There’s no Place like Home

Designing for the Whole Family
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

This direct link between the built environment and wellbeing is especially true of the family and the space in which they live. And these conditions can be maximized to promote lives well lived.
Many design considerations can be made to ensure family-friendly public and private spaces, regardless of whether the environment is urban or suburban. Traditionally, urban centres have proved attractive for single professionals and young couples, but families are increasingly being drawn to urban life. No longer does starting a family necessitate a move to suburbia.

The appeal of suburbia was simple: larger spaces, safer neighbourhoods, a sense of community, good school districts, backyards and, ultimately, more house for the same price with a variety of housing stock to meet diverse lifestyles and budgets. Suburban living was where people believed families could grow and children could flourish while still enjoying proximity to urban centres.

The mindset is changing. Urban centres are becoming increasingly safe and offer great amenities that are within walking distance or easily accessible by public transit, excellent schools with a selection of specialties, as well as great parks, arts and culture and stimulating events.

Playgrounds are a very important aspect of family-friendly exterior design. Playgrounds can be appealing, educational, entertaining and provide a place where children can be themselves. They serve as a place where children can exercise their bodies and their social skills while making friends. Playgrounds have greatly changed over time and have become much safer and more enjoyable for kids of all ages.

These intelligently-designed built environments have varied colours, textures and material including sand, rubber flooring, plastic and metal jungle gyms. Swings, slides and interactive activities provide spatial and visual stimulation that promotes growth and development.

From the position of the main entryway to public greenspace, courtyards, gardens and common areas such as accessible public restrooms, change stations, water fountains, adequate seating, and public art installations, carefully planned playgrounds provide a gathering place that serves as a community hub.

These hubs become places where a community within a community can develop and people can come together to interact with their environment and each other. Outdoor play is an important part of a child’s development and strengthens the family and the community. Some studies show that children are most likely to take advantage of the daylight hours and require space to do so.

In Canada, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation found that less than thirty percent of rental apartments in Toronto are considered family-friendly, whereas in the suburbs of Mississauga over sixty percent of rental units have two bedrooms or more and access to child care.

For those who choose to leave urban living and ditch the trendy and chic condominium, loft space or apartment in favour of a single-family residence, there are many planning and design factors to take into account. Whether it is a new build or a purchased home, residents must ensure that it is a family-friendly home that will suit the changing needs of the family.

Home is where the heart is, and the heart of a family is often the love of parents for their children. When it is time to welcome children in the family or contemplate a new home to meet the needs of a growing family, there are several factors that can get the most family value from the home.

Children can have implications on the form and function of a space. It is important that spaces to be enjoyed by children take into consideration their physical, psychological and social development.

Versatile, well-planned interior spaces should be suited to the child’s age and preference. Children want age- and interest-appropriate spaces to call their own as well as needing added safety precautions. When children are young, the use of bright, stimulating colours, patterns and textures will promote development.

Children with autism also pose unique design needs. There are several ways to create a calming sensory space for the child in the home. Avoid over-stimulating paint colours and decor, and use soft textures, lighting and technology to your advantage.

As the children grow, the space can evolve with them to include more interactive play spaces or more technologically-enabled spaces. Children’s areas can include book nooks, spaces to do homework, an arts and crafts section or just a comfortable space to unwind after school or on the weekends. Regardless of a child’s age, one of the most vital things a parent can do is include extensive storage for toys and belongings.

The position of these kid-friendly spaces can make all the difference in improving a family’s overall functioning and lifestyle. Kids are noisy, so living areas might be best served away from bedrooms. Likewise, babies need quiet when they sleep, so nurseries should be placed in quieter parts of the home.

There is a consensus among design professionals that certain rooms are indispensable for families with children. Mudrooms, study spaces, public gathering spaces like the kitchen and kid-specific spaces, should all be equipped with different types of storage. Mudrooms are ideal for families with children and are best served when they are near the laundry room.

Layout design for a family does not mean that style and luxury have been hijacked by the children. You can have both style and function.

Art and aesthetics encourage development in children. A space can be aesthetically pleasing while being functional and stimulating. In fact, design choices for the interior and exterior of the home can have exceptional impacts on a child’s development.

Design can inspire and engage while playing a role in hiding those inevitable stains. A kid-friendly room is one that will stand up to horseplay and potential food or drink spills. This does not mean avoiding nice things; it just means choosing darker colours and stronger fabrics. It is far easier to clean hardwood and tile floors than a fully-carpeted home that holds dirt and stains.

Similarly, it is important to accessorize but to do so out of reach. Fragile objects stand a better chance if they are out of the danger zone, which is believed to be forty-five inches above floor level. Always design and plan from the ground upwards. Design and décor can be an opportunity to teach children behavioural limits and respect for their surroundings.

As someone who grew up in an Italian home, I knew that there was no room for horseplay. This was especially true of what was typically the upstairs living/family room area where neither family nor living took place.

This room I had affectionately dubbed the museum was complete with plastic covered furniture and china cabinets full of treasured knick-knacks. Besides, we were either in the kitchen, dining room or backyard.

The backyard was where all the adventure and fun happened. The garden and various fruit trees were the perfect backdrop for hide and seek. It was a jungle waiting to be negotiated, and the lush grass provided a forgiving landing spot for failed cartwheels.

In terms of design, beyond the garden and backyard green space, which was full of fresh fruits and veggies and provided a great lesson about healthy eating and where food comes from, the backyard was truly is a world of possibility.

The exterior of a home holds unlimited possibility as a gathering place for the family. It provides a space for kids to self-actualize. A backyard could be paradise at home and a place where kids want to be, even when they are grown.

When kids decide to step away from the newest and greatest gaming console or computer game inside the house, it is just as important for them to have a space for themselves outdoors. And once again, safety is key.

One great safety feature is fencing. Whether it is the white picket fence, natural fences and barriers or a retaining wall to prevent balls and Frisbees from becoming the property of the neighbours, fencing is something that needs thought.

Another safety feature is maintaining a clear line of sight from the house which is especially important for homes with pools. This allows for supervision at all times to minimize risk. Pools give the ultimate kid-friendly activity for a home’s exterior.

The backyard and driveway also happens to be where some of the world’s greatest athletes got their start. Whether it is a basketball court, room to play catch, a tree house, climbing wall, rope swing, zip line or trampoline, activities like these are a great way to keep kids out of trouble and entertained for hours.

The most significant exterior design requirement for the home is a place for the family to come together. Barbecue areas, comfortable family seating, outdoor dining and even fire pits, are great ways to find time for family. And once again, outdoor storage is a must!

Building and buying a home is a major milestone in life, and there is much to consider. If deciding to start or grow a family is not a big enough decision on its own, making sure the family has a safe, comfortable, functional and aesthetically pleasing place to live and grow adds another dimension to making the right design and décor decisions.

The goal is always to make a home a space for everyone to enjoy at every stage of life, and through thoughtful layout planning or redesign, families can live their best lives possible in the home of their dreams. If there is one thing that is certain: there is no place like home.



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