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Family-Friendly Home Design

When building a new home, it's important to consider the kids too.

family-friendly rooms

When building a new home that's family friendly, create rooms that pull double-duty, like this room/study combo by K Hovnanian Homes. Jarvis Creek Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

When I was a kid growing up in sweltering Miami, our living room furniture was covered in plastic — not that my brother and I were allowed to sit there.

From the time we could walk, it was made abundantly clear that we were not to touch that furniture. Or sit on it. Or eat or drink on it.

In fact, if she could have, my mother would’ve discouraged us from even entering the room. The ornate living set was her prized possession and she just couldn’t bear the thought of having sticky fingerprints plastered all over it.

Today’s parents have a lot less to worry about regarding furniture, thanks to some great advances in textile design, but a lot more to consider regarding the family friendliness of the rest of the home.

Between tech gadgets, sports equipment and toys, the average American kid now owns a slew of stuff. So the question becomes, where are you going to stash it all? Storage isn’t the only consideration when building a family-friendly home.

One of the beauties of building from scratch is that you can avoid a lot of pitfalls by considering family-friendly features in the original design. But even if you’ve already built your home, there’s a lot you can do to accommodate a growing family. Here are key points to keep in mind:

Kids are noisy.

Not only are those shoot ’em up video games loud, kids like to turn up the volume on music and television, too, making your house feel like Best Buy. When they’re not doing those things, little ones are often found singing and dancing for no other reason than the pure joy of entertaining (adorable until you need to hop on a private call with your boss), while tweens and teens can gab on the phone for hours.

To keep all that chatter contained, architects and homebuilders recommend flexible rooms adjacent to the main living area that can perform double duty as both play room and study space. “Most couples start a family and think kids will keep toys in their bedroom and find a spot to study, but all that stuff overflows into rooms you usually want to keep clean,” says architect Jason Pearce of the Becker Morgan Group in Salisbury, Md.

Today’s parents have a lot to consider regarding the family friendliness of their home. Suddenly your house looks like a daycare center or a wing of the public library. Avoid putting these flexible spaces near bedrooms, as most kids want to be near mom and dad, so they can ask you for homework help … or snacks.

Be sure to include plenty of storage for game consoles, toys and books. Consider pocket doors that can be opened onto the main living space for added seating and mingling when entertaining. When the kids get older, this allows it to work as a quiet room where anybody can escape to take a phone call or read.

Kids eat a lot, and so do their friends.

The all-inclusive kitchen is key to family-friendly living. The kitchen is the hub of any house, but it takes on special significance when you have a growing family and each member has friends that come over to play or study. It also serves as a unifying force for families, a place where everyone can gather without being scattered.

The most functional family kitchens accommodate a breakfast area, a computer station for homework or recipe searches, a TV for mom and dad to catch up on news and an island bar big enough for everyone to grab a quick meal or snack. A nice bonus is to have lower cabinets where you can stock age-appropriate snacks for little ones as they start to develop their independence.

Kids love to play outside.

Outdoor living takes on new meaning in family homes. When they’re little, having green space gives kids a natural, safe environment in which to explore and enjoy a swing set. As they get older and take up sports, many will need a place to practice. Plan ahead or you’ll end up relinquishing your driveway to a makeshift basketball court down the line. “I can’t say enough about storage with kids,” says Pearce. “Even outside, plan for pool toys, bikes and sports equipment to avoid having to drag it all out of the garage every day.”

If your kids never met a sport they didn’t like, consider the trend of flexible sports courts, like those from Snap Sports. One multi-sport court is designed to accommodate dozens of activities, customized to your family’s preferences, in a space about a quarter of the size of a typical tennis court.

You might also want to consider retaining walls to catch balls before they break a neighbor’s window. For those who live in warm climates, many homeowners opt for water slides or other pool features that connect to the side of the house, so you can slide on down from an upstairs room or porch.

Kids are tech-savvy.

