I'm sure most of you have had the experience in your life when you've been in a beautiful home, but the space felt too much like a museum to be comfortable. I've even been to a cocktail party before where the hostess only served "clear" drinks for fear of someone spilling on her treasured goods. If you weren't in the mood for white wine or a gin and tonic you were out of luck! (And yes, to any SATC fans out there, I did almost laugh out loud that this was happening in real life).
Personally, I'm a firm believer that a home should be lived in. I also like things to be aesthetically pleasing. I don't think that these ideas have to be mutually exclusive. The majority of my clients have families and want spaces that work for their busy lives, providing both form and function. In my own home, I strive to make a space that looks great, but isn't too precious for my 2 year old daughter or my little pug to run around in. Besides, I like red wine!
Here is some advice on things to consider when you're trying to strike the balance between a stylish and livable home
Know Your Fabrics
I cannot overstate this point enough. I have an ivory sofa in my living room and when people see if for the first time knowing I have a toddler and a dog, they sometimes look at me like I'm insane. What they don't know is that I specifically ordered a certain performance twill fabric for how well it wears and how easily it cleans. When I was picking out fabrics I ordered a bunch of samples and put them to the test. I literally drew on the fabrics with crayon, spilled red wine on them, and dipped them in marinara sauce. After each "test" I cleaned the fabric (by hand, since you can't throw a sofa in the washer machine) and hoped for the best. The one we chose looked like new every time. The actual sofa was put to the test at my daughter's second birthday party. A certain adult family member (who shall remain nameless) accidentally spilled an entire bowl of salsa all over the sofa. The room went silent and my relative was profusely apologizing. I just said "not to worry" and after a little spot treatment it was as good as new. Phew.
Think About How The Space Will Be Used And Who Will Be Using it
One of the first questions I ask a client is "How do you plan to use this space?". Is this an eat-in kitchen you'll be having family meals in each night? Or a formal dining room you'll only use on holidays? Will you be using the a living space as a family room? Will you have pets in the room? These questions may drastically impact how you choose to design a space. For example, my sunroom is a space where my daughter and my dog spend a lot of time so I really needed the space to be functional for them. I chose a really durable jute rug, and used indoor/outdoor fabric on all of the furniture and pillows so the space can handle the abuse. To keep things stylish I chose fun prints for the pillows and had fun mixing my prints and colors. The end result is fun, a little quirky and totally practical.
Design For Your Current Situation, But Think About The Future
If you do have small children, you want to make a space that works for them. But remember that they won't be small forever. Try to find items that are practical for your space now, but that you won't get sick of in a few years when you're children grow and their needs change. IE steer clear of too much traditional children's furniture and instead focus on transitional pieces in durable materials. I'm constantly adding x benches and poufs into living spaces for this purpose. The poufs are great when babies are learning to walk, they are the perfect "stepstool" onto the sofa for toddlers and they work as great ottomans for children and adults. I also love filling big woven baskets with toys instead of using toy chests. The baskets eventually become the perfect place for throw blankets, or firewood when you no longer need all of the toys. These items are super practical and I promise you will be so happy 5 years from now when your space still feels current instead of being saddled with Elmo or princess paraphernalia.
And if you really want to design for "real life" the most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day, things are just things. The true value of a space is in the memories we make within it. So above all else just have fun. Drink that red wine, eat that salsa, and enjoy your home!