Whenever designer Erin Gates thinks about her approach to kid-friendly spaces before she became a mother, she can't help but shake her head. "There were things people always said that I thought was overly cautious, like, 'you can't have a glass coffee table.' I thought, 'of course you can! You just watch your kids around it!' I was so naive," she laughs.
Perspective is a powerful thing, and after becoming a mom to Henry, 3, Erin viewed her entire approach to design a little differently. Her work in her own home and clients' inspired her latest book, Elements of Family Style, and in a recent interview, she d the top five ways your house's decor changes after having kids—and how to keep it looking chic.
Once you bring a baby home, you become hyper-aware of every texture and surface in each room. As much as Erin loves sisal and jute rugs, "they're just too scratchy for a baby to crawl on," she admitted, which has caused her to favor 100 percent wool and synthetic-fiber designs. They're comfy and durable enough to withstand plenty of crawling, toddling, and (eventually) walking.
"When you go into people's houses, you can immediately tell when they have a kid, because nothing is below waist level," Erin says. She's only half-joking—toddlers have a tendency to get into everything, which is why she suggests swapping out your picture frames and breakable tchotchkes with books, baskets, and "things that won't harm little people and send them to the ER."
Let's be real: You can tell your toddler not to play ball in the house, but that expectation is not always the reality. (And you can only be hyper-vigilant for so long—you're not Terminator, after all.) Sconces are a great alternative to table lamps, because if something brushes—or whacks—against it, it sways...rather than crashes to the ground.
If you're going to splurge on one item for your family room, let it be this. Look for a sofa or sectional with a hardwood frame and spring-down seat cushions, which are less likely to sag. And, most of all, choose a slipcover in a durable performance fabric. "Get a sample of whatever fabric you're thinking of—even Crate & Barrel and West Elm will send you one—and really mess it up before ordering a whole sofa in it," Erin says.
She rubbed blueberries on hers and scraped it with the tines of a fork—mimicking a dog's paws, to see if the fabric would pull—before deciding on a Perennials indoor/outdoor material that could withstand it all.
After Henry took a spill and "missed the edge of the coffee table by this much," Erin says, pinching her thumb and forefinger together, she knew her old coffee table had to go. "Metal and glass styles, with their hard edges, the fingerprints, the possibility of breakage—they're tricky," she explains.
Erin swapped hers out for an oval table, and recommends looking for a wood, leather upholstery, or stone-topped number that can withstand wear and tear. And plenty of board games.
For even more decorating inspo and ideas, check out Erin's new book, Elements of Family Style, out now.