Between video game consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops, families own more gadgets than ever, hence the trend toward home charging stations that serve as home base for all that technology. Comprised mostly of cabinets and a desk or countertop, “we usually put charging stations in a back hallway and allow ample storage for plugs, cases and all those gadgets,” says architect Wayne Visbeen, whose eponymous firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., has won numerous awards for its family-friendly home design.

Who wants to look at a slew of cords coming out of electrical outlets throughout the house or go crazy looking for one when they can be hidden away in a safe, handy spot? “I recommend putting plugs inside the cabinets, too, so you can close them and keep things out of sight until they’re charged and ready for use.”

Some charging stations have surface areas that double as study desks, and in those cases, Visbeen suggests placing it near the kitchen, so kids can have access to parents for homework help. “Sometimes this can eliminate a need for a traditional office,” he adds.

Kids are messy.

Most houses today are designed with a laundry room, but, to truly make this a family-friendly feature, experts recommend morphing it into a mudroom/laundry combo with its own outside entrance or one adjacent to a garage. This is a much better spot for dropping backpacks and muddy sports equipment than, say, your kitchen table.

If a simple laundry room is all you can handle, some families opt to put it near the bedrooms, especially if the home has multiple stories. “Many homeowners find it more helpful to have it near the bedrooms as that is where the dirty laundry piles up,” says Pearce. “In some cases I’ve seen homes with a laundry room upstairs and smaller stacked unit downstairs for rags, kitchen towels and dirty uniforms that can be tossed in immediately after entering the house.”

You could also do what Pearce did in his home and have an old-fashioned laundry chute designed. This way, kids can dump dirty towels and sheets themselves (who wouldn’t love that?).

Kids love pets.

Where there’s a kid, there’s often a dog. Or, a cat. Either way, pets require certain considerations. Whether you’re the type of pet owner who likes to have them in a separate part of the house or you simply want to organize the beds, crates, food and toys in one spot, have a plan for where all those supplies will go. The laundry/mudroom combo is a great spot. Some homeowners even choose to build pet bath stations into their home’s design to avoid having to spend money on pricey grooming.

Kids are messy, sensitive creatures.

Carpet is the biggest attractor of dirt and bacteria, but a lot of families like it because it’s warm and soft to the touch. Tighter, wound carpets are easier to keep clean, though remember you’ll need to get these professionally cleaned in order to truly get everything out.

If carpets aren’t your thing, hardwood and tile floors hold up to kids well and you can always opt for area rugs that can be easily cleaned or removed in case someone develops allergies, for example. “Ask your builder about materials that won’t off-gas, because kids are still developing,” says Laura Britt of Laura Britt Design in Austin, Texas. “When choosing furniture, slip-covered furniture is ideal for easy cleaning, but the challenge is with the protection you put on it, as some have chemicals.”

Finally, keep safety in mind even when designing details, like stairs and railings. As long as you meet code, stairs can be done 10 inches apart to make it easier for little ones.

Kids eventually grow up. They leave. And some come back.

What’s your reward for 18 to 24 years of parenting? Assuming your offspring is not on the seven-year college plan, they may well finally graduate. Whereupon you have options: bull-doze their bedroom at home and turn it into that study, media room, craft room or yoga studio you’ve been craving. It may help ensure they don’t boomerang home for free rent.

Perhaps you’re ready to welcome your graduate for a while, but you aren’t wild about a mutual lack of privacy. A leading builder, Lennar, has an app and a whole house for that. Their NEXTGEN Home has a home-within-a-home for your adult offspring. Complete with its own front door, kitchen, garage space and living area, this area is both separate from, yet connected to, the main home.

To truly make a home family friendly for years to come, consider what your needs will be as your children grow, rather than thinking about what’s best right now. This will ensure you’re ready for anything.
Ana Connery is the former content director for the Parenting Group and has edited several magazines, including Florida Travel & Life and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the construction of the FitHouse program. She lives and writes from her Florida bungalow.
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