How to Balance Your Design Sensibilities With the Realities of Living With Kids

I’m not saying that my apartment has ever been worthy of an AD spread, but the arrival of my first kid and the busload of toys and baby furniture that came with him certainly didn’t bring me any closer. With rattles and toy blocks littered around the living room and crayon smudges on the walls, my interior was no longer the thoroughly considered personal sanctuary it was before the family extension.

Little by little, though, I was able to reclaim my space. Instead of letting my space get fully baby-fied, I chose to stick to the decor that brought me joy and found smart ways to balance the baby necessities with my personal style. Here are a few tips to help you keep your space feeling controlled and adult, even if your kid is still running the show. 

Buy toys that double as decor

I like to keep the plastic playthings out of sight when playtime is over. But not every toy is created equal: Others make a nice addition to a bookshelf or coffee table—even when my kid has outgrown them. Skip the Toys “R” Us and head to a museum shop for toys that balance design with fun, such as these cork boats by designer Daniel Michalik or these duotone wooden cars by Dutch designer Floris Hovers, both found at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Toy souvenirs serve a similar purpose: I’ll put our handcrafted Mexican felt plushies and colorful wooden Channapatna figurines from India on display after my kid has tired of playing with them.

Also keep an eye out for small-scale studios, such as Bangkok-based THINGG (whose animal masks double as wall decor) and Acne JR from Sweden for unique toy designs. Or stick to the classics, the Eames Elephants and the Nendo rocking horses, investment pieces that’ll stay in style for decades to come and can be passed down to any future grandchildren. 

Kids’ furniture doesn’t have to be ugly

When browsing for baby gear, it’s easy to get sucked up in a vortex of “scientifically engineered ergonomic designs” and hi-tech bassinets with automated mobiles and rocking mechanisms. But at the end of the day, if all of the bells and whistles feel like too much for you, you can follow the less-is-more mantra, buying only the absolute necessities in their most basic (wooden) forms, like this beechwood baby rocker by Charlie Crane.

And instead of buying a lot of new baby stuff, I chose simple adaptions to my grown-up furniture when possible. I transformed a cabinet into a temporary changing station, and I opted for a booster seat that could mount on my Tolix chairs instead of a separate high chair—this way, it looks like business as usual when the chairs are pushed under the dining table.

Hide the eyesores

We all know them: aunties or grandpas with a heart of gold but a questionable sense of style when it comes to buying gifts for your little one. Unless you maintain a strict gifting regimen (another tip right there), you’re bound to end up with a bunch of plastic stuff that will inevitably clash with your interior. The fix? Bins, baskets, and boxes. When he’s done playing, my son’s LEGO bricks are neatly stashed out of sight in a colorful Ethiopian basket in the hallway. And he knows his action figures belong in the weathered metal trunk I found at a vintage market. He gets to enjoy his fun-but-ugly toys, I get to choose the storage vessels that complement my interior. Compromises, baby.

And while you’re at it, switch up what goes into the baskets. He might have a 100-piece-strong collection of cars, stuffed toys, and other knickknacks, but when my son isn’t looking, my wife and I hide most of it in storage. Every weekend, we swap the content of the toy baskets in our living room with a fresh batch of playthings. Not only does this keep things clutter-free, but it also prevents my kid from getting bored, helps him be more creative with the toys at hand, and makes tidying up so much easier.

Embrace the double-sided tape

It takes just one swing of a tiny toddler arm to sweep that beautiful ceramic catchall off the sideboard (I learned that the hard way). But instead of hiding your joy-sparking objects out of sight, do what I did: Fix them in place with some (removable) double-sided tape at the bottom, and no toddler will be able to swoop them to the ground anymore. The same technique works for small vases, lamps, and plant pots, as well as those framed art prints nonchalantly leaning against the wall. On a related note: I temporarily hung my vintage Azilal rug, which I painstakingly carried along on a round-the-world trip, as a tapestry above the couch to prevent any OJ spills from ruining it.

Angelia S. Rico

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