Is it possible to have two young children and keep a stylish, design-focused home?

Yes, says gallery director Mira Dimitrova – but you can forget about white walls…
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you have children, there's always an element of compromise. However, that doesn't mean you have to compromise on everything, including the kind of space you want to live in. I'm a director of an art gallery, my husband William is an artist and our home is an expression of who we are.

We found the house in 2011. It is an Edwardian end of terrace in Willesden Green, north-west London, that had been used as bedsits. It was in a terrible state and a total gut job from top to bottom. We were living in a two- bed cottage so we wanted more space and for the boys, who are now 7 and 6, to have their own bedrooms.

It took about eight months to renovate. We knocked through four rooms and a hallway to create a kitchen and family dining area. We extended the attic to create two bedrooms for the kids and then we got to the exciting part – the interior design.

It never occurred to us to change our design plans because we had kids. I believe that children should be able to exist in an adult space . Plus it's stimulating for kids if their surroundings are more challenging and grown-up.

That said, we've not gone as far as we would have done had we not had young children. I decided that my dream Tufty-Too sofa by Patricia Urquiola would have to wait, so instead we bought an IKEA one. I still have a wish list of items for when the kids are more grown-up – the Angelo Mangiarotti marble table or the Rug Company rugs will come later. With children, life is a series of phases, and that is wonderfully relaxing if applied to one's aspirations for design. Too many expensive design statements don't seem appropriate when the family is immersed in early childhood – that is pragmatism rather than compromise.

I would describe our house style as eclectic. Edwardian and Victorian pieces that have been passed down from family members are mixed with 1960s and 1970s pieces by European designers. It meshes well against the period look of an Edwardian house, and the layering works with children. A stark minimalism would be much harder to maintain. We don't go for the ubiquitous "design classics", and have avoided the more typical pieces or brands that would be immediately recognisable. We prefer to look for less well-known designers or forms that are a little unusual.

Lighting is also a perfect way to include design pieces when you are rearing young children. The chances of damage are low, so we have collected quite a few beautiful lamps and chandeliers without fear of disaster. My favourite pieces are the 1960s Brutalist brass Danish chandeliers and wall sconces by Svend Aage Holm Sorensen, both in the living room. I also love the Willy Rizzo Alveo table from the 1970s, which was a riskier purchase, but one we could not resist.

We go to auctions and design fairs where, if you're lucky, you can buy original pieces affordably. The Sorensen chandelier set was from a Bonhams Design sale, and there's a great auction house in Copenhagen called Bruun Rasmussen, where we bought the Willy Rizzo table and a beautiful Bang & Olufsen rosewood media cabinet. I also love rummaging at Golborne Road in west London. My latest find is a charming Royal Grafton bone china tea set for a grand total of £3.50.

The house isn't always immaculate. But we try to have some sort of order, and we do set limits for the kids. They can't run riot in the living room – they don't have playtime in there or bring their toys in. Although we relax as a family and watch films in there, we limit the cars and Lego to the kitchen. And the kids have to tidy up after themselves – if you make it part of the routine, they get used to it. When they bring friends home we encourage them to play in their rooms or out in the garden.

I hope we've brought our sons up to respect good design and to take care over their environment. They know that certain things are fragile and that you don't draw on furniture (although drawing on the walls is still popular, but you can paint over that). The kids understand that they need to be careful with some things because they are items of value to us .

Occasionally we'll pick up an artwork with the kids in mind. We recently bought a Matt Calderwood piece that is a series of six geometric shapes made from rubber. The boys chose it and love playing with it, creating different sculptural shapes and patterns – finally a work of art they can get their hands on!

I doubt the boys think their home is different, although I have noticed that they have inherited our collectors' streak, as they are currently fascinated by crystals. We've bought them quite a few rocks and minerals, which we display throughout the house. I love the fact that they get aesthetic pleasure from a completely impractical object – that is the beginning of art appreciation and we encourage that.

If you're designing your home as a parent of young children, I would advise making sure the materials you use are durable. Already, within four years, we can see the wear and tear from two boys careering down stairs, trashing the floors – so if you can, use solid, good, natural materials. And white walls? Forget it. It's much more practical to use darker colours. One thing we haven't quite worked out is sufficient storage – that's essential.

Whether it's art, furniture, design or ceramics, we are passionate about all these things, so we want to include them in our life – children or no children. I'm thrilled that none of our ceramics have been broken yet and, touch wood, that will continue. Of course we've had a few accidents – the birthday party that resulted in our Uniflex chest of drawers being liberally doused with fruit juice was not my favourite moment – but that's life. We are prepared to take these risks for the pleasure we get from living with things we love. 1

As told to Kate Wills

Comments