Designing with Kids

Designing with kids. Not to be confused with designing FOR kids. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love designing kids’ rooms and some of my first posts on this blog were design boards for nurseries (boys, girls and gender neutral were all covered).  But what if your living areas are more reminiscent of a soft play area than a lounge room and dining room?!  How do you have a stylish and mostly grown up space that can survive small children?

I have heard (and used myself) all the excuses: I will wait a few years until the kids are grown up, all this furniture is perfectly fine, I don’t want to spend much money on things that my children will ruin.  But what if you come home and look at that furniture and think: ugh.  What if you reach the point of fed uped-ness with being completely uninspired by the place you spend your most important hours of the day?  THIS is the post for you!  I have learnt (usually the hard way, unfortunately!) a number of things that do, and some that most definitely don’t, work with small kids in your house.  So I thought I would take the time to pass along some of these nuggets of decorating gold just in case anyone wants to take it up a notch at their house.

Now, the disclaimer is of course, that I can’t guarantee that anything will survive everything that kids could possibly throw at it. But these tips will mean that if you do want to update your furniture, etc., then you have a much better chance of things looking good for years to come.

Let’s dive in then, shall we? I don’t have any particular order for these so let’s start with:


Starting with the obvious: don’t get a white or cream rug. Even if you manage a miracle and never drop something on it, it will show the general dirt and look dingy much quicker than other colours. Darker colours are more forgiving of course, but don’t go with black as that shows dust too much! Mid- range colours (beiges, greys, blues, etc) are best as they aren’t too dark to show dust but not too light to show stains and dirt.  My big hint though, when it comes to rugs, is to get something with pattern in it.  It is by far the best way to hide dirt and post-stain cleaning slight discolouration.  A solid coloured rug in ANY colour will show things, but a pattern is so much more forgiving. If you absolutely can’t stand patterned rugs then at least get one with varying textures to help camouflage any accidents that happen.  And they WILL happen.  Even people with no kids should probably follow these rules as a glass of red wine on the rug can happen to the best of us… Also, stick with low pile rather than shaggy rugs as those high pile rugs are a nightmare to vacuum.

Lastly, consider cow hide if you have a really high traffic area.  They are extremely durable and super easy to clean. Have you ever seen a stained cow?! Doesn’t happen.  They make amazing rugs these days that are so beautiful and with a rug pad underneath it adds a bit of softness underfoot. Here is an example of a gorgeous scalloped pattern one from Serena and Lily in the US:

Cowhide rug 1


There are stockists of gorgeous rugs like this in Australia (such as Art Hide) or in HK (such as HK Hide Rugs), so they are easy to source these days. You can also buy them on Etsy (shops such as Lifestyle by Cara or RAW leather Argentina will ship internationally).


Again, pattern will be your best friend for pillows – for the same reasons as rugs:  the patterns really help disguise any dirt or stains.  Look for outdoor fabric that is built to withstand a lot! There are some amazing outdoor fabrics these days. Here is an example of some pillows that are all made of indoor/outdoor fabric:

These are from Etsy stores (clockwise from top left: Pillosophy, Vintage Daisy Home, The Boho Dance, and California Livin Home), but just search outdoor fabric pillow on Etsy and you will find a good range of options. 41 pages of options actually!

If you can’t get outdoor fabric cushions then at least make sure to go for a durable and washable material for your pillows.  No silk! Cotton and washable will serve you well.   To be honest, living in HK I think that your sofa pillows should all have washable covers whether or not you have kids as there is a lot of sweating that goes on here, and it would be a bit gross not to be able to wash them!


Sofas are a big ticket item – even a cheap one is relatively expensive and not the sort of thing you want to have to purchase every few years.

Leather sofas are always a great option with kids. You can easily wipe them down for spills and there are some really beautiful sofa options these days with tufting, gorgeous legs, chaises, etc.  Just do NOT get one of those puffy ones that were so popular in the 80’s. There are many affordable options that have modern lines and will look gorgeous!

I wouldn’t recommend white leather though as it does get a bit grungy over time and any stray pen marks will really show up on it!

