Discussion Topic: Can you have children AND nice things?

You all know Liz from Say Yes to Hoboken. Well she tweeted the other day that her two year-old broke her beautiful lamp (seen below, available at Overstock) and she wanted to know if she should replace it. Would it just get broken again, and end up being a waste of money? I told her…

You all know Liz from Say Yes to Hoboken. Well she tweeted the other day that her two year-old broke her beautiful lamp (seen below, available at Overstock) and she wanted to know if she should replace it. Would it just get broken again, and end up being a waste of money?

I told her that I would replace the lamp if I were her (and affix it to her table with industrial-strength velcro). But I’m a decorator and probably care more about this sort of stuff than the normal person might. Plus, I have girls (and girly girls, at that), and I have a feeling they are much easier on my house than little boys might be.

Anyway, the situation made me start thinking about the old saying “You can’t have kids AND nice stuff.”

image from Cottage Living – the LEE Industries sofa shown here was upholstered in an outdoor fabric by Duralee.

Recently a woman introduced herself to me and said she loves reading my blog for the pretty pictures. Then she said she doesn’t actually decorate her house now because she still has young kids at home. Her pretty things were boxed up for “someday” and her floors and walls were bare. She told me her story all matter-of-fact – like, of course my walls would be bare, I have kids.

Should we just give in and face the fact that our houses are going to be dirty and trashed and undecorated until the kids are in college? Or do we decorate with Raoul and Spitzmiller and then freak on the kids when the inevitable happens?

Do we buy the lamp a second time?

In our house, I try to shoot for a balance between kid-friendly and inexpensive things (that I don’t care about it they get ruined) and then a few special things that I talk to my girls about and set rules for. And then I take a chill pill when those things get messed with on occasion.

What do you think, readers? I’d really love your opinion here for something I’ve got brewing on my back burner. We’ll call it market research.

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168 thoughts on “Discussion Topic: Can you have children AND nice things?

  1. I have kids and I have nice things. I teach my children not to be distructive. Haven't lost anything yet :)

  2. I like a nicely decorated home and I have two small children. Of course we have a few accidents but I know this may be the result before I even put something out.I have noticed though that my children respect nice decor more because they have grown up with it, they know not to touch and it isnt even an issue. My friends who have homes that are more child contentious for decorating are quite different. I always have to remember to put everything up when they are over:)

  3. I have twin boys (19 months) and a fully decorated house. My style is fairly laid back and I try to be that way about my furniture and decor too. I try to be kid friendly when I can and am holding out on a few nice pieces I want (i.e., ivory leather eames lounge chair) unti the kids are a little older.

    But I am not going to live in an ugly house just because I have kids! My kids already know boundaries and are fairly respectful of things. I think having low expectations about how long things will last helps a lot when inevitably the kids break something.

    Oh and "museum putty" is my BEST FRIEND. We also call it earthquake putty here in California. It is what museums use to hold down priceless vases, etc. and it really works and comes off clean too. Has saved many of my items from the destruction of twin 19-month old boys.


  4. I support decorating and having nice things. But I've learned to take a look around the room and think how upset I would be if something were broken / stained / colored, etc. (I made the mistake of getting new silk curtains in a New York apartment with toddlers!) It always helps when kids have a separate main play area, whether it is a basement or bedroom. Rooms are not off limits to my kids, but we do have rules about food, touching, jumping on the furniture.

    So go for the nice stuff, set boundaries for kids, but also do a gut check and ask yourself, "how would I react if…?"

    My two cents.

  5. I don't have kids, but I was brought up to be careful and gentle around things. I think this is a good thing, because it produces adults who are careful and respectful of both their own and other people's belongings. I didn't realize that not everyone was brought up this way until living with a bunch of housemates…it was astonishing how destructive people were! And I'm not talking about fragile items, I mean large pieces of furniture! Needless to say, there was little hope for the glass/ceramic breakables.

    My sister's kids do extremely well in their very nicely decorated house, and do not destroy things.

