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Danielle Bryk : Family friendly decor

It's not always pretty...but it can be fun, and, thanks to a growing number of design trends, you can have your cake and eat it...on the couch, with a toddler bouncing beside you.

By most standards, I have a pretty big family--3 kids, 2 dogs, 1 husband, and much of the time, a film crew in the house. Needless to say, we're hard on a house. We've had many different houses and I've used just about every surface, flooring and tile you can imagine and here's my low-down on some of the most common materials and their "family-friendly" rating.

Ratings are based my very accurate "how quickly this will drive you insane" test (general resistance to wear and tear) as well as a ranking of environmental friendliness. Ratings go from 1. don't do it, you'll pull your hair out to 9. almost indestructible


HARDWOOD: 8 (or as good as it's going to get before going into industrial tile) 

Here's the thing about floors, they are meant to be trod on. If you have kids and/or dogs, they will get scratched. Some hardwoods resist scratching better than others. Sheen can play a part too. I had my time of high-gloss, ebonised floors. They looked stunning, as long as we all wore surgical booties around the house. Lower sheens, or oiled finishes are much more forgiving. In terms of colour, a mid-tone will show less than very dark or very light. I find that the old-school way of finishing floors on-site provides better resistance to scratching than most of the lower-quality pre-finished floors and are more timeless. Luckily, there are amazing new options for pre-finished floors that give that finished-on-site look, with high-quality finishes.

ENGINEERED HARDWOOD: 8 

Engineered floors get the same rating as hardwood for resistance to wear and tear. The quality of engineered flooring today is fantastic. Many have layers of solid hardwood that can be sanded multiple times and they have the added bonus of resisting expansion and contraction. Look for brands that use low VOC glues and finishes.

LAMINATE: 9 

Virtually indestructible, but look for options that have low VOCs or let it off-gas for a few weeks before installation--a great option for basements and areas that will double as hockey rinks.

CONCRETE COUNTERS: 6 

Despite the connotation that concrete is industrial and indestructible, know that it is very porous , but over time, it develops a patina that concrete lovers appreciate.

CARRARA MARBLE

This is my one exception to the rule--yes, it is porous, yes it stains, but oh, is it beautiful. When it comes to marble, there are two kinds of people: the kind that know it requires some maintenance and may stain, but believe that the patina it develops over time is part of the character, and those that know themselves well enough to know that it would drive them crazy and who aren't interested in the maintenance. Maybe there's three types of people. There's also the type that know this about themselves but who do it anyway because it's just that beautiful. If this is you, limit the use of it to areas that aren't so high-traffic (walls instead of floors, the island counter as opposed to the counter on either side of the range). So many restaurants, hotels and retail stores use carrara on their surfaces and they always look fantastic. I can attest that over time, and with some sealing (look for the environmentally safe, no VOC impregnators) this stone becomes even more beautiful. A honed finish, instead of a polished is even more durable.

ENGINEERED QUARTZ: 9 

Made of over 90 per cent natural quartz and mixed with a resin, this surface retains the beauty of natural stone but is also scratch and stain resistant and is non-porous. Some brands qualify for LEED certification.

CARPET: ugh. 

Enough said? There are so many reasons why I give carpets a failing grade. Firstly, the off-gassing due to the chemical makeup of most carpets is worrisome. Even though there are healthier options (carpets made from natural materials like wool and sisal) these materials are pricey and, let me tell you, they don't stand a chance against a juice box spill, a puppy accident or a Barbie lipstick smear.

WHITE WALLS: 7 

A mainstay of my design, especially in my own houses, is white walls. This allows me to create that gallery vibe that I love so much and also allows me to make the often small spaces have a sense of openness and flow. I will admit, that every few weeks I see a build-up of who knows what on the high-traffic areas like door jambs and stairwells. As I take a couple of minutes to wipe this down, I remind myself that the alternative is to have a colour where I don't see the dirt and grime...Frankly, I'd rather know it's there.

STAINLESS STEEL COUNTERS: 8 

There is a reason restaurants use this material in their kitchens. I'm a huge fan of seeing this making its way into more and more residential settings. I've used stainless in some of the most elegant homes I've designed, as a counter on either side of the range (there's great freedom in not worrying about your spaghetti sauce splattering) and as integrated sink counters. Yes, there is the issue of finger prints, but like so many materials, over time the finish develops so that this isn't an issue.

WHITE GROUT ON THE FLOOR: 1

Makes you insane--don't be seduced by the beauty of white octagonal tiles unless you plan to grout them with a dark grey. There's only so many days you can devote to scrubbing the grout lines with a toothbrush and bleach. Sealing the grout is nothing but a cruel promise to keep it from staining. Here's how it goes down. Child walks into bathroom barefoot to wash his or her hands. Child drips a bit of water on the ground while drying hands. Child walks over the drips and ever-present mud (not even visible to the naked eye) mixes with water to become instant mud puddle. It took me two homes and two terribly chic, but way too high-maintenance bathrooms with this floor to learn my lesson. If you love this look, try reversing it--the black hex looks really cool.

WALLPAPER

This is a tricky sell for families with young children. Since it's not a necessity (you need a counter, you need a floor) it definitely falls under the category of art or whimsy. Just like any piece of art, you wouldn't put it where sticky fingers have easy access.

MICROFIBER: 8.5 

It really is true. Red wine, chocolate cake, crayons. You name it, it can be cleaned off. I was a non-believer, because every time someone told me something was easy to keep clean, my family proved them wrong. Our grey microfiber sectional has survived bulldog puppies, teenagers, eight-year-old girl slumber parties and has passed the insanity test. I still wouldn’t go bright white, because even though you can technically clean it, you won’t want to have to every day. Ditto for the white slip- cover--just because you CAN take it off and bleach it, doesn’t mean you’re going to want to on a weekly (almost daily at our house) basis.

So what gets a perfect 10 rating? Nothing. It doesn’t exist, and the quicker you accept this, the quicker you’ll enjoy truly living in your home.

-by Danielle Bryk