How having a young baby or toddler changes your home decor

Cute baskets make great storage for toys.
Cute baskets make great storage for toys.  Photo: HOUZZ/claregaskin.com

Having young children doesn't necessarily spell the end of your stylish home, but it may mean (temporarily) that it won't be ever be entirely tidy, properly clean or completely devoid of random plastic paraphernalia. During those challenging years with an older baby or toddler, squashed raisins on the floor, sticky fingermarks on most surfaces and an endless laundry cycle are, for many of us, facts of life. 

As any parent knows, clearing up after a two-year-old can seem like a Sisyphean task. So how can you make the most of this time interiors-wise? Here are some ways having a child changes your home – and tips for how best to deal with the disorder.

Toys will spill over into your living room

This will happen – unless, of course, your mansion has a separate, isolated wing for the children to play in (ha!).

I've experimented with the system where I carefully decant everything back into its original packaging or find its 'special home'. Sadly, there aren't enough hours in the day, and it's also super dull. 

Instead, try a variety of stylish toy boxes and containers into which you can sweep everything at the end of the day, before cracking open the obligatory bottle of red. 

Cute, animal-themed storage solutions, like the ones shown in the photo at the top of the page, can work, or choose something more neutral to blend in with the background. Make sure toy boxes are large enough for the job, but not so huge they'll dominate your space – think two or three roomy baskets that are easy to move around as needed.

You'll display 'artworks' in your kitchen

You know in your heart that your toddler's precious first scribbles, finger prints and paintings look broadly identical to every other toddler's. But because they're your little angel's, you'll treasure them more than if they were the Mona Lisa. 

Children's drawings have the advantage of being colourful and abstract, so displayed well, they can look amazing. Kitchens make natural homes for mini galleries, and can create a positive, lived-in family vibe. If you can, though, be judicious and just pick out a few favourites; the rest can go into a scrapbook, or be compiled in an app.

White could seem more appealing

Using white might seem counter-intuitive with small, sticky hands exploring everywhere. However, children's toys tend to be bright and colourful, and so often look best against a light, bright backdrop, as this simple playroom demonstrates.

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By contrast, in a more colourful room, lots of clashing playthings could look messy and cluttered. White paintwork is also cheap and easy to touch up.
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Your tolerance for clutter will rise

For many new parents, the first year can lull you into a false sense of security. Babies can't walk, so their potential for creating chaos is largely induced by your lack of ability to function. It's when they become crawlers and walkers that their little hands get into absolutely everything that things really change. 

The key to staying sane is keeping things loosely under control: clear out toys as they outgrow them and keep an eye on new objects brought into the house (a ruthless one-in, one-out policy can help here). 

In this home, a moderate selection of children's books on the sideboard adds the right dose of colour and charm, and can easily be accessed for story time; however, any more might start to tip into overwhelming. The neutral polyurethane buckets underneath for stashing toys also prove practical storage doesn't have to be obtrusive.

Yes, you may need to rethink your square glass coffee table

Little kids have a special talent for bumping into hard objects (in fact, all objects). If you want to reduce the potential for tears, your chic, square glass coffee table may need to go into storage for a little while. 

If you're in the market for a new coffee table, choose something sturdy that won't topple over easily, won't shatter and doesn't have sharp corners. If it can be crayon-proof too, so much the better.

Round, wooden or plastic can all work.

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Your stairs will need to be gated

There's no getting around this one – stair gates tend to be ugly but necessary evils, especially if you have steep stairs and hard flooring. If you can, choose a colour that blends in – here the gate and flooring are similar shades of wood – or go for 'almost invisible' white, and then just wait for the early years to pass.

Every space will become a potential play area

Behind doors, in the bathroom – and definitely in the kitchen, usually while you're trying to mop the floor: every corner of your home is a potential space for stoking your toddler's fertile imagination, and they don't give two hoots that playing may not be a space's primary purpose. 

Very young children naturally love anywhere that's snug and den-like. In this home, the owners have embraced this and turned a spot under the eaves into a cosy little nook for reading.

Highchairs will rule

One or more of your dining chairs will inevitably need to be replaced with a highchair. Fortunately, the days of having to put up with tacky plastic monstrosities are long over – there are countless stylish highchairs out there at all price points, so choose something that suits your interiors. 

The Scandi-chic Stokke Tripp Trapp, seen here in zingy lime green, is a modern classic that goes brilliantly with most schemes. It can also be used flush to the table, so your little one can eat with you, not just off a tray. 

The owners of this home have kept their rug resolutely in place. However, in eating areas, easy-to-clean wooden or tiled floors tend to be a godsend for those moments when your toddler decides to see how lunch would look falling to the ground.

Your bathroom will feature rubber ducks

Bathroom ducks may not be toddler specific, but now there will probably be more of them - and there will also quite possibly be bright plastic frogs, fish, boats … you get the picture. 

As with elsewhere, the key is storage. Here, toys have been gathered neatly together in wire baskets and tucked under the basin, ready for tomorrow night's bath-time shenanigans.

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Mainstream characters will creep into the background

Before you had your baby, you probably imagined you'd only do tasteful retro wooden toys set against a serene white backdrop. Tacky, Disney or gaudy were for other people's kids… However, over the years, characters such as Elsa from Frozen, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and, yes, even those alarmingly yellow Minions are likely to enter your abode in some form (though not necessarily as wall stickers, as here). 

The key is to restrict them to bedrooms and play areas, and to be strict about tidying up at the end of the day.

Your dining table will no longer be your own

Once it was simply a place to eat meals, read the paper over coffee or catch up on emails. Now it's also a place to squish Play-Doh, draw, paint, spill glitter, and experiment with stickers. 

If you want to protect your table, invest in a large piece of pretty oilcloth, pegging or stapling it to a discreet part of the table if necessary. Industrial-length rolls of paper, as seen here, can also protect surfaces from glue and pen marks during craft sessions, and provide an endless surface for young creativity.

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You'll need to fit safety catches in your kitchen

You'll probably want to fit safety catches to base cupboard doors to prevent precious tiny fingers getting trapped and your favourite china getting broken – so no more casually swinging open a cupboard at the pull of handle to grab a bowl. 

Similarly, you'll need to make sure the kettle is always unreachable, that electrical sockets are protected and full-size doors won't slam shut on little digits to keep your tiny darling safe.

By Cheryl Freedman