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Growing up in style

Sharing your space with a toddler doesn't have to mean living in Romper Room. A design-conscious home may help hone your child's sense of value. After all, the real world isn't baby-proof.

Published May 5, 2007

[Los Angeles Times]
Ginger and Ruby Rosenheck eat at a miniature table near their parents' adult dining table. Gone are space-hogging high chairs.

Shortly after learning "ma-ma" and "da-da," Ginger and Ruby Rosenheck said "bye-bye" to their high chairs.

"They are the lamest, ugliest, most restraining things in the world, and when you have twins, high chairs just take over the room," says their mother, Cindy Capobianco. "So at 14 months, we got them their own table and chairs."

"It took a few days to teach them to sit - and eat - there, " says her husband, Rob Rosenheck, who dines nearby with his wife in Ikea metal chairs at an 18th century colonial table. "But now they do, and it's so cute."

Space wasn't really the problem in the family's home in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles. It was a quality-of-life issue. As children of the 1960s and first-time parents with firmly established tastes - he is a photographer and filmmaker, she owns a marketing company that caters to the fashion industry - neither wanted to dial down their colorfully offbeat approach to decor, a blend of bohemian chic and thrift-shop cheek. Nor did they want their living room turned into a minefield of building blocks and Barbies.

Many new moms and dads are overwhelmed by the amount of toddler furnishings on the market but underwhelmed by their appearance and quality. They have seen other parents succumb to the culture of fear that has made baby-proofing a booming business. And they have watched friends and relatives surrender their design sensibilities - along with the better part of their homes - to an avalanche of kids' stuff.

"Every house that has kids, there are toys and white plastic furniture everywhere. You can tell the kids rule the house," says designer Jorge Dalinger, the father of a 2-year-old. "You don't have to sacrifice the look of the house for the baby."

Dalinger - who has turned a four-story architectural box into an ornately detailed Spanish showplace - and the Rosenhecks refuse to let their stylish homes become peewee playhouses. They believe that listening to their inner interior decorators, taking the necessary safety precautions and setting proper boundaries for their kids make for prettier, happier nests.

A sense of value

This seems a welcome antidote to the "childcentric" home, as Chicago clinical psychologist David deBoer calls it. "Parents who are trying to reclaim their adult space in the house and set appropriate boundaries help foster realistic expectations vs. a sense of entitlement. They are not giving their children a grandiose sense of omnipotence that will be shattered in the real world."

Being raised in a design-conscious home can nurture basic social skills, says Arlene Drake, a licensed marriage family therapist in Encino, Calif. "It instills a sense of the value of things. It helps children to be respectful of other people's possessions and their own. When you never say 'don't touch' to kids, that's too permissive. What they learn at home is what they take out into the world."

Professional decorators, naturally, applaud this notion. "All the Alexanders and Ashleys who stay up until 11 o'clock and are allowed to draw on the walls because their parents put up vinyl wallpaper are going to end up in therapy because they don't know what's appropriate," says Andrew Baseman, who decorated the set of the forthcoming film The Nanny Diaries.

When she grew up in the 1960s in suburban New Jersey, Capobianco recalls, the bowl of hazelnuts and a heavy metal nutcracker in her childhood family room were not considered a choking hazard or a broken finger waiting to happen. "Today's parents tend to overprotect their kids, " she says, scoffing at the notion of the latest infant fad, a warmer for baby wipes. "If (the kids) can't deal with a cold wipe, how are they going to deal with not getting a job?"

Ginger and Ruby, 18 months old, are allowed everywhere except the kitchen and their parents' room. "We want them to see the world as a safe and open place. They crawl and climb up on furniture and if they fall, we wait to see how they react instead of freaking out and making them fearful," Capobianco says. "Most of the time, they just get up and keep going."

Design continuum

The only indications that her parents' former sitting room is now 2-year-old Sofia Dalinger's domain is an elaborate wrought-iron fireplace screen draped with stuffed animals and a hand-built Spanish crib designed by her father, Jorge.

Otherwise, the room is awash in earthy ochre, olive, terra cotta and umber - the colors Dalinger himself grew up with in a stucco and red-tiled hacienda in Seville, Spain. Old World sconces hang over Sofia's crib between golden chenille curtains. The walls are antique glazed with a stenciled damask motif; the furniture is dark and hefty.

It is a baby's room with a grown-up sensibility, an extension of - not an exception to - the aesthetic rules of the roost. For Sofia, that means growing up with wood floors, terra-cotta pavers in the patio and lots of wrought iron.

Dalinger, who has parlayed an earlier career in fashion into a couture decor business (www., used a cross-shaped cutout detail for the woodwork, including the safety doors mounted on the staircase. He designed them for Sofia instead of using baby gates. He also designed iron dragons, another decorative motif in the house, serving as corbels in archways and arms on an outdoor sofa.

"People say that's not good for a baby, " he says. "One day she was running and banged her head on the iron work, but nothing is 100 percent safe. She has gotten smarter and now she holds onto the railing and walks. She has a smile on her face all day. And all my friends tease me that I am going to send her to school with a wrought iron lunch box."

Babies can adapt

At 14 weeks, Maverick Maltin, the son of DayNa Decker and her husband, Andrew Maltin, happily bunks in his parents' room. He sleeps in a swank white lacquer and solid wood Duc Duc crib with leather handles that match his dresser with a changing table on top.

Finding baby furniture that fit Decker's domestic policy, which she outlines as "homes that feel masculine and sexy, " was a priority.

The living room looks more like what you'd expect from a newlywed career couple than new parents. There is one recent addition, however: a glider upholstered in beige faux suede, the only chair the new mom could find for rocking her son to sleep.

"The house wasn't much before DayNa got here," Maltin says. Now that it finally is, they say, their son is "going to have to adapt to us."

"Although," Maltin adds, looking at the hard slate floors and then at his baby boy, "we may just need to get him little kneepads."

Fast Facts

An inside look at kids' rooms

Dozens of ideas for kids' rooms - furniture, textiles, color schemes, storage, lighting - are pictured in Kids' Rooms: Designs for Living (Home Depot, $21.95). There's something here for kids of every age and interest, every room size and configuration. This isn't a how-to book (no project plans or directions), but the suggestions here will get your brain in gear. There are also safety tips and ideas for updating rooms as children grow.

[Last modified May 4, 2007, 19:36:28]

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