  6. I must start by saying I do not have kids yet. And I love to decorate & have nice things. When my kids come over to our house, we just work with the situation. Do I put the Tiffany vase on the side table in the living room? No. But in general, I do not move too much around. When we have kids, I plan on keeping my house much the same with some tweaks for safety.

    One more thing- people say my house looks so perfect and it will all change when we have kids, but I really do not think so. Everything has a place and when we add the baby stuff, we will make a place for it, too. That is the secret, I think- having a place for the kid stuff.

  7. I think people who overly child-proof their houses end up with kids who don't know how to live like normal human beings in a house. I wouldn't put a fragile crystal vase on our coffee table, but we have art on our walls, rugs on our floors and I've never put any of our "nice" things away. Our two boys have grown up knowing how to respect and appreciate the things we have in our home. The bonus is that they're also very respectful of the things in other people's homes when we visit.

  8. This is totally something I worry about. I'm pregnant with our first child right now and am wondering if I'm going to rue the day I chose light-colored upholstery for our living room chairs. :) I'm looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the subject!

  9. The children are more important than the stuff… I say beautiful things hopefully at discount prices and chill pills and limits for your children is a good balance. The beautiful things in boxes may not be so in style or beautiful when it is time to pull them out.
    My two year old just drew with pen on my newly upholstered ottoman- came out with hair spray but left a film. Guess my husband won't look at my sideways now when I want to recover it sooner than later.
    If beautiful things make you happy, don't wait to live surrounded by the beautiful things you love. seems silly.

  10. I think children need to learn that there is adult space, and child space. Obviously they should be comfortable in their own home, but they need to learn that momy and daddy's things were there before they came into the family and they need to respect that. Agree w/ the fact that there should be a balance of inexpensive and nice, especially if it is in a high traffic kid area….but kids should not dominate the house! The home is a place for everyone in the family and not just the children.

  11. I really don't think it has to be one or the other. Isn't it part of your responsibility as a parent to teach your kids boundaries and to behave and have enough respect to not knock over vases and lamps and trash rooms? I definitely wouldn't sacrifice a nice home because I have children.

  12. The only design choices I made with my kids in mind was to keep an old couch in the family/TV room. I saw no need to replace it until the kids were old enough to respect it. They are 9 and 4 and the sofa is slipcovered in white!

    But really, nothing I own was purchased out of my comfort zone, so I can chill when something spills or breaks. But just because I have kids doesn't mean I don't love pretty things and want to live amongst them!

  13. First of all, gorgeous picture of you and your girls! Second, wouldn't it be so miserable if the place you spend the most time in, where all your children's memories are made, and is supposed to be your haven from the world was a place you weren't proud of or something you felt was beautiful??? Everyone said I was crazy to get a white comforter for our bed with a 3 and an almost 2 year old…but it's been fine and I love it! It's like using your children as an excuse not to take care of yourself…it just doesn't fly with me! (c:

  14. I'm learning with 3 boys that it may be wiser to invest in nice pieces that wear well (metal and leather) if they are for high-traffic areas. You shouldn't have to forego aesthetics altogether, but you need to be able to keep things in perspective when something inevitably becomes a casualty…. and not having spent a fortune on breakables helps!

  15. I think everything in moderation applies here. We have three and one year old boys who are well-behaved but would definitely be picking up accessories within their reach. We have pictures on the walls and a beautiful oriental rug–we only eat at the table, with the exception of the occasional sippy cup allowed around the house. Our leather sofa has been great, weathering the unexpected such as spit up (and worse) and can be wiped up. So, we have some nice things that can be easily cleaned, but lamps with cords that could be pulled and breakable accessories are not out until they are older. I think children can be taught to treat their surroundings with respect, but they still are children and lack the ability to reason as an adult. That being said, I do not decorate exactly as I would if I didn't have children.

  16. I think that parents should never have to lose having nice surroundings just because they have kids. Just be careful and make sure your most special things are up high on shelves, away from little hands : ) I think it would be sad to leave a house virtually undecorated just because there are children living there, right!? Everyone deserves fab surroundings that reflect their taste!

