Have style and safety with these interior design ideas
by Paul F. P. Pogue
Angie's List member Andrea Flaherty of Aurora, Ill., says having two children and a large golden retriever called for particular design needs in her home, but she refused to give up style to accommodate them.
When she hired Jill Roche, owner of highly rated LEC Design in Wheaton, Ill., she found Roche's approach combining form and function to be just what she needed.
"A home really can be stylish and functional at the same time; it just takes a little more effort," Flaherty says. "I live in a house, not a museum."
Roche helped her choose fabrics, rugs and window treatments that would hold up under attack by children, and rearranged the living room to allow part of it to function as a play area, while still serving as a gathering space for adults.
"You want the house to be aesthetically pleasing, but also durable, because kids run around and spill things," Roche says. "The majority of my clients have children. I try to be cognizant of every stage of life. That toddler or baby is going to grow up."
Flaherty says her family has used their living room/play room more in the last two months than in the past five years.
Emily Fong of Chicago says she values a service provider's sense of how to best accommodate children - not just for safety, but aesthetics and overall family friendliness. Fong's extensive renovation to her 1888 home's basement created a play area and safe haven for her 3-year-old twins. She hired DAL Builders Inc., one of Angie's List's 10 Best Contractors nationwide in 2009, to do the work.
"Safety was my highest concern," the Angie's List member says. "I also wanted it to be a space where the kids would feel free to indulge their imaginations and creativity, and to minimize how the space restricted their play."
Fong desired an open design with exposed ceiling joists and brick walls. She says DAL Builders owner David Larkin did an excellent job tearing out and replacing surfaces, and cleaning up the work.
"I expressed over and over again how I envisioned the kids using the area, and David took my ideas and shaped them into a space that functions well for the kids," Fong says. "The children love having a space that's all their own."
Larkin says although he doesn't specialize in child-friendly designs, he was able to meet Fong's needs by talking through the design, and listening to her concerns and specific goals.
"Parents always want their homes to be kid-friendly," Larkin says. "So we focused on hard surfaces and trip hazards. We left all the ceilings exposed, but made sure there wasn't anything for the kids to hang from. Shatter-resistant covers on the lights meant the kids would be able to throw balls around."
Planning for her twins' immediate and future needs also was important, Fong says.
"Everything we upgrade takes into consideration how it will impact the kids," she says. "Is the space dangerous? Can we live here while the work is getting done? Can kids and adults enjoy the space equally? How can this kid-friendly renovation be easily converted to a grown-up space once the boys outgrow it? To minimize cost and time, we try to do everything so that it doesn't have to be done again."
Addressing practical safety needs such as door latches and gates also can make your home more child friendly. Angie's List member Pamela Ferdinand of Chicago praises Hal Norman, owner of highly rated Home Safe Home Childproofing in Buffalo Grove, for his talent in blending child-safe features into the home.
In addition to unobtrusive, magnetic safety latches on doors, cabinets and windows, he matched planks of wood to banisters and tied them in place with plastic strips so he wouldn't have to drill child gates directly into walls or banisters.
"The childproofing mechanisms weren't apparent, so it's comfortable for an adult but safe for a child," Ferdinand says.
Norman says it's important for him to keep an eye out for things parents might not have thought of – top-heavy furniture and toilet seats are common dangers. Wall mounts keep furniture from tipping over, and seat locks keep curious children out of toilets. And all the while, he says he takes into consideration that children will eventually grow up and the house will go back to the way it was.
"If a family is hiring someone who calls themselves a professional, they shouldn't just hang child locks on the cabinets," Norman says. "Things should blend in and disappear."
Sometimes, renovation jobs exclusively focus on child's play. Carrie Summy of Oak Park envisioned renovating her basement into a multi-use haven for her children and a gathering place for adults, but it quickly became a kid hangout. She hired highly rated American Rehabber Services Corp. of Chicago to do the job in 2008, and appreciated their input and insight into the child-friendly design.
"One of the most brilliant suggestions from them was to build a hideout under the stairs instead of using it as storage," Summy says. "It has its own light and a magnetic door with the handle on the inside. The kids clamor to be in there all the time to hide out from each other and from us."
The luxury of having an exclusive space for the children gives both solace to her and independence to them, Summy says.
"I love having everything tucked away into the basement," she says. "It's perfect for them to have room to run and spread their toys out. To them, it's their space."