When I was a young girl in the 80’s, I remember a couple of my Aunts having what they referred to as “parlor rooms.” These rooms where decorated in all white, had plastic coverings on the couch and chairs, and get this—they were roped off. Inviting, right? And come to think of it, I never saw anyone go into these bizarre and slighting terrifying rooms. I think of these spaces from time-to-time while decorating, hoping that my home feels like the anti-parlor room to my friends and family. And while I’m a huge proponent of clean and clutter-free dwellings, my number one design rule is that a home should first be comfortable and inviting, decorated and designed to be well lived in, not as a showpiece.
Follow along for my 11 tips for decorating a home that stands up to real family living.
- Dabble with Distressed, Natural Furnishings. When you have kids, your furniture is going to take a beating. Why not decorate with pieces that have patina, and actually look better with age? Large, distressed farm tables are a wonderful accessory for family homes, perfect for big-messy meals, art projects, and homework. Really any woodwork in your home, including kitchen islands, looks lovely with a natural, distressed finish. Natural materials not only look beautiful, they tend to age much better over time than their synthetic counterparts. Make sure you are purchasing solid wood pieces without a veneer, which quickly scratches, showing the unfinished material underneath.
- Just Say No to Glass Furniture. When my first child was born, our living room was home to glass coffee and end tables. As first-time parents this wasn’t something we thought would be an issue, but the tables quickly found their way on Craigslist once my son started toddling. Not only were they head bonking liabilities, no matter how many times a day I wiped them down, there were always little finger prints everywhere. Got a family, or thinking of having one in the future? Unless trips to urgent care are your favorite pastime, and smudge-chic is your design ascetic, I’d skip the glass furniture. Keep the wine glasses though. You’ll need them.
- Comfy Couches are Key. First off, never buy a couch online. Couches are a cornerstone of family life, and need to be chosen carefully. Before pulling the trigger on a purchase, you should not only sit on a couch and kick your feet up, but also lay down, making sure it’s long and cozy enough for an afternoon nap. Most decorators will suggest a minimum length of 7-8 feet.
- Choose Performance Fabrics. Between kids and pets, home upholstery needs to be tough. Finding stain resistant and durable fabrics such as the Sunbrella line or a treated microfiber suede/velvet (like the soft shown above) can be a lifesaver. Leather is also a good pick for fighting of stains, just make sure and get a high-quality brand that is soft to the touch and cozy. A note of caution, from my experience little can be done to mend a “sharpie” attack. If you’ve got a little one, say farewell to the sharpies (or lock them up with the bleach and booze).
- Host a Gallery Wall. I tend to be a clutter warrior when it comes to decorating. Clean, simple spaces equal a happy home for me. One of the easiest ways to scrap some of that clutter is to ditch the randomly framed photos found throughout a home in lieu of a gallery wall. Gallery walls make a lovely, big-impact design statement, and your children and guests alike love to pause and check out your family memories. I suggest sticking to either all color or all black and white photos. For a more artistic and authentic vibe, consider framing only candid shots (sorry, but photos of people staring at a camera can be a little boring)! See No Qualms Mom Founder’s laundry room gallery wall above as a great example of black and white pics creating a warm, intimate wall.
- Bring on the Baskets. Big, beautiful baskets are easy to find these days at budget shops like Target, as well as higher-end spots like Crate and Barrel. I’ve got them in my living room to stash throw blankets, pillows, firewood, and periodicals, my kid’s rooms for toys, and bathrooms for extra towels and toilet paper. They are pretty, inviting, and make clean-up a snap.
- Hook, Line, and Sink ‘Em. I’m pretty sure Mr. Rogers is the only person in history that actually properly used a hanger in the coat closet every day. Like baskets, having hooks about the house in places such as the entryway, mudroom, and bathrooms, follows one of my favorite motherhood mantras, “make it hard to do wrong.” Throwing something on a hook is practically easier than throwing it on the floor or over a chair. Expecting your 7-year old to nicely fold his bath towel over the towel rod; good luck to you! I say, just hook ‘em with the hooks.
- All Hail the Poufs! Poufs are one of my favorite kid-centric furnishings that I actually use for everyday adulting. Yes, they are great accessories for a kid’s room, but they also make lovely accent piece, serving as both extra seating, foot rests, and even ottomans. They come in a wide array of stylish fabrics and finishes to suit all styles. I also find that their circular shape adds a nice sense of texture when paired with other (typically angular) room furnishings.
- Bookshelves are Always Relevant. Got an empty space in your home to fill, or hoping to furnish your children’s rooms with pieces that will transition as they get older? Bookshelves are always functional and relevant in any room and at any stage of life. With a little bit of styling, books can be really beautiful. A well-styled bookshelf will give its items room to breathe—not just cramming them in end-to-end, include books that are stacked both vertically and horizontally, and often have a mix of non-literary objects to create interest and texture.
- Dedicate Play Space in the Main Living Area. Small children, bless their hearts, like to be near their parents. Sure, dedicated playrooms that keep the main living area free of kid debris are lovely, but there’s a good chance your little dears will be dragging their things into the kitchen to play near mom or dad. I like to have a little space carved out in the main living area of homes for kids. For me, this is simply a little art table, similar to this model from Crate&kids. I swap in art supplies, games, and toys on a weekly to keeps things fresh and interesting.
- Carve-Out a Mudroom. I know not every home has a dedicated mudroom, but nearly every home, assuming you have walls, can create a makeshift mudroom. Simply carve out a little spot where your family enters the home for hooks to hang coats, purses, umbrellas and the like, a key and mail drop, and baskets or a tray for shoes. Not only will this keep your home way tidier, it also designates an immediate home for most of the items you need to get out the door. For more of a deep dive on mudrooms, check out this article on mudroom essentials for busy families.
A well-lived and full life isn’t without it’s bumps and bruises, and neither will be the walls and furnishings of a happy home. Next time you’re looking for some decorating ideas for your home, try a few of my tips for creating comfortable and inviting spaces that hold up to the demands of family life.
Feature Photo by Nicole Vaughn.
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