  17. I have four children ranging in age from 10 to 2, and three big dogs. You might think I would leave the plastic coating on the sofas, peel up the nice carpets, and put away the calypso lamps…but the reality is, if we allow our children to live in an "unbreakable" world, we are actually doing them (and ourselves!) a disservice. The way children learn to respect treasured things is by being given the respect to be around them. Give a child a plastic cup and see how when empty it gets tossed around the room, slipped over the foot, or turned into a football. Take away the plastic and give them the responsibility of a glass drinking cup and see how it is carefully raised to the lips and then gently placed back down in a safe spot. Furthermore, I feel it is so important for children to grow up surrounded by beauty and harmony…something not found in a room of barren walls and floors.

  18. What an adorable picture of you and your girls!! I love it!
    I find that teaching my own kids to be careful with our stuff isn't so hard, but when friends come over… that's another story. They don't know the rules of our house and that's when things get broken here.

  19. I have two girls (2 tomorrow! and 5 months). We have only slowly been doing up our house so a lot of our stuff is old or rooms are minimal with bare necessities.
    We did save up and buy a leather couch in an OFF WHITE-ish colour… instead of getting a practical brown or black because it is a small room and I wanted light coloured couch to not make the room so dark (we have timber floorboard and timber doors)…
    We don't let the kids each in the lounge room OR stand up on the couch.. it is a rule that my 3 nephews have to abide by as well (they're rowdy and well, boys.) … I think it is just important to set the BOUNDARIES and rules to your kids at an early age and they learn to either not touch certain things or understand that some things are not THEIRS to touch. (I suppose being a teacher has helped me to teach my own)…

    I think in some respects you need to be practical in your choices in your home (leather to wipe down, jute rug hides dirt/is tough, etc) but my nice things I have either up high or safely put away.

    I personally want to create a beautiful home with nice things AND i have kids too…. we will compromise on some things but I will have both!

  20. I can have nice things in my house with my 3 year old daughter. She's no problem. My husband is the problem. I have come to the realization that I cannot have anything breakable in my home because of HIM!

  21. I think it is all about consistent rules and being reasonable with expectations. I have two boys (7 and 4) and a girl (2). There are some things that they just can't resist (pretty much anything that is on the coffee table), so the coffee table is bare for now and the upper shelves have more on them then I would prefer for now. I have Room and Board sofas with microfiber and am amazed at how well they wipe off – five years later they still look great (well, except for the scratches from the cat, but that's a different story). The kids are not aloud to eat or drink in the living room and I am a bit of an army sergeant and I do have the occassional freak-out (like when they pulled the silk drapes down off the rods). But I find that kids respond to a nice room (just like an adult) and tend to take care because they like it nice too.

  22. I don't know about kids as I don't have any yet. But I do have two very high energy four-legged friends.

    From previous experience I feel that I can't have nice things. This comes as a result of numerous items being knocked off tables/shleves, and broken. Rather unfortunately I have learned to put anything breakable away. I even worry about my antique furniture, which gets scratched up!

    I have wooden table lamps in the living room and I have yet to find suitable replacements. I've found beautiful ceramic lamps but I'm worried that they will be broken into pieces within days of their arrival.

    I hope it only gets better with kids…

  23. My children are three great big wonderful weimaraners! They are truly part of the family and allowed on the furniture. My husband and I are replacing our 10 year old leather sofa with another leather sofa. Two of our "children" are still puppies and think it's fun to jump over the sofa! To end this behavior with the new sofa I'm thinking of placing a sofa table (iron/marble) at the back of the sofa and I love your idea about the velcro!!! I had already anticipated broken lamps, etc. What a great idea – Thank you! Now "Dog Mommies" can have nice things too.

