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Practical Design Advice for Families with Kids and Pets

Since I get an onslaught of questions on this topic, this article was a natural choice for Newtown Lifestyle Magazine. This topic requires, however, a note about thinking in extremes. A zillion years ago, before I was a gratefully trained, award winning design business owner and designer, I was a TV show host at a shopping network. While there, a few female hosts got together with our little ones for a playdate. The hosting Mommy proudly announced that her, “designer designed the custom furnishings so there were only rounded surfaces, just in case baby took a spill.”

Perhaps a bit extreme. Can’t you get stitches from crashing into a rounded corner on a coffee table? Maybe a temporary baby bumper could have worked?  

On the other hand, I assume that you’re not investing in design if you have a pet that chews furniture legs. I’m also assuming your kids have some rules, like no drinking orange soda on the family room furniture, or that pretzels are ok in the family room, but not pizza when you’re 3.

But the crux of all this halfhearted jesting, mixed with truth, is to tell you that every family is so different, their rules of the road are different, and their family makeup (furry and non-furry) is so different.  AND that, my friend, is the reason the home furnishings world WILL NOT GIVE YOU much of a warrantee, if any, on most furnishings.  It’s too hard to know how the end user is using or abusing their product. Manufacturers and retailers have been taken advantage of here by the unscrupulous.

So, beyond the basic logic of avoiding super light colors on high use upholstery: here are some considerations: 

Materials to Avoid if you have pets or young children:

  • Boucle Fabric: A hot current trend, but easily snagged with long pet claws.
  • Silk or Silk Blends (beware in rugs as well!): Water stains silk. Urine is a disaster.
  • Certain plants are toxic if ingested – Do your research before purchasing or just go faux.
  • Looped carpets - these can be easily snagged by claws. I always test the height and density of the loops with a ball point pen on a sample to see if it can easily lift. If it passes, its OK to select. 
  • Matte or flat wall paint which is harder to clean than an eggshell. Either way, keep extra wall color on hand for touchups.

Pet and Kid Friendly Materials:

  • Crypton® fabrics or fabrics rated as “high performance”, and indoor/outdoor fabrics. These are more stain resistant and built for heavy duty use. You can also apply a stain guarding protection after purchase on most fabrics so you may want to inquire when you are purchasing.
  • Stain-Guarded carpets and rugs: same logic as above
  • Kitchen tables that have a catalyzed finish. This finish is somewhat less prone to scratching, however, please note that wood is soft. Anything can and will scratch it.
  • Luxury Vinyl Plank (also known as LVP) flooring is great in playrooms or if you have pets that have bladder problems, as opposed to wood flooring, which will warp with liquid left on it, or rugs that will not release multiple spills, accidents, or odors over time.
  • Carpet tiles, versus rolled carpet, are great in basements or playrooms for the same reason above. And if you do get a stain on tile, it can be pulled up and replaced, which is why you will want to order extras to have on hand…just in case.

And on the style side: I don’t believe adults need to avoid styles they love because you have a young family or pets. You do however need to be mindful about how you select materials and color, where you place materials and color – and how. 

Perhaps your penchant for light upholstery happens in your luxe feeling home office or your master bedroom, not the family room. Instead, in the family room, indulge your love of white on your walls and window treatments. You can sprinkle in some lighter woods or metals, while using mid-tone colored, mildly textured Crypton® fabrics on upholstery. You can further lighten the room with right art, and pillows. As I always tell my clients, including my young families, “it’s all in the wisdom of the mix”.

So go kiss the kids and give your pet a hearty belly rub. Here’s to your fabulous home!

About Donna Hoffman: A multi-award-winning Bucks County based designer, Donna heads her design company specializing in new construction, renovation, whole home and full room design to deliver livable luxury to discerning clients. One of the nation’s design thought-leaders and seen in Forbes, Real Simple,  TV and radio, Donna also founded, TheInteriorDesignAdvocate.com which provides online courses for DIY’ers.

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