Years ago, my husband and I went to visit some friends for lunch. After a round of hello’s at the door, they ushered us quickly and furtively past an enormous space. In a kid-free house, this would have been known as the living room, but was now completely overtaken by toys, games, and a gigantic yellow and red plastic slide. Shaken by the sight, and smug in our ignorant, childless state, my husband and I swore to each other afterwards: That will never be us.
Fast forward a decade and our friends are having the last laugh. After welcoming two daughters, my husband and I now understand—viscerally—the parental impulse to give up and give in when it comes to decor. But take heart. There are several easy ways to create a cherished, deeply personal house that feels like home to everyone.
1. Introduce your history to your newest family members
Treasures from your past life can be repurposed for your present one. Think of creative ways you can bring travel souvenirs or family heirlooms into your kids’ personal spaces. Early in our marriage, my husband and I visited Barcelona where a particular felt bag with a dog’s profile printed on it caught my eye. I never used it much as a purse, but was so taken with the image that I had the straps removed and the dog’s face framed. After our first daughter arrived, we hung it in her room. Now when we talk about the art, we also talk about the trip where we found it, and the impact of this kind of sharing goes beyond aesthetics. Psychologist Marshall Duke has found that resilient children often have something in common: they know their family’s stories.
2. Bring a little bit of kid into adult spaces—just a little
Carve out a place that’s visually dedicated to inhabitants over 4’ tall and throw in your one favorite child item to add some punch and humor. To maintain our sanity, my husband and I work hard at keeping our living room an adult space, contents-wise. Our girls are always welcome here and use it constantly. They launch themselves off the armchairs and build forts with the couch cushions, but their toys are kept elsewhere. This break from kid clutter makes the room especially relaxing and we never have to scramble to get it tidy for grown-up guests. Our one favorite child item? A floppy-eared stuffed rabbit who looks perfectly at home in an elegant, tufted side chair.
3. Build a micro-shrine to the way things were
Choose something—anything—that reminds you of the best part of your pre-parent life and place it where you’ll see it everyday. Before children, my husband and I were frequent travelers. One year on my birthday, he gave me a large poster with tiny photographs of us in exotic locations. That poster remained rolled up and hidden away for years. After our youngest turned two, I finally found the bandwidth to dig it out and have it framed for my husband as a Christmas present. We hung it in our guest bathroom and whenever we need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that yes, we really did have a life without children, we stand in front of our sea of selfies and remember.
Photo credit: Gregory Pierce Photography