As Labor Day approaches, I bask in celebrating the end of summer with my family. There is something about the East End of Long Island in late August that encourages its inhabitants to slow down and spend quality time with loved ones. In the next couple of weeks, we will have back-to-school chaos and the hustle and bustle of the crisp autumn season to add vigor to our step, but for now I am melancholy for the slow stir of summer. Thinking back upon the three-month break, I reflect upon the design of a home that accommodates and celebrates kids. There is something special about a home where kids cook, garden, assist with building projects, or create art projects.
A home with children is almost always a place in flux, growing and changing with the ebb and flow of their needs to reflect the developmental changes that occur throughout the short arc of childhood. As I have two school age children myself, I have tried to keep my home stylish, but it remains a work in progress. My home looked quite different just a few short years ago, when I temporarily succumbed to Lego-filled playrooms and an undercurrent of toys strewn in odd places. As my children have gotten older, however, I have changed up my spaces to accommodate their (and my) needs. Now I make room for sports equipment, homework and art projects. One constant through the years is that, with children milling about, a home typically bubbles over with interesting artwork, laughter, music, noise, clutter, messes, and most of all, joy. So, I say let's relish in these little devils as they maraud their way through our furniture and handsomely wallpapered rooms with sticky hands and ferocity, and let's celebrate their wonder.
The interior designers and architects of today are finally accommodating the growing brood in a home. The idea of a "trophy" room or roped off area of the house became popular in the 1950s as a way for families to retain good furnishings in a home. It was implied these museum-kept areas were quarantined from the grips of these messy little rascals. Thankfully, during the decades that followed, families gradually celebrated being together more, and the "Great Room" concept was born. This notion became the rage throughout the nineties and changed how homes were designed and lived in. Rather than small rooms as had been designed in the past, new homes embraced the idea of one large room where families could convene.
Photos by Gabby Stephenson
The interior design industry has been rolling with the tides of change to accommodate families' needs and perspectives as many make their way through the whirlwind years of children, from infancy through adulthood. This decade, we appear to acknowledge the ease of family life more than ever before, and our kitchens seem to be the focal point of our homes, the hub where much happens. We have come a long way, yet we face another set of challenges with the current technological surge, where there is a laptop and handheld electronic device in every room. Thankfully, we've moved beyond roped-off rooms, but now we may need to think creatively in order to preserve face-to-face, quality time together at home.
One of my first clients was a new mom, a career woman who decided to channel her professional intensity into her new bundle of joy as she embarked upon her role as stay-at-home mom. She called upon me to assist her with decorating the nursery. During my first visit, I learned she had "baby-proofed" every inch of the apartment, including getting rid of her beautiful mid-century lamps. Her apartment now resembled a hospital room, with not a cord, socket or dangerous corner in sight, to keep safe this peaceful slumbering newborn. I had to chuckle, because quite frankly being a parent is messy business, and as soon as we give in to that notion, we begin to relax and enjoy the process. We need to adapt our homes once we have toddlers waddling from chair to chair to assure their safety, but we must also be mindful that kids benefit from exposure to new things and new environments.
I am still close to my former client, and fifteen years later she has embraced the chaos. She now has a farmhouse table in her kitchen for her three children to collaborate on art and homework projects. Taking a cue from my friend, I relish in the time with my kids. We have spent time together over the years gardening and cooking. The entire farm to table concept that is all the buzz in the food industry is automatically understood by children. Most kids are inspired by planting a seed and watching it grow into a vegetable. Even if you can't actually dig into the soil, many a great afternoon can be spent shopping at Round Swamp Farm Market on Three Mile Harbor, picking out the freshest sunflowers, checking out the chickens in the coop, and shopping in the walk-in cooler for fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables grown locally, then taking the fresh goodness home, gathering around the kitchen island and making some delicious, homemade food. Kids love to dice, toss and create fun dishes. As they get older and into the teen years, there are many culinary classes geared toward more sophisticated ages. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed the Loaves and Fishes culinary teen camp in Bridgehampton. Each day they learn to create entire meals with cuisines from places like Thailand and France.
When my children were younger, it was a project just to assist me with making breakfast. But after a couple of summers of cooking classes, many hours of experimenting, and some thoughtful study watching cooking shows on TV, my two kids recently prepared a seven-course dinner for my husband and me for our wedding anniversary this month. They planned it out meticulously, tabbing the cookbooks, writing out the courses, and even printing up formal menus for us to read tableside. The dishes were impressive and challenging and it was quite a delicious meal. Of course, we were left with a huge mess and mounds of dirty dishes, but it was worth all the inconvenience.
So, I say cheers to one more weekend of dicing, slicing, sautééing and family bonding. I plan to make some bruschetta and homemade grilled pizza, because soon there will be homework to contend with, and of course, cleaning up from a chaotic summer.
I am a working NYC residential Interior Designer, author of Nest by Tamara blog, nestnestnest.blogspot.com and freelance writer for magazines and websites. I enjoy writing, interior decorating, cooking, gardening, reading, shopping for antiques.