Sometimes, as I’m browsing through my Houzz app, or a stray Pottery Barn catalog, I look longingly at a lush, white pair of sofas, or a delicate, cream love seat. I envy crisp white walls and towels, but these are unsuitable for a house with four boys, two dogs, two cats, a husband, and inevitable child hieroglyphics.
I once came close to selecting white. I picked a comfy chair with a linen, cream slipcover. It matched the red slip-covered sofa and red chairs. I could slip off all these covers when toddler boys spilled juice, dogs tracked footprints, and somebody smudged some unidentified item here and there, and wash them.
What didn’t work out so well were the cream and red pillows with the beautiful fringe. Toddlers want to pull things. Little boys want to see where the end of a string leads. Maybe little girls do, too, but I know more about little boys, and their busyness. I have learned if you take boys into a rug store, they will immediately discover an obstacle course. If you take them into a furniture store, they will soon believe this setting is better than Third Realm. Even when they are older, my boys seem compelled to try out mattresses and pillows, and pronounce levels of coziness, as if they were princes able to feel the slightest pea lurking several layers below.
Once, during the earlier years, we ordered a new, supposedly wipe-off-anything, suede slipcover for the comfy chair. It only took one week before a tire track imprint appeared on the front and back of the seat cushion. Fortunately, a colorful pillow hid the imperfection, so we’ve happily lived with the remains of what appears to be a race car incident.
So here we are. After almost a decade of kids and washable furniture, we recently retired the set. The red sofa and chairs, fraying at the arms, had been stitched up until repairs were impossible.
At this time in our family’s life, we are decorating our home by giving great thought to how our family lives. In deciding what kind of couch we should buy—sectional, sofa with chaise, or an extra long—we asked the advice of a designer. Though each family has different budgets and a variety of skill sets when it comes to considering beauty, comfort and practicality, it’s helpful to get advice from someone who has seen a variety of family lifestyles, whether it is someone credentialed, or a trusted friend whose taste and sensibility you admire.
One thing we’ve learned: our den couch needs firm, no-cushion-backs that won’t scatter everywhere when wrestling erupts, and snuggle-worthy spots for book reading and family movie night.
For the next nine years, we will continue to have boys in our home, so we welcome such fabrics as polypropylene, which repels stains and stands up to a bleach wipe—my new best friend! These new durable fabrics don’t snag easily, or catch a paw, a claw, or a mini-lego figurine. We like cheap rugs online, and lots of storage compartments in the playroom/laundry room, but every few months, even drawers, shelves and cubbies need a clean. How does the “stuff” spawn out of control?
I still love my mint green kitchen because the ill-treated baseboards aren’t so noticeable, and the brick floors, where cooking prep happens, don’t show anything. Yet, our real glasses and plates are not in current use because, well, brick, breakage, and unavoidably shoeless children don’t mix.
When I was growing up, some homes used to have rooms that were off-limits to kids. There were pretty rooms that didn’t consider how families really lived. One could admire the room from a distance, but rarely experience it. One could see pretty white carpet, silk upholstery, and trim window valences that looked like stiff icing.
For one, I’m glad to eat all of the cake—with my entire family.
(Originally published in Little Rock Family Magazine in the column "Parentish.")