  24. This is a great discussion topic! I recently told my husband that I feel I need a house with concrete floors and vinyl furniture so I can just hose everything down! (I have two boys ages 4 and 2 and a brand new baby girl. :) I don't really have an issue with breakables but as far as rugs and upholstery, I would like to know what the more kid-friendly fabrics are. (For example, I think white couches look great but are sort of out of the question.) For clients with children, do you recommend slip covers, leather, micro suede?

  25. Wow, you have a lot of comments already on this topic, but I thought I'd chime in too. I have a 1 1/2 year old boy at home that is very rough on our furniture. We don't have a home that is filled with expensive things, but we do have a home that is filled with nice, inexpensive things. So, when he pulls down my $30 mirror off the wall from Ikea, it's okay. Also, we hit the jackpot when we bought our couch from West Elm (pre baby) because everything just wipes off! I have friends that have expensive couches that are all stained, but mine is great! I think the key is buying inexpensive items that you like and then working them around the kids. And, as you said, there's nothing that some hard core velcro can't fix!

  26. I believe you should decorate your house! There are plenty of affordable items that can be replaced if broken. You should also have rules. Eat only in the kitchen, No toys in the living room, etc.

  27. It's other people's kids who ruin my stuff. :)

    Debating right now whether to re-slipcover my white sofa with another white cover since the kids of friends like to jump on it with dirty bare feet.

  28. My sister and I are believers in having nice things, even with young ones. We each have three very young children and they have learned not to mess with the breakables. The problem is kids who come over to play and don't know/follow those boundaries. We have both experienced broken glass at the hands of a neighbor child.

  29. Hi there, I am a mum of three (12, 9 and 6) and I would say that my house is lovely and yet it is a home too.
    The children treat our furniture, art, lamps etc carefully but not to the point that our house has become too "precious." Also, you can certainly learn to play differently in different parts of the house.
    I think it is possible to live a well-designed life with youngsters. Just as I think it is possible to eat in restaurants with children and travel with them successfully. I say this as I pack for our family summer holiday!
    Regards, Leah

  30. I don't yet have kids, but I do have two large dogs (and a husband), so I always have to consider how we would live with something I really want to buy, like white linens for example. My husband ruins/breaks things much more often than my dogs, so he is the first factor in my consideration of purchasing. I think it depends on your lifestyle whether or not you can have nice things AND kids/dogs/a husband. :) It's most important to design/decorate for the life you HAVE. I like the 'take a chill pill' line, because it is vital. Ask yourself what is more important, the lamp that got knocked over by your kid and shattered on the floor, or the fact that your kid escaped being pummeled by the thing as it fell?

  31. I've had children in my house for 34 years. I had five WILD kids of my own and when the youngest was 8, my oldest had my lst grandchild…now 10 grandkids. Needless to say – I have never had a break from messes, spitup, or melted popscicles ever. I thought I would buy nice things "one day" when the children were grown – but then there comes grandkids! So I have not waited and have always had a very nice yard, the nicest things I could afford and current paint jobs and clean carpets. Your home is a reflection of you and it needs to be as tidy and welcoming as possible. Clean and cute makes for happy mom & kids. Kids often comment at my house they can "hang out here" because it is not like an untouchable museum. But it is nice and we replace items and paint often. I have gone to the zone defense. Eating zones, kids fun zones and no kids zones. This has worked the best. Make the kids zones so fun no one will ever want to leave to go into the no kids zone. My grandkids are in my bed right now watching cartoons and it is the ultimate compliment to me they feel comfortable there! Clean enough to be healthy, liveable enough to be happy! I was an interior designer in my former life, so having good design is in my heart and home! But raising good kids is why I'm on this earth! You can do both! Love this blog!

  32. You have more than enough comments, but I thought I would add mine anyway :)
    I have three year old triplet girls. I don't have curtains up, because repairing the walls when they get pulled out is just not my idea of fun. They are just too irresistable to spin in. :) However, every fabric I use is 'child-friendly'—washable and stain resistant. I do have some nice, breakable things at little-hands-levels, but I waited until they were 2.5 to put them out. I figured by then they could understand 'no touching'. And they did! Every situation is different, but I think you can for SURE have a chic house with kids.

