HOME DESIGN : 'Livable' Dream Houses : With Careful Planning, Luxury and Children Can Coexist in Your Home

Sara Hazelwood is an Orange-based free-lance writer

Imagine the house of your dreams.

It would probably look like pictures you've seen in magazines, where everything is in perfect order.

But wait. There are never any people in those pictures. Definitely never children with peanut butter-smeared hands aimed at coconut-white curtains.

Before you spend a small fortune on mistakes-to-be, remember that designing around children requires that you consider durability and practicality. Keep these imperatives in mind when picking out furniture, wallpaper, paint, floor coverings and window treatments.

Camouflage is an important weapon in the war against dirty footprints and hands. Plaids, prints or medium tones disguise stains and soiling.

The latest trend in home design uses a monochromatic color scheme of rich, warm tones (like beige, taupe and blush) highlighted with darker jewel-toned accents. It's termed "livable luxury" by its creator Dana Eggerts, president of Costa Mesa-based Creative Design Consultants.

"Today's sophisticated homeowner has kids, and their lifestyle requires a more functional approach," she says. "The desire to accumulate material possessions has taken a back seat to raising a family. Even today's top movies and television shows reflect this shift in values. At one time, showcase homes like those seen in 'Dynasty' and 'Falcon Crest' were favored. Now the popular shows are 'Wonder Years' and 'Growing Pains,' and films like 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Parenthood.'

"People still want to impress their friends with their homes, but they are also concerned with livability and practicality."

Eggerts recommends the use of natural rattan furniture and faux stone floors.

Walls seem to be magnets that draw fingerprints to them. The two most popular wall-covering options are wallpaper and paint. Select a wallpaper that is scrubbable, durable and stain-resistant, like vinyls. Tack it down securely at the seams; children love to pick at it when the seams start to unravel.

Children quickly outgrow wallpaper patterns. Valinda Tivenan, who has a master's degree in interior designer from Cal State Long Beach and is an interior design instructor at Rancho Santiago College, suggests using wallpaper borders in children's room, and not cover the entire wall. Says Tivenan, "Not only is that cost effective, but it creates a line that flows around the room and makes proper rhythm."

Walls also can be decorated with murals or stencils. You can design a stencil pattern yourself, buy stencils at a crafts store or hire a professional. Bulletin board material tacked to the wall can display artwork and items of interest to your child.

Latex, a water-base paint, is a popular paint choice for households with children because it's convenient to apply and it's non-polluting, says Steve Davis, Sherwin Williams' district manager for Los Angeles and Orange counties. Of the latex products, he recommends a quality semi-gloss paint because it's easier to wash off and will hold up better than flat latex under repeated scrubbing.

If you're set on white linoleum for the kitchen, pick one with a pattern; solid colors are more difficult to maintain, especially in high-traffic areas.

There's also the hazard factor to consider when selecting your floor covering. Suzanne Levin Herrera, a mother of two who lives in Orange, learned about the dangers of tile floors when her son, Matthew, then 3 years old, fell on a tile step and needed five stitches on his head.

Hardwood floors aren't any safer. "When a child is learning to walk," Herrera said, "hardwood floors are difficult because you usually have the (child) in a pair of socks. This is extremely slippery, and they fall."

To prevent this, cover hardwood or tile floors with large area rugs.

Although there have been improvements made in stain-resistant carpets, "nothing is soil free," says Tivenan, "and when you clean them, the finish will come off."

The interior designer recommends selecting a carpet with a pattern rather than relying on stain protection alone. A good color choice is one in the middle values--light colors show dirt and darker colors show lint.

Heidi McLaughlin, a Villa Park mother of three who has hunter green carpet throughout her house, disagrees, saying dark carpeting is worth the extra effort it entails.

"I sure wasn't going to get anything light with three boys. You have to vacuum it a lot," she admitted, "but it never shows stains."

To lighten the look in her house, McLaughlin had a peach-colored carpet border installed, which also lends a look of formality to the dining room, living room and stairs. "You just make sure your kids don't walk on the peach," she says.

"I think the new (low or medium pile) carpets that don't show the vacuum marks or footprints clean up a lot better," says McLaughlin, who confesses to vacuuming several times a week to erase footprints and collect lint.

"High pile shows traffic marks. I recommend the 'cut and loop,' the sculpture look because that hides the footprints and soil," says Jay Lawrence of Linbrook Carpets in Anaheim. "It's very important that you buy the best padding your budget permits because the carpeting won't hold up as well if you have cheap padding, and the softer it is underneath, the less abrasion, which cuts down on the wear and tear."

One way to prolong the life of your carpet is to invest in good quality synthetic, rubber-backed mats. This is the cheapest and easiest method of decreasing the amount of dirt your children bring into your home. Place them at all the entrances.

For window treatments, McLaughlin used tieback curtains or shutters. She's satisfied with shutters because "they shut out light and are really durable." However, she recommends shutters where the louvers are on the top half and the bottom half of the shutter is a wood panel.

"This protects the louvers from little hands that love to play with them, opening and shutting, opening and shutting . . . ," McLaughlin says.

For bedrooms, use inexpensive window treatments like mini-blinds or shades combined with a valance or cornice at the top. Mini-blinds are relatively easy to clean and to control light, a consideration for napping children.

Having a lovely home is an attainable goal in spite of the havoc children inflict. Taking into account their peculiarities will save you money and the frustration of redoing a job shortly after it's completed.

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