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Do you ever look through the magazines with envy? How do those houses look so nice? Where do they have all the detritus of life stored? Where are all the fingerprints? And WHERE are the toys?

Well, it turns out that you do not have to sacrifice style just because you have children. Your house does not have to look like a toy store showroom threw up everywhere.

First and foremost, consider how you live-- how you really live, not the way you wish you lived. This means if you live in a house with messy people who spill things (and really doesn't this describe most children?), you will want to step away from the white silk furniture. If you have young children you are going to have different needs than if you have teenagers. Having both, I will tell you that I am not sure who is harder on furniture.

Washable paint is your friend. Paint comes in several different sheens. Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss and high gloss are examples; each paint manufacturer may have slightly different names for the type of paint. They like to confuse us like that. No matter how much you love flat paint, don't use it. It will be a mistake.

Children touch walls. They will walk down the hall and drag their dirty little hands on the wall. They will rub their bodies against the wall. There will come a time when you will see dirty footprints on your wall five feet in the air. Don't even bother asking, just rest comfortably in the knowledge that you can wash the wall without damaging the paint.

Create an area just for your children within the room. Children like to be with you. Young children don't like to be off all alone in a separate playroom somewhere. They will drag their toys from the playroom to be where you are. Embrace it. Look for ways to store the toys attractively.

Do you have a corner of the room where you can put down a small area rug to delineate their space? Place a child- sized table there for them to work on games or color. A low bookcase can be turned into a comfortable window seat by adding a cushion to the top. Some floor pillows next to the bookcase can make a perfect place for relaxing and reading books.

The same floor pillows work well for teenagers to lounge on the floor while watching TV or playing video games. Teenagers travel in packs. Have enough places for all of them to sit. Make them comfortable so that they will want to hang out at your house.

Containerize. A place for everything and everything in its place. Make it easy for your children to take care of their own things. Containers do not have to be ugly, primary colored, plastic eyesores. Wicker baskets are functional AND attractive. They also hide the toys when the children aren't actively playing, creating a clean and uniform look to your shelving. Get rid of the the plastic DVD cases and store your DVDs in attractive binders.

Choose multi-functional furniture. This could be something as simple as a coffee table that opens for storage inside. Upholstered ottomans that open for storage can do double duty as additional seating spaces. Once you have teenagers, there are never enough places for all of their friends to sit. Cabinets with doors in which to hide board games, legos, art supplies are also perfect choices.

Think durable. Children are rough of furniture. Choose upholstery that can withstand abuse and hide spills. Thinking of buying new furniture, you might want to check out the color of the stains on your current furniture before choosing a color. Alternately, you can buy washable slipcovers. They are easy to wash and replace should they get stained. So you can't have that white couch, you can have bright and cheery throw pillows.

Find a large coffee table that can withstand dings and bangs. We have one that is already "aged" so that the inevitable marks are relatively unnoticed. It is the perfect place for sitting around to play board games or for holding snacks during movies. Teenagers love their snacks. I have a friend who had plexi-glass cut to fit the top of her coffee table. Now she no longer worries about scratches or spills.

Don't forget about safety. For a house with small children look out for sharp corners on furniture. Make sure that there is ample room around the furniture for running around. Bolt bookcases and other heavy furniture to the walls. Your children will try to scale the furniture to get something out of their reach no matter how many times you tell them not to do it. Glass tabletops are a thing of the past.

Continue to decorate with things you love. No need to put all of your pretty decorations away. Of course if you have anything extremely valuable or irreplaceable, you don't want to have it sitting out in the line of fire. But vases, picture frames, and other breakables need not be relegated to gated off rooms. Children learn to appreciate beauty by living with it. Yes, things will occasionally get broken. Having pretty things to look at will make you happy while you try to overlook the stained furniture, the dings on your coffee table, and the fingerprinted walls.

  • falwyn

    I've got issues with the binder solution to DVDs... it makes them compact yes, but the binders (4 disc per page type) are too big to handle easily. (Especially for the kids.) And the discs always seem to get scratched by the sliding in and out and turning of pages. (As opposed to in their original cases where the surface of the disc doesn't actually touch the case.) Any other ideas for DVDs? either hiding them away, or compactly storing them in a way that's accessible and nondestructive?

    Thanks for the tips. I am rethinking the corner of our living room as a place to corrall the kids/toys....

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