Q&A: A Philly Designer’s Tips on Mixing Good Taste … and Children

How to have kids and a house you like. At the same time Read more

ashli mizell philadelphia decor

Truth: When you have a kid, home decor decisions often end up revolving around less what you love and more about what will simply stand up to the most abuse and/or look best under a pile of giant Legos. It just sort of … happens. Personally, I don’t even really aspire to perfection … but I do want a few elegant ways to store toddler toys, and to know whether it’s stupid for me to wallpaper my dining room while I still have a kid under the age of five. So I asked big-time Philly designer Ashli Mizell* (who, incidentally, was just featured by Architectural Digest) to weigh in on some of these pressing questions, and more. And not surprisingly, she’s got some really smart ideas and great sources for cute kid-friendly furniture. Read on, parents — there’s good stuff here.

How can I design a room that looks appropriate for a nursery, but isn’t so babyish that when the kid is, say, 3 or 4 or 5, we have to totally redecorate? Are there certain design elements that are both timeless and nursery-appropriate?
For me, the best children’s rooms are colorful, playful and practical. The trick to longevity is to use enough restraint with the larger surfaces and reserve color for smaller accent pieces that may come and go. For example, I usually find that if you get the floors and walls right in any space, the rest will fall into place and be easy to change in small ways over time. In the case of a child’s room, a great crib or small bed in a soft neutral could provide a home for brightly colored pillows of different shapes and sizes and chalky neutral walls are the perfect backdrop to showcase more whimsical art, or even a 3D alphabet. Keep in mind, toys and books alone are already brightly colored and will add a lot of life to a space with very little effort!

In terms of furniture that grows with the kid, another great alternative to the small bed is a built-in bunk bed with drawers and a fun ladder. This is a piece that will last for years, and even accommodates friends to stay over when the time comes. A comfortable but streamlined upholstered rocking chair in an easy-to-maintain fabric never goes out of style and is a terrific piece that allows all to lounge while reading and snuggling.

Like many Philly families, we have a living room that is also the main play space for our kid. Any tips for design that helps us stash toys in a way that’s attractive but still accessible for the little one? 
I am a big fan of the large upholstered storage ottoman — on hidden castors, if possible, for ease of movement. This is the quintessential storage piece in terms of easy access, and no-fuss quick clean-up. (It also serves the equally important purpose of providing a footrest or even a tray top for casual dinners and drinks!) One piece of advice with sizing: Get the largest one that your space will allow. The typical rule of thumb is to simply subtract 24 inches from each end of your sofa or sectional and leave only 14 or so inches to move around the inside. Most of the time, the ottoman will live up against the sofa anyway and the added comfort and storage is well worth the square footage.

So … I want to wallpaper the dining room, but am a bit nervous about the durability of it. Do some materials stand up better than others to little hands and toys banging into it? What about wipe-ability? Or should I (sigh) just stick with paint for now?
There is no question that wallpaper can be one of the most transformative additions to a space. Unfortunately, to do it well, it can become costly (the cost of paper plus the cost of the experienced installer). If you do choose to go this route with a young family, you can find a variety of exceptionally nice vinyl wallpapers that actually look like natural fabrics such as linen, grasscloth and even silk! The better papers are are not only natural- looking but are completely wipeable and super-resilient — they’re designed for this very purpose and are often used in high traffic public spaces such as restaurants and hotels. If it’s good enough for the Four Seasons…

Any help on where to find cute, durable little-person furniture that isn’t giant, clunky, plastic Fisher Price?
For carpets: “Flor” tiles are affordable, easy to install and add or edit in terms of color over time. For modular cabinets, try Bluedot — they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors and are also easily edited as spaces evolve. You should also check out these websites for a variety of styles of furniture and affordable prices: allmodern.com; jossandmain.com; landofnod.com. On the higher end of the luxury market, there’s petittresor.com and bellini.com — both have stuff that’s sure to wow, but comes at a price.

And finally: the accents. This is where I recommend taking a more personal approach and using things that reflects the child’s interests, or family experiences, and etc. Rather than sourcing these elements from a big box store, think about picking up an interesting item or small collection of things from a local antique shop — maybe vintage flags for the wall, or colorful lobster buoys, or even old musical instruments. These unexpected items will set the space apart and add that little bit of panache that makes it interesting!


Ashli Mizell*About our expert:The lovely Ashli Mizell has been in the design biz for nearly 20 years, spending 8 in NYC before moving to Philly, where she started up her own design firm (based in Rittenhouse) in 2002. Over the past 12 years, she’s worked on projects of various sizes, from decoration to full-scale renovation jobs, both in the city and throughout the ‘burbs. She’s known for an aesthetic that combines sharp, crisp lines with thoughtful, personal details and—always, always—functionality.



Photo credit: Andrew Baach.