Play-Doh, Paint & Applesauce

Play-Doh, Paint & Applesauce

When Sandra Meyer redecorated her family's Bethesda, Md., living room four years ago, she reupholstered the sofa in a creamy celadon-and-white silk blend. The fabric was expensive and delicate, but she loved it enough to take her chances.

The delivery crew was barely out the door when her 4-year-old swiped a red marker across the seat.

That scenario is a nightmare shared by many parents who crave sophistication and style but believe their vision is incompatible with children and pets. They might idealize a home dressed in the latest high-style, but they don't want to invest in furniture and fabrics when juice and muddy paws are just a mishap away.

Some parents invest in design help and good-quality furnishings, then declare certain rooms off-limits to kids and pets. Some stick strictly with less-pricey pieces from big-box stores. Others bide their time with parental hand-me-downs and college leftovers, deferring design until after the children have grown and gone.

That last choice is incomprehensible to Sara Costello, creative director for Domino magazine. "It's like the inmates have taken over the prison and you're a prisoner among them," she says.

Having adult yet child-friendly spaces is important to Catrin Morris-Miller, mother of two daughters, ages 2 and 5 months. She and her husband furnished their D.C. home with a mix of comfy, stain-resistant pieces and upholstered antiques, including a vintage sofa, a pair of bergere armchairs and a Swedish chair with a white linen seat. No room is off-limits, but food and drink (except water) are restricted to just a few areas.

"My life is full of Play-Doh and paint and applesauce," Morris-Miller says. "I wanted to have a retreat from the pink, the bright colors and the functional. Everything with kids is so functional ... and there's a tendency to let that completely engulf your style. We wanted a retreat from that: grown-up colors, furniture and style."

Megan Samuels, a designer and blogger in Manhattan Beach, Calif., opted for a more casual, yet no less elegant, feel for her family's beach bungalow. She said slipcovers are her key to maintaining a stylish interior with two children and three dogs.

To keep the white covers fresh between washings, she has a bleach pen on hand for treating spills and stains.

Samuels fills her small house with light colors, simple window treatments, durable sisal carpets and a mix of nice pieces and inexpensive finds from eBay.

Designers agree that good-quality furnishings from secondhand resources that can be refinished and recovered over time are a better investment than flimsy new pieces.

Another key to living successfully with kids, pets and fine design is to set ground rules. All the refinishing, recovering, fabric treating and patterned rugs won't help a home stand up to routine abuse. Design pros and child-development experts say that establishing basic guidelines — such as no eating in the living room, no jumping on the couch — is good for the furniture and for the children.

A child-centered environment, says William Gormley, co-director of Georgetown University's Center for Research on Children in the United States, "sends the message that children matter and acknowledges that children will be children. It has advantages, but it also has the disadvantage of not beginning to teach children the importance of boundaries. There are other ways to ensure a child-friendly and child-focused environment than to give them free rein in every room of the house."

Another important thing parents and pet owners can do: relax. Accidents will happen when children and animals are involved, no matter how prepared you are, so it's best to accept that reality and move on.

As Meyer points out, more often than not adults — not children — are to blame for the blunders: "Your friend is just as likely to spill a glass of wine on (the furniture) as your kid is to draw on it."

Costello takes a similar philosophical approach. "Truly, the places that are the most comfortable are a little messy, everything isn't perfect and there are signs of real life," she says. "What's more stylish than that?"

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