Children and a calm, stylish home don’t always go hand in hand. But you can create spaces to suit grown-ups and youngsters alike, as family lifestyle expert Ashlyn Gibson tells Gabrielle Fagan.
If your home is feeling like a battleground after the school holidays, as you and your children fight for territory, it could be time for a new strategy.
Before you consider moving or boarding schools - or simply resign yourself to chaos until they’ve flown the nest - there is another answer: creating rooms that suit your need for stylish spaces as well as theirs for play areas.
“Children and decor aren’t generally regarded as a match made in heaven. Sticky fingers, the patter of tiny, muddy feet and an ever-growing collection of plastic toys can take their toll on rooms,” says Ashlyn Gibson, author of Creative Family Home; a blueprint for transforming a home that appeals equally to grown-ups and youngsters.
All that’s needed, she believes, is a little imagination, a dash of flair, and with your children’s help, a family home can be one that’s fun and which you’re proud to show off.
“Bringing up children is an adventure and living with them should be fun,” she says. “It’s all about capturing their spirit of wonder, discovery and sense of fun, and giving them child-friendly spaces which encourage them to be imaginative. Spaces where you can all relax, and they can express their personalities.”
Key ingredients, she says, are practical layouts, easy-to-clean durable surfaces able to withstand the rough and tumble of family life, and ideally a neutral backdrop so that it’s easy to add vivid colour and pattern, which children love, in everything from fabrics and furnishings through to their toys, collections and artwork.
“With a bit of ingenuity you can showcase their possessions to great effect, and have a home that never looks stagnant or dull. A colourful, visually stimulating home is an inspiring place for everyone, young and old.”
Play & display
Children’s toys seem to have a life of their own, apparently cloning themselves over night so they constantly overflow storage boxes and invade every corner. Make stumbling over them a distant memory by providing child-friendly storage.
“A home free of clutter will have a relaxed, calm vibe which the whole family will enjoy,” says Gibson.
“Portable storage, a box on castors or a vintage suitcase, is versatile and allows children to transport contents from room to room.”
Tip: Have a clear-out of toys regularly but do it with your children - don’t rush them, because choosing what to discard is all part of the process of growing up. Donate unwanted items to a charity shop or let them boost pocket money by selling at car boot sales.
Stylish solutions: A Tessera Swivel Storage Unit, £175, Aspace, and a Boulder Storage Unit, £899, Coucoumanou. Letter Head Chest Of Drawers, has the alphabet carved on drawer fronts, £545, Loaf. A Teamson Dinosaur Bookcase, £104, O’Nessy’s, is attractive, and if clothes coat the floor, invest in cowboy or Indian Bang Bang Kid Coat Hooks, £35 each, from The Kid Who.
Hide & seek style
“Children love making dens, cosying up in small spaces and finding secret boltholes they can call their own,” says Gibson.
“You don’t need to invest in expensive playhouses which will soon be outgrown, just create places in rooms, whether it’s an old sofa, or the space behind one, for enjoying reading sessions, or simply a pile of cushions and a lamp on a landing.
“Even a small bedroom will be a much-loved sanctuary if you invest in a raised bed so there’s more space below it for playtime. Allow children a say in how it’s decorated. If they experiment and express their personalities, they’ll want to spend time in it.”
Tip: If children share a bedroom spell out their names in letters on the walls by each bed to mark out their territory. Fabric Personalised Letters, £9.99 each, from Country Bumpkins.
Stylish solutions: Conjure atmosphere with wallpaper. Cole & Son has a delightful pattern, Woods And Pears, £78 a roll, from Wallpaper Direct, but if that’s too whimsical, the Skate Board Line Up wallpaper, from around £27 a metre, Nubie, oozes street cred. Designers have worked their magic on children’s beds. Idyll Home’s range includes a Canopy Tent Bed, £1,095, and a Caravan bed, £1,295. Alternatively, try Nubie’s White Scandinavian Low Loft Bed, £995. For a budget hideaway solution, a Cowboy Wigwam, £79.95, Love From Rosie, will delight, and make seating fun with Vitra Eames Elephant Stool, £167, Heal’s.
The space where you’re cooking or working can be magnetic to children, but unsafe as well as inconvenient. Instead, suggests Gibson, utilise ‘dead space’ for play zones, like an understairs cupboard. Use a fold-away dining table so the space doubles as an activity area, or designate a play corner. “If there’s enough height, an indoor swing will give youngsters hours of enjoyment,” she says.
Tip: Masking tape can be used on hard floors to create a hopscotch court or to mark out a treasure trail. My First Train Tape, £10.99, from Gift Oasis, can be used on walls and floors.
Stylish solutions: A Child’s Organic Hammock Swing Chair by I Am Made, £80, Not On The High Street; Hopscotch Rug, £49, Vertbaudet. Conjure a year-round holiday mood with Beach Ball Lights, £90 each, from Beach Ball Lights.
Think outside of the paint box and create areas throughout the home where youngsters can doodle and daub, urges Gibson.
“A desk where they can base themselves is essential. Sitting at it and conjuring up their own projects encourages them to develop powers of concentration, and learn how to zone out and become completely involved in activities and make-believe,” she says.
Tip: Frame their art work in perspex or clip-frames and create a gallery. Drawing on walls needn’t be a banned activity! Mark out a picture frame shape on a wall with masking tape and let them express themselves within it. Peel off tape once finished and the picture will have crisp edges and be a unique focal point.
A Farringdon Desk, £250, Aspace, is smart and functional, while an Irene Writing Desk in reclaimed wood, £492, from Sisters Guild, is quirky and decorative. Seletti Suburbia Wall Storage Solution, £300, Heal’s, is sleek. Personalise a space with The Contemporary Home’s Gisela Graham Cowboy & Indian Bookends, £15, and an adorable Miffy lamp, £140, The Conran Shop.
Aspace: 0845 872 2400/www.aspace.co.uk
Beach Ball Lights: www.beachballlights.com
The Conran Shop: 0844 848 4000/www.conranshop.co.uk
The Contemporary Home: 0845 130 8229/www.tch.net
Coucoumanou: 01225 723 964/www.coucoumanou.com
Country Bumpkins: 07970 700 282/www.countrybumpkinsgifts.co.uk
Gift Oasis: 01484 423 313/www.thegiftoasis.com
Heal’s: 020 7636 1666/www.heals.co.uk
Idyll Home: www.idyllhome.co.uk
John Lewis: 0845 6049 049/www.johnlewis.com
Loaf: 0845 468 0698/www.loaf.com
Love From Rosie: 07826 821 546/www.lovefromrosie.co.uk
Not On The High Street: www.notonthehighstreet.com
Nubie: 01825 724 160/www.nubie.co.uk
O’Nessy’s: 01527 916 447/www.onessystoys.com
Sisters Guild: www.sistersguild.co.uk
Vertbaudet: 0844 842 0000/www.vertbaudet.co.uk
The Kid Who: 0845 548 5440/www.thekidwho.eu
Wallpaper Direct: www.wallpaperdirect.com
Creative Family Home by Ashlyn Gibson is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £19.99. Available to readers for £13.99 (inc p&p). Call Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quote ref GLR 8TH