I’m an aesthetics person. I like it when things look pretty and ordered and well designed. My head gets all muddled and I start hyperventilating if I have to spend too long in a room full of ugly. So you can just imagine that upon discovering I was pregnant, along with the pre-requisite amounts of joy blah blah blah at bringing a new life into the world, there was a certain level of horror.
Would I be expected to embrace primary colours? Was it really necessary for a child to have toys? And would I become one of those mothers that carries a teensy weensy Dorothy the Dinosaur backpack around on my shoulder? Oh sweet heavens above, the nauseous feelings arose and stuck around for the next eight weeks.
Months passed, and by the time my stomach was just shy of needing it’s own postcode, I realised that I actually wouldn’t have to sacrifice all sense of taste and style just to incorporate this new little person into my life. Difficult it would be, yes.
Wading through store upon store filled with fluffy bear emblazoned bedding and hot pink and purple frilly lampshades was nearly enough to make me stick hot pins in my eyes. People buy this stuff? They live with it every day? And they think it looks good? Whoa. Maybe it’s me who is from a different planet? Anyhow, with my two heads intact, I decided to soldier on and try and achieve some sort of balance between an attractive, well designed home and A CHILD.
The first place I started: the nursery. I really wanted to do something tasteful, but a room that a growing child would find stimulating and happy to be in. Ignoring anything aimed at the babies/children market, I found a beautiful Les Olivades fabric at Arteforge and used it as my inspiration. I gave my wonderful friend Lisa (of Canberra’s Got Style fame) a very loose brief to create a quilt and some cushions and of course she didn’t fail me.
Using the fabric as my colour palette, I painted a striped feature wall and enlisted the help of another creative friend, Erin, to paint a simple tree mural on the opposite wall. A couple of pieces of artwork and some new light fixtures and the effect is girly and feminine without being too brash or overtly childish. Phew, managed to escape without a single primary colour in sight.
Not so lucky in the playroom. Yes, one thing I realised quickly: children do need toys. These are purely for Mummy’s sanity. So she can still shop on the net without being disturbed. In the beginning, I tried to limit the amount of brightly coloured, plasticky looking toys that my daughter had available to her. But you soon come to realise that with presents and hand-me-downs, coupled with the fact that some of these toys are the ones that actually occupy them the longest, attempts to ban them completely are in vain. Hence, your most important friend at this point: STORAGE.
God bless IKEA. On the other hand, damn the gods of IKEA for not deeming Canberra worthy enough to have one. The number of trips I have had back from Sydney, sitting sideways in the backseat, face squished against the window, flat packs piled up to the roof. Sigh. These are the things you do to hide the ugly.
The only way to pretend the ugly stuff doesn’t exist is to hide it away. Simple white storage units, baskets and clear plastic tubs are my weapons of choice. I found the best result was to give my little girl her own dedicated playroom, then everything can (pretty much) be contained to just the one area that looks like a hurricane has passed through, rather than the whole house.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of unlimited space, and my husband and I decided to sacrifice our dining room to make way for the playroom. I was dead against this idea in the very beginning (whilst still under the illusion I could limit the number of toys), as our lounge room flows right onto the playroom and is in full view – so I really didn’t want it to look like some giant toy monster had vomited right next to the place we relax and entertain.
Following the same sort of principles I had applied to the nursery, I used the same colour palette we already had working in our lounge room to flow through into the playroom. I tried to choose fun items that don’t necessarily scream CHILD, but that provide a bit of stimulation and fun for a two year old just lookin’ to have a good time.
I bought a cheap old kids table and chairs from the Burley Griffin Antique Centre for $20 and painted it white, recovering the table top in a vintage style Dick & Jane fabric followed by thick plastic (great for Play doh and painting as it just wipes down). In terms of seating for plonking down to watch the telly, I invested in a Cocoon Couture beanbag in understated colours that wouldn’t be too garish when left in the lounge room.
For the sake of my health and those around me, I did a bit of research and discovered you can actually buy versions that don’t make you want to hurl upon entering the room. Slightly more expensive than those at Big W, but worth the stretch if you ask me (with much better quality foam with fully removable covers for washing). A red and white gingham lounge was delivered pronto from Sitting Pretty Kids (love the internet!). It sits happily in the corner of the lounge room attracting no attention whatsoever. Ahhh, happy days.
So, really, I guess the gist of all this is that you can do it. You can actually have a child and still maintain a certain level of style within your home. Let’s face it, your house is never going to look like one of those places straight out of a magazine with no sign that a living, breathing child actually exists in that space. But that’s OK. I didn’t go though the excruciating pain of childbirth to have nothing to show for it.
I still go ‘aawwww’ when I see one of her teeny little shoes left lying on the floor after she’s gone to bed, and take a minute to marvel in that fact that she’s actually ours. Then, of course, it’s promptly whipped up and put away into it’s little hidey hole, until prying little fingers scatter everything about again the very next day...