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Stylish, With Children

Sophisticated Enough For Grown-Ups, Sturdy Enough for Kids

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Slipcovers help California interior designer Megan Samuels keep furniture stylish and clean in a house with three children and two dogs.
Slipcovers help California interior designer Megan Samuels keep furniture stylish and clean in a house with three children and two dogs. (From Megan Samuels)
Pricey fabric covers only the front of a chair where Emmanuelle de la Croix-Vaubois, 3, sits.
Pricey fabric covers only the front of a chair where Emmanuelle de la Croix-Vaubois, 3, sits. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008; Page H01

When Sandra Meyer redecorated her family's Bethesda living room four years ago, she reupholstered the sofa in a creamy celadon-and-white silk blend. The fabric was expensive and delicate, but she loved it enough to take her chances.

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The delivery crew was barely out the door when her 4-year-old swiped a red marker across the seat.

That scenario is a nightmare shared by many parents who crave sophistication and style but believe their vision is incompatible with children and pets. They may idealize a home dressed in Farrow & Ball rather than Dora and Diego, but they don't want to invest in furniture and fabrics when spilled juice and muddy paws are just a mishap away.

For a fortunate few, there is little need to compromise. Consider, for example, Gwyneth Paltrow. Last year, House & Garden magazine featured the actress and her family's pristine and "sneaker-friendly" summer home in the Hamptons, which included a designer chandelier, custom-made chairs and white carpet in her daughter's bedroom. (Besides fleeting glimpses of Paltrow herself, there was not a sign of life in the whole place.)

In the real world, things are never that flawless.

Some parents invest in design help and good-quality furnishings, then declare certain rooms off-limits to kids and pets. Some stick strictly with less-pricey pieces from big-box stores such as Ikea or Target. Others bide their time with parental hand-me-downs and college leftovers, deferring design until after the children have grown and gone.

That last choice is particularly incomprehensible to Sara Costello, creative director for Domino magazine and mother of two. "It's like the inmates have taken over the prison and you're a prisoner among them," she says.

There is a middle ground, design professionals insist. Stacey White and husband Paul de la Croix-Vaubois of Bethesda are a good example.

The couple have three young children, ages 8, 6 and 3, and an "almost house-trained" 5-month-old puppy. But after years of moving around and living abroad while working for the United Nations, they wanted a grown-up home.

"We love our children to death," White says, "but we wanted to buy what we liked and have an adult house. I didn't want things I really didn't like because, at the end of the day, the cost is the cost, and you want to really love what you have."

They asked Meyer, co-owner of the Bethesda home furnishings store Ella Scott Design, for help. With her encouragement they chose pale fabrics and carpeting for the living room, but with patterns to hide stains and grime. In the dining room they used faux leather and replaceable FLOR carpet tiles. For the family room, the couple opted for commercial-grade upholstery and stain-resistant carpeting and decided to do without a coffee table to leave room for the kids to play.

They splurged on designer fabric for two living room armchairs, but only on the front of the chairs; a less-expensive and sturdier material covers the chair backs, so if there's a spill, only the front will need recovering. A pricey silk was used for dining room window treatments, but in tailored Roman shades that stay out of reach of little hands.


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