Hi, Albie here! Wife, mom, interior designer, and all-around idea machine. This combination is likely why I’m an interior designer.
As a teenager, I remember constantly shuffling the furniture around my tiny bedroom — usually at 3 am — tinkering and ideating ways to the room to feel less tiny…because it was definitely tiny. When I moved into my NYC studio — my first apartment on my own — I was determined to transform it into my bachelorette pad in the sky. What both scenarios had in common? No, not that they were small spaces, but that they were mine… all mine. The only person’s needs I had to consider were my own. Then I met my now husband. Then we had a baby. Poof… my bachelorette pad became a home for three, forcing me to really flex my small-space design muscle. How does a family of three comfortably live in a studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen? Lots and lots of space-saving design decisions & shopping solutions. Yes, I did some “baby-proofing” — bumpers on the corners and all that — but never did it ever enter my mind that I needed to make my home “kid-friendly” — I’m not a kid…my husband’s not a kid… and my kid won’t be a kid forever. Now five years and two apartments later, I still refuse to subscribe to “kid-friendly” design and here’s why you probably shouldn’t either.
What Exactly is “Kid-Friendly” Design?
If you do a quick google search of the phrase “kid-friendly design” you’ll be hit with all kinds of “ideas” but no clear definition… at least not anything specific. Instead, you’ll find suggestions to accommodate your home to work for your children, everything from the best performance fabrics to use to tips on incorporating your children’s artwork tastefully — all pointing towards “adultifying” things that are deemed “for kids”, so why isn’t it just considered good design? Or, if we must put a label on it, why not call it “parent-friendly” design — design for parents who still want to feel like their home is made for grown-ups?
When you look at most of the “expert” tips on how to make a design kid-friendly, it’s suggestions that would also be perfect for a space that has no kids — performance fabric is a great idea because of its durability, stylish storage solutions is perfect in a small home short on actual storage space, finding ways to display sentimental artwork would make any traveler’s heart smile — yet somehow these tips, and more, have dubbed “kid-friendly” as though the alternative would be to just live in squalor.
Spoiler: Having kids at home doesn’t void the house of good design.
I would get asked so often how I decorate with a toddler — “how do you have nice things?” would actually, often, be the exact question — and my reply? “Why wouldn’t I have nice things?!” That’s when I often tell people about my own childhood, growing up around glass coffee tables and priceless vases and so many other things that probably wouldn’t be deemed “kid-friendly” nowadays.
I grew up in the household with plastic on the cream velvet sofas — plastic that my mother now regrets removing by the way — but not because my parents didn’t trust me; the plastic was because my parents didn’t trust anyone and they wanted their upholstery to last forever. My parents’ idea of designing around me was simply explaining to me why we don’t stand on tables, jump on sofas, or write on walls. The end. We had rules. I didn’t break em. Unless you count my using the back of the sofa as a balance beam because I thought I was the next Dominique Dawes, which I’m clearly not.
Taking my cues from my parents, it never occurred to me to design our entire home around our kid — I want a storage coffee table because where else am I going to put my collection of throws and pillow covers. The switch to a washable rug? Duh, because my husband is super clumsy with his beverages yet insists on putting them on the floor. Do my design decisions take my daughter into account? Of course they do… just as much as I consider my husband’s needs. It’s about what works for all of us — every occupant of the home — and yet, the idea of kid-friendly design has been glamourized as some sort of groundbreaking design development, when truth is, it’s basically just utilitarian design masquerading as being kid-friendly. With or without a child in the home, it would likely still meet the design needs of the grownups in the house; and if not, then it’s up to them to discern if they’ve actually made choices they can live with or if they’ve sacrificed their home happiness for their child who won’t be a child for very long.
As parents, my husband and I always try to remember that unhappy people don’t raise happy kids. This isn’t to say that designing exclusively around our daughter would make us unhappy — definitely not what I’m saying — but what message are we sending when we’re sacrificing our velvet sofa and wool sofa for fear of what she might do…one day…maybe? Are we expecting her to be destructive? Are we assuming we won’t make just as much of a mess? Are we saying we don’t trust her to value things in our home? Just like I did, our daughter has grown up with a pretty awesome understanding of taking care of things — not because they’re valuable or so she won’t get in trouble, but because this is her home too and *gasp* she likes nice things just like mommy.
Will there be some design choices that you make exclusively because you’re a parent? Sure! For example, in our pantry, the snacks are deliberately on the lower shelf so that baby girl can self serve. Without her, I most likely should’ve had our snacks in a totally different spot. But on the other side of that, when she was a baby in our studio apartment, we opted for changing pads we could use on our bed, versus an entire changing table and went with a mini crib because spatially it made good design sense. So this isn’t to say design that suits children’s unique needs doesn’t exist; but let’s be honest — “kid-friendly” is relative.
So I repeat…
What exactly is “kid-friendly” design?
It’s parent-friendly design.
It’s utilitarian design.
It’s good design. Plain & simple.
As with anything, the way I have lived has shaped my opinion on this, so I’m curious — do you think there is a place for “kid-friendly” design when we’re creating our spaces or are you with me on this one? What does kid-friendly design even mean to you? I’d love to know where you land on this!