New Options for Kid-Friendly Upholstery

New Options for Kid-Friendly Upholstery

Catrin Morris
Sep 30, 2010

So, you've decided that having kids doesn't mean giving up on style. You are determined that yours will not become one of those living rooms that look like a Fisher Price liquidation sale, dominated by Disney pink and Thomas the Tank Engine blue. But you also know that you don't want your living room to be, well, un-livable. You refuse to live in fear of your precious, breakable coffee table (not to mention your toddler's precious, breakable head).

So, you make some sensible (but not style-numbing) compromises:

  • Coffee table with rounded edges. Check.

  • Discrete, tasteful toy bins. Check.

  • Lamps and ceramics on a high shelf. Check.

But what about the upholstered furniture? What about that sofa and the armchairs? You give up, deciding that the beige Pottery Barn couch from your husband's bachelor days will suffice until the kids grow up. You consider a slipcover.

No. There is another way. Or so says Liz Levin, a young, Washington, DC-based interior designer.

In 2009, Levin launched Nesting, an online resource and shop for people who believe that having kids (or pets) does not mean giving up on style. On the site, you can purchase carefully selected stain-resistant upholstery and "corner-free" tables. Levin also offers a la carte design services (from a $25 phone consultation with a design "nestpert" to a $500 comprehensive room design plan).

I spoke with Levin to find out what she recommends for kid-friendly (but not adult-repellent) upholstery.

"Upholstery stains are what people worry about most when it comes to kids and entertaining; they are so hard to clean on your own," Levin explains. "I eat on my sofa almost every night of the week with my husband. He drops a meatball or my daughter's yogurt tube squirts a geyser and it's all back to happy with a little paper towel action." How does she do it?

For kid-friendly, pet-friendly and drunk-red-wine-drinker-friendly furniture Liz comes armed with a trio of go-to fabric options:

Sensuede. It is soft like suede and pretty indestructible as far as fabrics go, Liz says. A mild dish liquid with damp paper towel will clean most spills. And it is environmentally friendly, to boot.

Outdoor fabrics (for inside). Many designer, to the trade brands have an outdoor line that aren't all stiff like the original Sunbrella fabrics. This new generation of fabrics allows you to live worry-free: "food and wine bounce off these babies," Levin says. Among Levin's favorite brands are Perennials and Holly Hunt, which carries a range of outdoor options, including velvet and terry. Outdoor fabrics not only resist wet stains and fading, but often can be cleaned with bleach. Donghia also has a good outdoor line of fabrics with deep colors that Levin has used on indoor sofas.

Vinyl. Yes, that's right: vinyl. Levin insists there are some supple and textured vinyls out there. "My favorite has an ostrich skin pattern, which adds texture and interest. And we're currently working on a white vinyl bench seat for a banquette in a home with two young boys and high style kitchen renovation." When it comes to cleaning, vinyl is unbeatable. One wipe and you are good to go. Sensuede and the outdoor fabrics, however, will require a tad more than just a wipe because they are more absorbent, albeit still stain resistant.

But what if you have fallen in love with a couch at Room and Board that has normal, low-tech fabric? Or what if you want to keep the couch you love but are worried it will be destroyed? "Nanotex it," Levin says, sounding a little like a decorating superhero. Apparently, Nanotex adds super stain fighting powers to any fabric. You can even get a durablock lining that makes fabric impervious to liquid penetration. And, as you probably already know, ultra suede and leather are also sensible and stylish choices for families, as are synthetic blends in darker colors.

But no matter what kind of fabric you have on your couches and chairs, my advice is that you make your kids eat in the kitchen. It's smart on so many levels. And, most importantly, find every single Sharpie in your home and put it in a lockbox on a very high shelf. Now.

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