  33. It's all about balance. Can you find home decorations you enjoy/like that are sturdy or don't care if they're subject to an accident or breakage?

    children grow up way too fast to obsess over how they limit your life instead of focusing on how to they expand your life.
    Make your life & your home as stress-free as possible, is my 2 cents. You'll enjoy your children more and your stuff less.

    My mother, who had nine children, had this bumper sticker, "The best things in life aren't things."

    As a parenting expert, I agree with her 100%.

  34. Live with beauty!!!

    And kids! I do – 2 yr old crazy boy.

    Stuff will get broken. Replace it – c'mon, that's what overstock is for. Have a drink and call it a day.

    Life's DEPRESSING without beauty!

  35. Yes. I have 4 children and a nice looking home. We have always made it a priority to have our house be a reflection of our family and in doing so, I think our children have felt a sense of pride in their environment and therefore have mostly treated our things with respect. It is a livable space though, not one that is off limits to them.

    When our son was 3, he old did "saw" away a rather large divot in the grout of our brick fireplace at one point and there have been a few mishaps here and there but nothing that would make me change my opinion on the matter.

  36. loved your post. i love decorating and getting ideas out of magazines, etc. and love. love. love to encorporate those into my home…to make it inviting, comfy, and trendy. i have 4 kids, in 5 yrs. our life is crazy and fun, and if something gets broken, oh well. it's a part of life. get another lamp. accidents happen. :) smiles. melissa.

  37. Make a home a home. I feel that kids should be taught boundaries.. I have four very young children and they know their limits. You cant live in fear that kids are just going to ruin everything. My kitchen table is not your average table. It is a very nice square table with fabric covered chairs. When I bought them all my mom could say was that my kids were going to ruin them and it was a huge mistake buying them. Well I have had it for 5 years now and two more kids later and I think the chairs still look fantastic. I won't lie the table top has pencil marks from doing homework and fork indensions but it has character. Teach them, thats what we are here for..

  38. This was a great post and encouraging. I have 3 kids (3, 2, 1) and baby #4 coming in a month! I've been trying more and more to buy "nice" things also. I agree on kids needing boundaries. That said, I don't put fine china on the coffee table. But, I did buy a beautiful white quilt for our bed last week and thought "Am I crazy??" But, I decided it could be washed and the boundary would be no shoes or dirty feet up on the bed. So glad I opted for the leather couch in my living room. I considered fabric but one throw-up and I was really relieved!!

  39. I have 8 children ranging from 13 to 1. I'm learning that it's easy to think the obstacles to decorating all come from the little ones, but really they're just a part of raising a family. While the little ones dump things and draw on my walls, the bigger ones get in wrestling matches that break things and adolescent arms experiencing growth spurts bump or drop things quite often. My home is decorated in a way that is pleasing to me; I need to be happy in the place where my life's work is centered. That said, I have a few guiding principles that I try to remember. Children still have that innate knowledge that life is to be experienced, not just displayed artfully. For them, many objects are an invitation to experience something. The only object on my coffee table is a hundred year old typewriter that's a kid magnet. I encourage them to play with it. I try to have the environment in our home be a happy medium between my desire for beauty and their need to simply live. While I work hard to teach my children that careless destruction of things is wrong, I also try to remember that people are, most definitely, more important than things. Accidents happen. If it's incredibly dear to my heart and breakable too, then it's probably in my bedroom or another place less likely to be touched. Otherwise, if I put it out it's with the knowledge that we'll be careful but anything can happen, and that's my choice. I want my children to remember a home that was comfortable and a mother who was calm. After all, we've got life to live!

  40. My husband and I don't have children yet, but we do want to have a family soon. Both of us were raised in homes where our mothers made every effort to keep the house looking nice in spite of the fact that each of them had rather destructive kids (my mom had 2 girls and we were still climbing on the walls), so we had our fair share of spankings. However, as a kid I still appreciated that my house was always pretty. So I guess when its time for us to have a few kids of our own, we will try to have a nice home that's kid friendly.

