Kid-Friendly Design

By Nancy Miller

Photos by Jolea Brown

When she was a child, Summer Eliason’s room in her father’s historic home bloomed with pink and green floral chintz. She remembers it being very fancy. Now that she’s a mother, she has toned down fancy for her own children, five-year-old Halston and 22-month-old Hutton.

Designing a home in which young children live presents challenges and an opportunity to blend inventive practicality with creative style. Eliason, a jewelry designer and an interior designer with Jenkins Eliason Interiors, proves the point in the Spanish-style Highlands home she shares her children and husband, Peter Thurman.

“I don’t think a house with kids has to look like a playroom. You shouldn’t have to wait until they’re older to have a beautiful home,” she says. “In our house, we don’t have a lot of breakables laying around but we’ve also tried to teach our kids not to touch certain things. It may be harder to do that with boys than with girls because boys seem to be more physical. My dad says I just sat around and played with my Barbies. Our boys roughhouse and jump off the sofa all the time.” 

Little spills and full-blown messes don’t bother her. As she explains, “We really live in our house and let the kids be active. And we have a 14-year old dog, Bonsai.”

She believes having children in the house is a good excuse not to be stuffy about design. Meeting her for only a few minutes lets you know she’s not a designer who would ever be stuffy or pretentious. She has a natural exuberance that plays out in her designs.

Painting most of the walls in her home white led her to add color through furniture, rugs, fabric and artwork. An added perk to a colorful interior is that toys abandoned in a room add their own, if maybe not totally planned, infusion of color.

Forgoing silks and other fragile upholstery fabrics in rooms where children spend a lot of time, she likes to use Sunbrella fabric or chenille, a heavy-duty fabric that can be cleaned with a minimum of fuss. Ditto for easily cleaned carpet or rugs. The quality and aesthetics of indoor/outdoor rugs that can be cleaned with a hose have improved so much that she selects them as much for their appearance as for their utilitarian merit.

A glass top coffee table is on hold until Halston and Hutton won’t be likely to run into it. For now, centered in her living room is a giant square wood coffee table.

Chairs in the dining room were painted before the seats were covered in kid-friendly vinyl that mimics ostrich leather. A peacock blue chandelier above the table is captivating eye candy.

“I saw a table for the breakfast room that I really liked but it wasn’t as practical for children as the beat-up pine table I bought. I paired it with some fun chairs and linen peacock blue and white seashell pattern fabric window treatments. I ask the kids to keep their fingers off the draperies but that doesn’t work so well when they hide behind them,” says Eliason.

When she advises clients about children’s rooms, she emphasizes design that can be adapted as they grow. She sees people discarding the notion that babies’ rooms should be pink or blue. Halston’s original room was white with a whimsical chandelier and “unbaby” ikat pattern draperies in green, blue and white. In time, she and Thurman removed the glider in which they had spent many hours rocking Halston, as well as the crib they replaced with a big boy bed.

As Halston’s getting older, he needs more places to keep books and toys. Organization may not be the most interesting aspect of design, but it is one of the most necessary. “I priced out a built-in for his room, but it was $4,000. I found a shelving unit at HomeGoods for $400,” she says. It accommodates baskets for his dinosaurs, and zoo and farm animal toys. There are also baskets for stuffed animals. “Sometimes I have to go through them and purge when no one’s home. Halston doesn’t like to purge, but my husband, especially, doesn’t like to purge.

“We’re a bedroom short in the house, so we used our master sitting room as Hutton’s nursery. We carried into that space the same window treatments as our bedroom, making a whole suite,” she says. Soon, Hutton will move into Halston’s room where they will sleep in bunk beds.

A couple of her design clients are interested in children’s theme rooms, such as Star Wars or a jungle motif. Rather than going all-out with a theme, she uses paint, area rugs and art to suggest a theme that can be switched out as interests change.

Allowing kids to have a say in the design of their rooms can be fun, but also tricky, depending on what they choose. Taking them to a paint store to see hundreds of paint chips might be overwhelming. A better idea is to pre-select options to present to them.

Eliason knows the time will come when Halston and Hutton will want to decorate their room by themselves. “I’m not ready for them to be old enough to put ugly posters on the wall, although I’m sure we’ll let them do whatever they want in their room. Maybe we’ll have some rules. Or maybe we’ll just walk away and close the door,” she says. VT