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Homes + decor: How to create a family friendly home that also looks fabulous

Having kids doesn’t mean your sense of style has to go out the window, but it might mean you have to make some changes.

Sarah O’Dell, a designer and the owner of Dwell Chic, is the mother of two children, ages 2 and 4. She lives kid-friendly design every day.

New clients often worry about the mess in their homes when they meet with O’Dell.

“I walk into a lot of homes and everyone apologizes,” she said. “The first thing I look for is what kind of storage can we find? Any type of sleek-looking, clean-lined place is not going to work for a family. Kids have stuff.”

Having dealt with everything in her own home from the usual spills to nail polish on the wall, O’Dell said choosing the right materials and knowing where to save and where to splurge can make all the difference.

Working from the bottom up, O’Dell said parents should think carefully about the flooring types they use. Marble is beautiful, but a textured tile with grout lines is more kid-friendly. Wood flooring is durable and popular.

“I try to steer away from carpet,” she said. “A hardwood floor with a sisal rug — sisal is indestructible — or an inexpensive rug (works well). We buy rugs, but I don’t spend a lot of money on them because the dogs and the kids will ruin them.”

Inexpensive rugs can be cleaned along the way and replaced when they wear out.

“If you’re worried about something in your house, you shouldn’t have that in your house,” O’Dell said.

Upholstered furniture is where O’Dell advises her clients to invest.

“If you get a cheap sofa, it will stain easily and you will have to replace it sooner,” she said.

Instead, splurge on well-made chairs and sofas with tough fabrics. O’Dell uses and recommends Crypton fabrics, which are stain resistant.

“It is amazing,” she said. “You can spill a glass of red wine and it bubbles up.”

When choosing upholstery, O’Dell said that’s when individual tastes can shine and still be practical.

“Don’t shy away from color, pattern or texture,” she said. “All of those things can hide stains.”

As every parent knows, there is never enough storage. O’Dell advises families to include it wherever they can. Add bins under a coffee table so young children can have a place for toys. Give older children and teens cabinets and bins near the door so they can drop off their stuff as they enter. And keep safety first.

“Anything a child can climb on, they will,” O’Dell said.

For cabinets, dressers, bookshelves and other items that can tip over, secure them to the wall with manufacturer-provided hardware or buy kits that will do the job. Otherwise, a child could be crushed if the furniture tips over.

“There’s a reason they send those pieces,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”

To incorporate an expensive fabric, wallpaper or accessory, look up. O’Dell uses higher-end fabrics for window toppers or Roman shades.

“A fun colorful light fixture or a wallpaper on the ceiling – everyone will be able to see it, but no one will be able to touch,” she said.

Wallpaper can even be used in the backs of bookshelves to add pattern and color. Breakable accessories can adorn a mantel or the top of a shelf.

But kid-friendly doesn’t mean boring. That’s especially true for children’s bedrooms and playrooms.

“I go crazy in my kids’ rooms,” O’Dell said. “I love the color, the pattern and the fun. You only get that for so long. In my kids’ playroom, I did a really high gloss paint in navy blue.”

Flat paint hides imperfections, but gloss is easier to wipe clean – a requirement in a room that gets so much use.

O’Dell also recommends using bright but inexpensive bedding when children are young. It can be replaced when they are older. When parents consult with her about children’s rooms, she likes to get the kids involved as well.

“I think we ask them what colors they want,” she said. “Ask for their input. They are really proud of their room. I think they encourages them to take pride in their space as well.”

Ready to try some DIY décor with your children? Local craft stores can help.

Joann stores offer in-store classes for adults and children, including learn to sew and quilt. For details, visit Online courses for all ages are offered through a Creativebug subscription. Parents and kids can learn a wide variety of skills and projects at home, with access to thousands of tutorial videos for less than $5/ month. For details, visit

Michael’s stores offer classes, including kid-specific projects for ages 3 and older, as well as online Craftsy classes. For details, visit

A.C. Moore stores offer classes in stores and online. Visit