If you hate leather sofas, don’t despair! There are options for fabric that allow you to have a good looking sofa.  Slip covered cushions are a god-send.  Even better if you can customise them to have them made in outdoor fabric.  Outdoor fabric is durable and more stain resistant so it’s GREAT for a sofa when you have kids. Sunbrella and other companies make outdoor fabrics in a huge range of colours and patterns now and they are soft to sit on.  There is a great blog article by Emily Henderson where she tested the stain resistance of a variety of sofa fabric options she was looking at. I have just spent half an hour searching for it but I think the post got lost when she recently updated her blog layout perhaps?  Regardless, all I can find of it now is the image of the stains she put on to three different white fabrics. The Sunbrella fabric is in the middle and even just looking at the initial part of this test, you can see why this fabric stands up best to stains as things just sit on the top of the fabric and don’t soak in:

Stain resistant fabric testing

The post was titled “Most Stain Resistant Upholstery Fabric” I think but it has disappeared! It was a great post and after she washed the fabric samples, the Sunbrella one was the only fabric that came completely clean of all stains.

Other fabrics to consider are performance velvets or ultrasuede. I personally don’t like ultrasuede (reminds me of the 90’s) but it is extremely durable and stain resistant.  Velvet is gorgeous and so comfortable for a sofa, but I understand not everyone loves it like I do!

You could also consider using a nice throw or fabric piece to wrap either the bottom cushion or back of the sofa with, to protect upholstery on an existing sofa that you can’t change, which is looking a bit worse for wear. Make sure it’s colour fast if it’s going on a light coloured sofa though! Here is an example:



Through trial and error I have figured out that the best finishes with kids are natural ones.  They last better and any damage is easier to disguise and adds to the patina of the piece. Think real wood, marble, and metal rather than high gloss polyurethane, plastic, and veneer. The colour variations in real, natural finishes act the same way patterns do for soft furnishings – they distract from any small blemishes.  Nothing will save your tv cabinet if your kid takes to it with a baseball bat, but natural finishes will allow small dents and dings to blend so much better than man-made finishes.  High gloss finishes will show scratches and dents mercilessly. Plastic looks awful 99% of the time so I don’t recommend it from an aesthetic point of view for anything except a dining room chair. Veneer chips and dents in a most unfortunate way.  That said, if you do have darker veneer furniture that has got chips in it, get your black marker out and colour in those chipped areas!  The black will make the chipped area much less noticeable.  If it’s white then try liquid paper! It won’t stand up to a close inspection of course, but it can really help to stop the damaged parts being the first thing you (and everyone else) notices when they walk in the room. Here are some examples of beautiful furniture made of natural materials (and a few pieces are from IKEA of course):

Designing with kids - natural finishes


A few other things to be aware of when looking at larger furniture items: darker finishes will show dust, mirror finishes will show finger prints. Choose round side tables (no corners to bump little heads of) and if you have kids under five, consider not having a coffee table at all but use an ottoman with a tray instead. If you go sans-coffee table, you can also put a sofa/console table along the back of your sofa as somewhere to put drinks away from young kids.


Think carefully about the type of accessories you choose to display and where you put them. No one is saying don’t have pretty things, in fact I think they are really important to keep! But don’t put breakable things down at a height that young hands can reach them. Keep the ceramic, glass and delicate items on high shelves and use lower shelves for the unbreakable accessories made of wood, plastic, metal.  Sometimes though, you may have to accept that there will be a period of time where you just have to put things away if you have a particularly inquisitive child!  My first was a great listener about everything except books (which he liked to rip up!) but the second liked to destroy everything EXCEPT books.  You really can’t win sometimes!  But you can still fill those lower shelves with pretty storage boxes full of toys if this is the case.  Another great option is to buy shelves that have cupboard doors on the bottom half (which you can attach baby safety locks to). Here is a great example of a bookcase that has boxes and plain books in the lower half and a few pretty things interspersed on the higher shelves. I also like this picture as it shows a styled bookcase that is actually being used to store stuff. So many pictures of styled rooms these days have beautiful shelves filled with exactly 3 books and then the rest is “pretty things”. For those of us who live in the real world, our shelves need to be for storage! And bonus, I am pretty sure these are IKEA Billy bookcases 🙂



So. There you have it. I am spent – this may be the longest post I have ever done.  I hope I haven’t rambled too much and I reeeaally hope this is useful! Especially if you really are unhappy with how your space looks but feel that young kids are stopping you from having nice things.  If you have any tips to add, please do comment so we can all benefit!

I love getting comments, questions or even new ideas so please feel free to comment!

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