In the recent seminar Designing Spaces for Healthy Families, held during the summer Las Vegas Market, prominent interior designers discussed how today’s residential design increasingly involves input from all family members.

In the past, clients hired interior designers to create an aesthetic that would seamlessly blend with their home’s architectural bones. These days, a more eclectic approach that revolves around the residents’ lifestyles has become the focus — and even the youngest family members have a say.

Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors in California, Jeremy Bauer and Jason Clifton of Bauer Clifton Interiors in Alaska, and Jannicke Ramso of Tiny Little Pads in Las Vegas participated in a lively conversation about creating comfortable, yet well-functioning, rooms for modern-day families.

The key to having satisfied clients is to ask a lot of questions. “We ask what they like to do on the weekends and where they like to vacation,” stated Jeremy Bauer.

Having a successful design depends on the homeowners being truthful with their answers versus aspirational. Is the family more interested in having the space and amenities for cooking a meal in the kitchen or are they more apt to eat in front of the TV? “We have to find out how they live in that space — what works, and what doesn’t,” Jason Clifton added. “If we’re able to get down to the details, we can make sure the design is more everlasting. We want to be sure we are analyzing the space correctly.”

For Lester, having good flow between the outdoors and indoors is important. “We’re on the California coast [with warm weather year-round],” she explained. “We want to know how you are going to use the barbecue area. Is the door in the right spot for easy access? Are you planning on carrying food from the patio up to a second-floor deck?”

Ramso, who is known for designing children’s spaces, remarked, “I don’t just create for children, but for the whole family to enjoy that space.”

Nothing Is Off Limits

Budget is always a concern, and often compromises need to be made. “Sustainable products were very hot a few years ago, until people realized how much more expensive they are,” Lester said. “To make it more affordable, we pick and choose [elements] instead of doing a whole house [in sustainable].”

Ramso concurred, stating, “With sustainable design, I feel it’s like organic food. It’s more expensive, but [using] a little can go a long way if you can’t do it all.”

“As interior designers, it’s our duty to practice in a more sustainable fashion,” remarked Bauer, who pointed out that the Sustainable Furnishings Council has a handy list of manufacturers that can make sourcing sustainable goods easier.

In order to afford those more expensive items for a project, Bauer and Clifton have stayed within budget by utilizing a lot of what is in the home already. “In Alaska, we have a lot of remote cabins and second/vacation homes. Maybe those [properties] don’t need new appliances; you can repurpose some things [and then be able to add in the sustainable items],” they said.

Having nice furnishings does not have to wait until the children are adults either. “It’s about using fabrics that are family-friendly, like Sunbrella® outdoor performance fabrics, which are scrubbable,” Lester commented. Designing for families could also mean using ottomans that could double as a coffee table or that provide hidden storage.

“You can have nice things and have children,” Lester said. “You can have a white sofa ­— you just have to educate your clients.”

“I don’t just create for children, but for the whole family to enjoy that space.”

– Jannicke Ramso

Flexibility Is Key

Designing interiors for a family should allow for change. “It’s different than when you’re just designing for a couple,” Clifton noted. With growing children, a dining room might become a bedroom and a playroom for kids could transform into a craft room for teens.

“We’ve noticed a trend of multi-generational families,” Clifton said. “There’s been an evolution of the traditional mother-in-law suite or, in some cases, the residents are aging and need space for a caretaker.”

“One piece of furniture might have more than one function as kids grow,” Ramso stated. “We define ‘kids’ as being under 12 years old. We treat them as grownups, even though their parents are paying for the design. I bring the kids into the discussion as part of the process. Designing for children is all about space planning and organization.”

“It’s about finding out what the organizational needs of the family are, regardless of whether it’s new construction with built-ins or a remodel where you’re bringing in new furniture,” Bauer noted. “In the past, children were sent off to a ‘playroom,’ but maybe now it’s having an art easel built into a wall. Today’s design is about creating solutions for those types of activities.”

The blurring of lines between the outdoors and inside also calls for versatility. “In [many coastal projects], the whole first floor is an indoor/outdoor space,” Ramso stated. “You have to do your research of how they are going to be using that area.” If sand and dirt will easily come in from outside, the flooring and rug choices need careful consideration.

“A core group of our clientele live in southern Alaska, where families are endlessly doing activities like kayaking and hunting, plus there are kids and dogs around,” Clifton said. Bauer added, “Our biggest challenge is to use materials that can hold up to the environment.”

“If we’re able to get down to the details, we can make sure the design is more everlasting.”

– Jason Clifton
Ramso finds the Nevada desert is hard on interiors as well as exterior structures like the playhouses she has built. “We treat outdoors and indoors in the same way. Even if you spend a lot of money on materials, you probably won’t get more than three years before you start seeing fading and cracking,” she remarked. For that reason, the selection of materials is critical.

Lester is a fan of FLOR carpet tiles for flexibility. “The tiles can be configured however you like, and you can pull out a tile and replace it easily if needed,” she said. “Just because something is beautiful doesn’t mean that it can’t be durable. Ask questions of your manufacturers. We have to be the advocate for our clients and be the expert they’re paying us to be. Read your labels. If something is delicate, only use it in an area where it won’t get as worn.”

As for trends, these designers point to built-in breakfast nooks as gaining popularity in the kitchen. “They want the kids to be doing something nearby while they’re cleaning the kitchen or cooking,” Lester remarked.
“Parents also want a space designed for open-ended play,” Ramso added. “One of my clients recently wanted a ‘performance area’ incorporated into the living space for the children.”

Clifton noted that air quality is becoming more important to their clients. “We’re seeing requests for more air-purifying products and appliances. We also want to incorporate live plants into the living space instead of just sticking them in a corner,” he said.

In all, creating spaces for clients that can be easily adapted for different uses is a skill that will not go out of style for the foreseeable future.