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  • Lauren Bennett

How to Design Your Home with Toddlers and Kids in Mind

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

It’s no small task bringing a child into your home, much less physically restructuring, and rethinking how your home functions with a baby, then toddler, then child ever present. For every parent, there are some universal snags and questions that as a designer I have been asked very often like, “How do I design around my kids, and all their stuff? I don’t know if it’s even worth the effort until they're older.” Or, “how do I organize and contain all the toys?” And finally, “is it possible to design around my child’s play furniture? I literally don’t have anywhere else to put it.” Before I begin my response, I want to clarify, that I may be a professional designer, but I am still new to parenting, and while my tricks may work for me, they may not work for you. Either way, I wanted to share some of my own wins and losses within this wonderful “kid design” category.

As a mom to a toddler, this stage of life has been a particular challenge for me as a designer. I like to live surrounded by a lot of pretty things, and frankly most baby and toddler toys aren’t really the vibe I’m going for. In addition, lots of those pretty things that I could once openly display on shelves and tables have been sequestered into storage closets, drawers, and anywhere else I can stick them out of reach of curious little hands and mouths. I love my little boy more than I love my stuff, so with a heavy heart, I’ve slowly been clearing off tables, and taking apart my carefully styled lower bookshelves. In essence, I denuded my home below waist level to be “kid friendly”, and now I have lots of empty shelves, and toddler toys scattered all over the house. What do I do with these shelves now, and how do I corral the mess without having an always open toy box on the main floor of the house?

Fortunately, I recently I found my answer when I rediscovered the Montessori Method. I had briefly learned about it in college, but as a refresher, I learned that this is a method of teaching babies and children about the world through hands on discovery, and play. I

found a few very inspirational Instagram accounts (@mamamademontessori and @sonnysmontessori) of moms providing age appropriate toys at eye level in different areas of the home, to encourage independent play and exploration. Their bread and butter are “shelfies”, or pictures of child-level shelves that have a curated selection of toys, always out for the child to explore. I immediately got excited about the idea of curating and “styling” my lower shelves for Oliver’s enjoyment, (and my own)!

As a bonus, our bookshelf is set behind our dining table, so the shelves full of toys within Ollie’s reach are out of view to everyone but him, for the most part. I love the idea of a curated space for him to play in main areas of the house, because I am able to select which toys and books are being used, and which ones are kept up in his room, out of the way.

I like to refresh these shelves every week or so, in order to cycle through his toys, and keep his interest for as long as possible with something “new” to play with. I know not everyone has free space on an existing bookshelf, so another option might be to thrift or purchase a two-tiered shelf that’s low to the ground on Amazon, or IKEA. These Montessori shelves are by nature quite aesthetically pleasing, and in my opinion, they’re a charming addition to the décor that embraces this fun stage of childhood. Montessori shelves, play kitchens, and child size tables are all just a part of the ride, and they are so temporary. Embrace it while you can!

The rest of his toys are stored in his bedroom for my sanity. Kidding! But seriously, his toys are located both in his closet out of reach, and in large baskets under his crib that are available for him to pull out and play with at any time. These baskets are amazing, they are actually the top and bottom of a large woven gift box I found at a local thrift store for a few dollars. For now, this method works well for us, and as Oliver grows, we’ll continue to use baskets and bins to organize toys he has free reign to, and store away those that are a bit more appropriate with parent supervision.

In restructuring my home for Oliver, I may have lost a few accessories, but aesthetically, nothing in my home really changed otherwise. We still have an upholstered sofa, and wool rugs, and wood furniture (now complete with teeth marks and new scratches), and it’s all surviving everything this busy boy can throw at them. In other words, kids will adapt and become used to what they are surrounded by, and they’ll take cues from us on how to treat our things. I’m not saying go ahead and splurge on that white linen sofa just yet, but more often than not, spills can be cleaned, messes wiped away, and you can still have a beautiful home with small children. And before you say, “Eh, I’d still rather wait until they’re older...” Let me stop you right there. Kids grow into teenagers (who are often just as messy in different ways), teenagers grow into adults, who eventually bring grandkids to your house, and then we’re back to where we started. Don’t wait to design your dream home for the “perfect time” because there is no perfect time. Don’t wait to live the life you’re dreaming of, make that jump! It’s worth it.

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