  41. I totally agree- though I don;t have many super high-end things in my own (which is more an issue of money than kids) I do have some fragile things- and I think it's important to set boundaries for kids at an early age and have them adapt to the environment around them..It's all about being attentive as a parent, and teaching them to appreciate and respect certain things- which I honestly don't think they're ever to young to learn!

  42. I am a TOTAL believer in living with kids and nice breakable things…my kids have been drinking from glass (OMG) and eating off of glass plates for a while now (ages 5 and 3) I really never thought twice about it, until I was asked by other more careful mothers "aren't you afraid they will break it"…I am just as likely to break a plate in the sink as they are to accidentally break something.(which has happened, lesson learned, we move on) The bigger worry is other children that haven't been taught boundries who think it is quite acceptable to fling things across the room. It is a really sad state of affairs to rid your home of nice things just because you have kids…everyone (even kids) should be around beautiful things. I really could go on and on. Thanks for bringing up a great topic…

  43. I'm with you! Granted I do have girls, but two at that- and they do get roudy now and then! From my perspective this is "our house" not "their house". I see our famiy as a team and not any more about one member than the other so to speak. It's important that my kids have a space to play and be kids but, I need to feel comfortable as well. And it's importnat that they learn boundaries. There are things do have value- and need to be respected. It's important to me to teach my kids self control. If they don't learn it at home where are they going to learn it?

  44. Heck yeah! You can definitely have nice things with kids. And be prepared for some wear and tear.

    There's got to be a balance…I keep some of my nicer things off the beaten path, where kids, dogs, and cat aren't spending the majority of their time.

    If and when something gets broken, either a) rush out and see if the place where you bought it still has another (did that when my toddler nephew tipped over a lamp & the paper shade ripped – plus got the last one on clearance!) or b) replace it with something different that you love even more!

  45. I know I'm a little late to weigh in on this but 146 opinions are better than 145, right?? :)

    I agree that a parent must strike a balance, so that the home feels warm, kid-friendly, lived in, but also stylish, modern, decorated, and just plain NICE! It needs to be a place that you're proud of- where you want to 'show off' but at the same time, not where you're so frantic about anyone (kids) 'messing it up.' I think the kids benefit from seeing their parents take pride in their home. At the same time, I do read blogs of those who don't have children and when I see pictures of their homes/newly renovated rooms I have often thought, "…just wait till they have kids!!" There are certain things that I will not do until they are older!

    BTW- That picture of you and your children is absolutely beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You're gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. There is not much in my house that I can't live without. They can all be replaced, they are just things after all. I would rather teach my daughter to appreciate beautiful things and take care with them rather than send her the message she can't be trusted with them. Kids are smarter than we think and I hope (maybe naively) that she will learn quickly the difference between playthings and not. And who knows what impression our home, our stuff, will leave on her… maybe she will grow up to be a designer herself!

  47. I totally agree. I do not have children but my husband is a man's man, greasy from working on the cars, feet on the coffee table. I have the mentality now that I can either repaint or I found it at a reasonable cost so it can easily be replaced by someting else….but it is all still nice, beautiful things. I just didn't pay an arm and a leg for it. A mom recently was over and she was saying how she cannot light candles anymore because she has kids and I thought she was crazy. There are plenty of places in her house unreachable to her children that she could set a candle. I think it is important for your children to be a high priority in the home but I do not think it means you need to sacrifice enjoying and decorating the home. Bloggers like you and many others prove this theory daily!

  48. Good Q's!! A friend came over to my house and said how kid unfriendly it is, and I have a little boy his full of energy and 10 – but I've always taught him to respect our home and take of things. for example no feet on the sofa, pick up after yourself. If you want to run around and play play in your room or outside. Same way I was raised. I trust him and know if I leave the room he wont break something, in the same breath SPILLS will happen, stains will happen…I'm ok with that… :)

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