Real Homes: Games without frontiers

What can design-conscious parents do with their children's tacky toys? JUDITH WILSON explains how to have kids and stay hip
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
It's Sunday morning, the kids are rampaging through the house; it looks like a bomb site. You turn to the glossy supplements to escape the scene and what confronts you? The immaculate home of a terribly cool designer, with rosy-cheeked children and not so much as a smudge on their white beanbags. Now how, you ask yourself, can this be? Do those designery people have armies of cleaners trolling after their little darlings or are they slobs who shove things under the sofa? Where have all the toys gone? And why can't you get to grips with mixing designer living and toddlers - it's not possible, right? Hold your scepticism just for a moment. It's all down, apparently, to using the space. To reappraising surfaces. And attitude, of the chilled-out variety.

Architects and designers all trill that it's perfectly possible to live the immaculate, design-pad life with small children. Space, of course, helps because it gives you room to keep the Tom Dixon furniture out and the toys neatly tidied away. So loft-dwellers - who have plenty of space - are to be envied when their babies come along. Childless trendies may ask how one copes with the lack of privacy, but they say that it isn't as difficult as you might think.

Steve Bowkett and Jane Tankard, architecture lecturers and owners of 2,000 square feet worth of warehouse, just made a few physical amendments when two-year-old Zoe first came along. "We inserted two walls, to create Zoe a room for quiet times, and a dressing room for ourselves, which we now sleep in," says Steve. Everything else (including the bath) is out on display, so a few toy crates hardly matter. The essentials of the loft look - planes of colour, cast-iron columns - remain the same. And then, of course, there are all the hidden benefits. "There is room to run, jump, and ride a bike whatever the weather," says Steve. "We have the equivalent square footage of a conventional house and garden."

A laid-back attitude like Steve's helps enormously. You can't be precious about your home with kids around, otherwise you'll all be on the ceiling each time a felt-tip pen is brandished. Model-maker Gavin Lindsay and partner Siobhan Squire share their Will White-designed open-plan, very modern, very brightly coloured pad with three-year-old Archie and one- year-old Pink and generously insist that "the space is theirs to live in just as much as it is ours". All it takes, Gavin thinks, is a little gentle training. With acres of white wall at their disposal, and keen artists both, the children might have been tempted to colour on the surfaces, but Gavin says they have been taught that paper is the place for drawing. Children often respect their environment more than adults give them credit for, and, besides, it's all a question of what you're used to. Orianna Fielding Banks, furniture and interior designer and TV presenter for The Better Homes Show, says her son, Sasha, has grown up with hi-tech photographic art on the walls (Dad, alias Michael Banks) and Sixties-inspired furniture (Mum) and thinks that is the norm.

That said, she is also incredibly practical with a four-year-old on the scene. "I did make changes when Sasha came along," she says. "I recovered the sofa in durable taupe linen velvet and had the cushions Teflon coated."

She also removed sharp edges from her furniture and, in the process, an entire furniture collection (all organic shapes and curvy corners) was born. "There's no point having a chic Italian coffee table if a child is going to garotte himself on it, is there?" she says. "When I planned my kitchen it wasn't very practical to have the stainless steel I really wanted on the floor, so I chose something textured that still looked funky." Wise words indeed, and just think of the practical excuses you suddenly have for getting purple rubber flooring, hot pink gloss paintwork (so easily wiped down) or - as Red or Dead designers Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway have famously done in their house - adding a climbing wall. Planning for children, it seems, can set you off in a design direction you might never have thought of.

But for those who worship clean, empty spaces there is hope. An ingenious cover-up is the answer. Architect Renaldo Benedetti, of McDowell & Benedetti, is currently working on a loft space for which he is planning a separate "kids' zone". Because the inner walls are enclosed, the grown-ups need never see what's occurring within. Added to that, he says, if you give your kids the freedom of their own area, they will have a strong identity with it and, perhaps, leave the grown-ups' space alone.

Designated and well-hidden toy storage is the other major option. Nik Randall lives in an open-plan converted school with partner Suzsi, and their son, Louis, aged three, and specifically asked architects Brookes Stacey Randall to come up with storage that disappeared into a very modern conversion. The toys are piled into clear storage crates each day (clear doesn't interfere with the colour of the walls) and hidden in a cupboard, so the space can return to its grown-up origins at night. Louis also has a separate bedroom where childish things can hide, a point on which all design-conscious parents agree.

So, the fusion of kids meet design is possible, but unless you want to live in a complete tip, one thing will never change: the need to tidy up, pretty much constantly. That aside, let your kids enjoy the space for the same reasons you liked it before they came along. And be prepared. With a room to call their own, it won't be long before they're clamouring for traditional Laura Ashley sprigs.

Brookes Stacey Randall: 0171 403 0707; McDowell & Benedetti: 0171 278 8810; Orianna Fielding Banks at Pure: 0171 250 1116; Will White: 0181 964 8052.

FLOOR AND ORDER

! Be strict with your children. Give them well-defined storage space and insist they clear the decks at the end of the day.

! If you live in a loft space, remember that kids need their own separate bedrooms, however tiny.

! Plan toy storage with room for growth. You'll go from a

box of baby toys to sit-on f

ire engines and dolls in

milli-seconds.

! Protect the surfaces you care about (treat fabrics with stain resistant, cover a good table with a wipe-clean PVC cloth) and resign yourself to repainting and revamping everything else in a few years' time.

! Think of your decor as a background to a sea of primary coloured toys. White, neutrals, and brights take them well - pastels and dark colours do not.

! Floors will take a bashing. Hard floors - well-sanded wood, rubber, lino, vinyl - make for easy cleaning. Save carpets for your bedroom or for the future.

Comments