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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kids, pets don’t have to mean losing your look

It all started when Liz Levin’s daughter was learning to stand on her own. As the D.C. designer watched her toddler, Julia, seek support from the living room furniture – a vintage coffee table made of glass and chrome next to a pair of antique armchairs upholstered in an expensive cream cotton – she realized things needed to change.

“Looking around at everything – the metal table, the white chairs, the Chinese garden statue at the fireplace – … it was like a disaster waiting to happen,” says Levin, 33, who started her design business in 2004. “I realized everything was going to have to stand up to a new and different level of use.”

After a search for family-friendly furniture and fabrics that were sturdy and stylish proved more difficult than she’d anticipated, something clicked: If a seasoned designer had a hard time finding the right resources, she wondered, how could busy parents or anyone not in the design business find what they needed?

“Designers know the tricks of the trade, but there was no resource that pulled together everything needed to live with style and with kids and pets,” she says.

Until now.

Last month, Levin launched Nesting (www.lizlevinnesting.com), an online resource and a one-stop shop for people with children and pets looking to furnish their home without sacrificing their style.

On the site, you’ll find design tips (such as Levin’s guide to setting up a nursery and her “secret weapon” piece of furniture), dramatic before-and-after room makeover photos and an opportunity to buy to-the-trade furniture. There’s also a range of design services, from a $25 phone consultation with a Liz Levin Interiors design “nestpert” to an entire room design plan – with floor plan and color, fabric and furniture selections – that’s delivered to your doorstep in two weeks or less for $500.

Everything offered on the site was based on Levin’s work with clients and on experiences in her home.

“That’s where my life is right now,” she says. “I’m intensely focused on maintaining my style while running after a toddler and having a dog.”

The site is not just a resource for families. The stain-resistant fabric that covers all upholstered pieces was chosen with frequent entertainers in mind, too. A Levin client’s father-in-law, not her 3-year-old, recently spilled red wine all over her lime green armchairs.

We chatted with Levin at her office in Georgetown about maintaining comfort and style in a household taken over by kids and pets. Here are selected excerpts:

Q: What changes did you make in your living room to accommodate a toddler?

A: First was the coffee table. We took the metal one out and replaced it with a lucite waterfall table (with rounded ends). Next, we replaced the antique armchairs with a pair that were covered with a durable fabric that was treated for stain resistance. I delayed getting window treatments until Julia was a little older, so she wouldn’t pull on them as she tried to stand.

Q: What is the most common decorating mistake parents make?

A: Letting the playroom aspect take over their living space. People think they have to totally sacrifice their former adult selves and style when they have kids. But I think you can have a pulled-together house while still welcoming all things that come with kids, like toys, safety gates and the general clutter. Life is messy, but you can plan and accommodate those things without succumbing to all the giant plastic baby-proofing things.

Q: What should pet owners keep in mind as they decorate?

A: Whether or not their pet sheds and what color the fur is should be consideration number one. Shedding will wreak havoc in your home if you have black fur on light furniture or the other way around.

Q: What advice do you have for parents creating a nursery?

A: Pick accessories that are meaningful, that make you smile or tug at your heartstrings one way or another. The accessories and accent pieces that really made me smile were a vintage Dick and Jane print from a 1950s school primer that I framed, a mirror that was my great-grandmother’s and a needlepoint my mother made while she was pregnant with my sister. I picked things that I enjoyed, and now I see Julia enjoying them.

Q: What’s the biggest design lesson you have learned since having a baby?

A: That I had to let go a little bit. I’m such a perfectionist, but I had to accept that the primary-color play mat was going to be the focal point in my neutral living room, that I couldn’t get toys that matched my decor and that there was going to be a plastic high chair in my dining room.

But the play mat and toys in the living room are put away every night in baskets and storage bins that coordinate with my wallpaper, and the high chair in the dining room has a dark brown cushion with white piping around the edge, so it goes well with my Victoria Hagan window panels! I learned that you have to surrender a little bit of yourself to your new life, but it’s possible to still maintain a shred of your style. You just have to be creative.

Q: Do you have a favorite paint color for family rooms?

A: Benjamin Moore’s Manchester Tan. It’s one of those all-time favorites. It’s neutral like white, but it’s not white. It’s not overwhelming; it’s not dark. It provides a good backdrop, like a gallery. It doesn’t compete with anything, and it’s enough of a color to make white trim pop. It works in a lot of different rooms. For kids’ rooms, I really like Hound Lemon from Farrow & Ball.

Q: How would you advise people who feel they’ve made a big decorating mistake?

A: I usually tell people to wait a couple of weeks before they make decisions, because they are probably reacting to the fact that it’s different. Then, take a picture of the room and try to look at it objectively, or look at it with someone else. By looking at a room two-dimensionally, it’s more apparent what the problems are, and it’s easier to see what’s missing. Give those things a shot before totally ditching what you bought.

Q: Can you tell me about a personal design mistake and how you dealt with it?

A: My biggest whoops was the new fuchsia living room chairs. I needed something stain-fighting and more comfortable than I had before, and I ended up buying chairs that were not only bigger but that were also covered in a durable, retina-busting color. The room before was a tone-on-tone paradise of taupe, and it was jarring to suddenly have bright pink chairs. They were bigger and brighter than I was used to.

My first thought was to sell them or store them. Then I decided to just rehab the situation and unite everything in the room. I found a wallpaper that was offbeat and quirky and that married all the colors in the room and brought in the pink in a big way. Usually, pillows can help unify a room, but the chairs were so disjointed that I needed something bigger than pillows.

Here’s the lesson: If you have one thing that’s pink in a room that’s brown and tan, you need something else that’s pink to unify the room. My husband, of course, loved that.