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Cottages and Gardens - The Cottage Road

Family-friendly space takes everyone's needs into consideration. It all starts with that little piece of plastic that slides into the electrical outlet. Next comes the toilet latch. Soon the lower kitchen cabinets become an impenetrable fortress. The coffee table is relegated to storage. And before parents even bring their newborn home, candles are banished to the highest reaches of the now-attached-to-the-wall bookcase.

Home style evolves as a single homeowner becomes part of a couple and then the couple grows into a family. And while baby-proofing a home is essential to a safe environment for infants, most parents realize that these design accommodations are relatively short-term.

As children grow from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers, however, other concerns must be taken into account: Should your dining room's decor match your daughter's pink backpack since said backpack always ends up on the dining table anyway?  And then there are storage considerations (where should Hot Wheels park when not in play?), and how to camouflage playground mulch tracked in through the back door (all-black carpeting?).

Parents who accommodate these changes to one extreme find themselves living with red plastic tables and purple dinosaur chairs in their formal entertaining spaces. To the other extreme are children who must tiptoe in socked feet across white carpet while carefully avoiding the lavender sofa they are not allowed to sit on.
Fear not, balance does exist

Doug and Beth Peabody's Highlands home is a great example of how parents can live in a home designed for grown-ups that is also an accommodating haven for kids. Built in 1922, this Federal-style house has lived through two phases of renovation since the Peabodys bought it three years ago. Each stage has taken into account the ever-changing needs of daughters 10-year-old Maddie and 8-year-old Corrine while respecting the personal styles of Mom and Dad.

The 3,200-square-foot house literally has a formal side and an informal side.  A formal living and dining room are on the right of the foyer's staircase, and the laid-back den and kitchen areas are to the left. Beth Peabody said her family definitely lives to the left, especially after fully integrating the original garage into what was a small den adjoining the dining/cooking space.

"The kids started to grow and that cute little room got smaller and smaller and smaller," she says. Now the former garage blends in with the den and features a large family-friendly table that's great for both board games and Mom and Dad's laptop computer. A tall bead-board "locker" keeps organized the girls' backpacks, jackets, shoes and other drop-off-at-the-door clutter in a handy - and cleverly hidden - place. A hint of the original brick wall is an ode to the room's previous existence.

Peabody said she has always needed a kitchen that was open to the living space. When Maddie and Corrine were little, an open floor plan was a necessity so she could supervise them while she cooked. Now it's a necessity of another sort, allowing this working mother precious time spent with her children. The girls can curl up in the booth-style seats and talk about their days or do homework while their parents prepare meals. And though the kitchen is open to the den area, a dividing counter was designed at just the right height to obstruct the sight of any food prep messiness.

As for the booth seating and oversized, custom-built table, Peabody said that was a fun requirement that allows for cozy, casual family meals. "After all, when you go out to a restaurant, you always ask for a booth, right?" she says.

The Peabodys balance full-time careers (Beth runs Stegner Investment Associates and Doug is managing director at Convergent Capital Management, LLC) with their daughters' busy calendars: school, softball, soccer, dance, and basketball. Beth Peabody credited builder Fred Bennett with making sure the renovations blended so well with the original space while maintaining a practical flow for this on-the-go family. She also said designer Sue Davidson kept the family's lifestyle and preferences (including allergy concerns) in mind while decorating. "It's really about us and she appreciates that," Beth Peabody says.

Included in the den design are practical, kid-friendly features that look great for the grown-ups. New wood flooring, stained to match the original, blends seamlessly and provides a scuff-proof, elegant base. The sofa is covered in earth-toned nubby material that's stain resistant, but soft enough for family cuddles while watching movies. Leather seating is both practical and luxurious. The television can be hidden behind the entertainment center's doors when not in use. The den's area rug provides cushion underfoot but is oblivious to whatever sneakers may carry in. An antique cabinet and bench lend additional storage and seating but also allow Mom to enjoy some of her favorite pieces.

Fussy artwork is not needed. The chili-pepper-red walls in the den enliven the space. (The warm color scheme is also a nice consideration for the man who lives in a house filled with females.) Original windows throughout bring in both light and great views. The kitchen's booth sits below a large window that opens to the backyard. "That's what I love about the backyard," Beth Peabody says. "You don't need artwork in this room. Nature changes it all the time."

The Peabodys are looking forward to the next renovation stage that will incorporate -- that's right -- more family-friendly space in the basement and third-floor attic. The basement will serve as play space for Maddie and Corrine and the girls' bedrooms will move to the uppermost level, necessitated once more by their changing needs. "Maddie's little room was cute, but now -- it's just too small," her mother says.

Note: Elements of a family-friendly space
Sue Davidson, Allied ASID, an interior designer with Bittners in Louisville, helped the Peabody family strike a balance between style, function, and safety that is essential to creating a family-friendly space. She said families needn't suffer stylistically while the kids are in the home and offered the following advice.
Davidson recommended using darker, "dirty-colored" fabrics to help hide stains, spills and well, dirt. She said brown isn't boring when paired with warmer, bolder colors on the walls, as in the Peabodys' chili-pepper-red den walls.

Furniture should be covered in durable fabrics that help hide wear and dirt. Before you break out the plastic wrap for your sofa, however, Davidson pointed out that durable fabrics can be stylish, too. Chenille is one example; it's "nubby" texture wears well; another is leather. "The use of leather is good in a room with children because it's indestructible," she says.

Furniture should serve multiple functions. A table can be used for family dining, but also for games, puzzles, homework and craft projects. A trunk can serve as a coffee table and also as toy storage. An ottoman is great for the kids to rest their feet on, but can also serve as extra seating. And, with the addition of a tray, becomes an elegant coffee table when Mom and Dad entertain.

For safety reasons, Davidson recommended that tables in a family space should never have sharp corners or glass tops.

Furniture arrangement
Keep the floor space as clear as possible. Use chairs that can be pulled up for conversational seating and pushed out of the way when not in use. Limit the number of small tables or eliminate a coffee table altogether if floor space is at a minimum. Corner cabinets make efficient television and stereo storage. Built-ins add storage and are indispensable with bottom cabinets that allow little ones to keep their toys close at hand. "They can just walk over and pull everything out and play all day and then put it all away," she says.
Davidson's advice is to keep it simple, especially when it comes to displaying prized collections and delicate figurines in a space inhabited by small children. That may even mean keeping collections out of sight -- and reach -- until the kids are older. "I say keep the accessories in the children's area sparse," she says. "I tell parents, 'You just give it up for awhile or you spend all your time saying 'No.'"
Lorri Malone
Lorri Malone is a freelance writer who lives in the Louisville, Kentucky metropolitan area.  If you have any questions or comments about this article, please send them to
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