Room Tour: Ava's Livable, Lovable Mid-Century Space

Name: Ava
Age: 3
Location: San Diego

Almost everything in Ava's room, from the vintage school desk to the Mary Blair tapestry, has a story behind it. Ava's parents, Elise and Darren, have a pronounced love of mid-century design, but only if the pieces have personal meaning for their family and, most important, only if the pieces can stand up to the rigors of daily life with an active preschooler. They also have a wonderful (and hilarious) attitude toward - and acceptance of - the inevitability of "the princess industrial complex", as evidenced in our recent chat with them...

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What was your inspiration behind this room?
Our own bedrooms as children, mid-century modern design pieces we've collected and inherited, and whatever our daughter happens to be into at the moment. I'm not sure I'd say there's really a common, over-arching theme here. In fact, it's probably the one room in the house that we haven't put much thought into. We were just pretty sure we didn't want to do one of those over-designed rooms you see in Martha Stewart Living.

Admittedly, we love modern design and had this crazy idea in our heads before Ava was born that we would only get her really cool, wood furniture and toys in neutral colors such as vintage Creative Playthings, or like the kind you find at MUJI or the gift store at the MOMA, or handmade by Bolivian peasants in the Andes and sold through some fair trade stand at the farmers' market. But we've pretty much given up fighting the "princess industrial complex". She's obsessed with fairies and princesses and she prances around the house wearing wings, tiaras and tutus. Many of her toys were made in China and are featured in popular children's TV shows (something else we swore we weren't going to condone). All of her clothes are pink and frilly - at her insistence. We're OK with that, as long as it makes her happy. But that said, we do have a standing ban on huge, plastic toys of the kind that take over a bedroom and then establish a beach head in the living room. She can take her toys into the rest of the house to play, but everything has to go back into her bedroom when she's done.

Seriously, her room is hers to do with as she pleases. But she's only 3 now, so we've included a lot of things we like. As she asserts her own tastes, she'll be able to change it as she likes. It's a blank slate that she can do with as she pleases. Hopefully, she won't want to turn it into a fairy princess castle. But if she does, we'll happily help her.

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Mid-century-inspired rooms can risk looking more like museum showrooms than livable spaces. How did you avoid this to create such a fresh space for your daughter?
Thank you for the compliment, but I'm sure at least some of the people looking at this are going to say that it looks like a museum showroom. When the rest of our house was on an Apartment Therapy House Tour a while back, we got that comment a fair amount. And besides, kids' rooms are supposed to have giant Elmos or Doras painted on the walls, with matching bedspreads and stuff, right? But to us, it's a very livable space, and much of the furniture and decoration in the room has special meaning to us and our daughter.

What's most important to us is that Ava likes it, and she seems to. She's very proud of her bed, especially (which she calls her "big girl bed"). Plus, the scale of mid-century modern furniture in general is smaller and lower to the ground than furniture designed and made today, so it's very well suited to a child's room.

The furniture is clearly mid-century modern, but like everything in our home, it's meant to be used. The burlap upholstery on the George Nelson sofa is original, but it's already so beaten up and stained that we don't worry about Ava jumping on it or getting dried play-doh in the seams or something.

Were there any design challenges? How did you overcome them?
The biggest design challenge was that we had annexed the closet in her room to expand our master bathroom during the remodel, and so needed to find another solution. We ended up getting an IKEA wardrobe with sliding doors that has tons of storage and works great. She can open it and get to her things herself, which she loves. Other than that, the room is fairly long and narrow, so it's always a challenge to figure out the best way to set up the furniture. We've pretty much settled on what we have now.

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Are there any personal stories behind any of the pieces in this nursery?
Most everything in Ava's room has a personal story behind it. For example, the school desk belonged to me as a child. It still has my name, class room number, and teacher's name inscribed on it. The Kaj Bojesen Danish teak monkey belonged to Elise. The Mary Blair "It's a Small World" tapestry means a lot to us because it's my father's favorite ride in Disneyland and he brought me there often as a child. I intend to do the same with Ava. There are also mementos from our various travels (France, Hawaii, Venice...), which reflects our background - Elise is from France and I'm from Hawaii, and Ava's been to both places numerous times already.

The room is filled with toys and things that belonged to both Elise and I as kids, in fact. It's an advantage to having parents that never threw anything away. A surprising amount of my toys survived my mother's garage sales when I went away to college. Elise's mom has an entire attic filled with her stuff. Ava frequently wears dresses that Elise's mom made for Elise when she was her age.

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Thanks so much for the tour, Elise, Darren and, of course, Ava!

For sourcing info, see the captions in the slideshow.