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Beautiful home design and kids really can live together

Does the dream of living in a trendy and beautiful home have to die when the kids come along?

My home, in particular, looks like a daycare sale and a cracker factory had a fight — and there were no winners.

In the hope of learning some tips and reforming my unstyled ways, I spoke with Ottawa-area parents who have managed to share an elegant, grown-up space with small, applesauce-loving dictators.

Read more: Having a baby? Don’t move, make room

One thing these parents had in common was that they had clearly established rules with their children about what could and could not be touched, right from the beginning.

Andrea Johnson, 44, a corporate lawyer, jokes that her son thought the official name for Christmas trees was “don’t touch!” for the first three years of his life. Her family’s post-and-beam residence takes design notes from the natural wilderness in nearby Gatineau Park. On move-in day, the house was only about 80 per cent complete — with no working furnace and a sliding door that led to a two-storey drop.

Additions have included a great room, another bathroom plus a full kitchen renovation and finishing the basement. A focal point of the home is the large, open wooden staircase which links floors from the entrance, children’s rooms and family space winding up in sections through to the kitchen and main floors.

Adding a large pool and cabana in the backyard elevated this home to a luxe manse with chalet-inspired nods. The family’s wit and warmth show in the whimsy and design that is effortlessly combined in their house.

One of Johnson’s most prized household possessions is a set of 12-point elk antlers that sit high on a wall — away from curious little climbers. The antlers were a gift to Johnson’s husband’s great-grandmother, from an unsuccessful suitor.

In the city, physician Judy Shiau, her husband and their three kids live in a 50-year-old cottage-inspired home. The overall design is French-countryside, with accents that pay homage to their Asian heritage. It’s a style and a phrase they’ve coined as “Frasian” country.

Originally, the home needed significant work and the renovations earned architect Linda Chapman a 2010 Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association design award.

A four-sectioned wall of seasonal panels, by glass craftsperson France Grice, represents nature throughout the year and determined colours throughout the home, including sage green, turquoise and dark wood.

Although beautiful, Shiau’s goal is to update the decor, but she says she must “patient with purchases” and wait until her kids are older. That patience is how she manages the fine balance between allowing her children free run of the house while maintaining a harmonized sense of style throughout.

Prevention and education are the guidelines for preserving household style and minimizing damage at Suzanne Seaman’s home. Seaman, 43, cleverly places furniture such as side tables and consoles in front of important decor items — such as the family’s paintings by renowned, Ottawa-born artist Jean-François Provost — to distract and prevent sticky hands from getting too close.

Seaman, her husband and two kids share a completely renovated Victorian home in Ottawa’s trendy Glebe neighbourhood. Improvements to the 1910-built house included creating clean lines of sight through the main floor, with an easy flow and a focus on functional living.

Seaman admits that as much as she loves the esthetic, open-concept living can present some challenges for those who live with small children: Toys and mess can’t be contained by simply closing a door. She’s adamant, though, that a family home should not be a museum: “We relaxed our style, as we want our children to feel at ease and enjoy their home without worrying needlessly about messes or breakage.”