have also experienced this firsthand. Let's just say a stamp pad is a recipe for disaster and leave it at that.

In this series of posts, I hope to share some of the questions I get asked at almost every design meeting and reveal answers that will help you figure out a way to live in a gorgeous space without having to worry about every spill. From toy organization to upholstery to the perfect black-out shades for insomniac babies, the tips for creating a family-friendly home are major topics in my business and in my life.

QUESTION: Should a formal living room be a no-kids zone? How can we create a chic space to entertain friends but not have to worry that our kids will end up drawing crayon murals on the brand new wallpaper?

ANSWER: I am a firm believer that you should use every room in your house and not be afraid of what might happen if the kids spill their cranberry juice on your fancy, new sofa.

I often find that clients with kids have a living room that sits empty most of the time. Even on major holidays, guests and kids tend to congregate in the kitchen and family room. The kids have been trained not to touch anything in the formal living room, and guests end up feeling more comfortable standing around the kitchen island. And so the formal living room debacle continues.

To tackle this issue, I really try to figure out how each family lives. Every home is so different, and a formal living room means different things to different people. But as I said before, having a room that you never use is just something I refuse to let happen.  

Not all of my no-fail suggestions will work for everyone, but often even just one of these tips can transform a lonely living room into a space where adults AND kids/babies/pets can hang out together.

1) Think easy-to-clean walls.

Vinyl wallpapers have come a long way, and paint finishes have become much more resistant to sticky fingers. Koroseal is my go to wallpaper for industrial strength (we're talking meant for hotel rooms and public spaces) wallpapers that look gorgeous too. Their Belgian Linen in Pearl, or any neutral for that matter, is 100% cleanable and a no-brainer. Many new paints now clean like a dream too.

2) No kidding, acrylic upholstery fabric can actually be pretty

Like vinyl wallpaper, indoor/outdoor fabrics have come a long, long way in the last couple of years. You might recognize the name Perennials from the Restoration Hardware catalogs. They use these solution-dyed acrylic fabrics as some of their standard upholstery choices for their furniture. But Perennials is more than just what you see at Resto; they have an entire line of amazing fabrics that can work just as well on sofas as they do outdoor chairs. Check out their fabrics and relish in their amazing range of colors and textures. They aren't foolproof (or inexpensive), but they sure hold up much better than that mohair velvet that's calling your name. Save the luxe fabrics for your throw pillows and keep the major upholstery pieces in fabrics that you can clean. And when I say clean, I mean you can even clean it with bleach.

3) Sometimes feeling comfortable means not spending an arm and a leg

The look of luxury often comes at a price, but it doesn't have to. As you'll see, I'm a bit of an auction junkie because you can find pieces with great bones at affordable prices. It is so much easier to feel like the kids can roam free in a room where not every item is so expensive that you are on constant alert. Natural, woven rugs can look great in a formal space and not break the bank, old pieces can be refreshed with a coat of paint, and a few inexpensive throw pillows can actually look smashing on the right sofa. No one needs to know they were on super sale.