Remodel in real life

What happens when a noted design authority takes on her first family-home renovation?

Remodel in real life
Photo: Thomas J. Story

Now we were in no way going to attempt a full-scale transformation; our daughter, now 2, is home all day, which makes construction work in the kitchen impossible. Also, we were quite fond of our circa-1960 stainless steel oven and stove. And even though cabinet space was tight, the room's layout was functional.

But the floor depressed us. Over the months, as we'd pulled and scraped and torn out various aspects of our home, we'd always preferred what was underneath. We were convinced that the lovely vertical-grain Douglas fir found throughout our house was also underfoot in the kitchen - suffocating under the squeaky, standard-issue landlord linoleum - and it was our duty to release it. So after six stressful, dusty days, we did. And on the seventh day? We gave it a rest.


Our daughter is active, playful, and curious, qualities that manifest throughout our 1,200 square feet in piles of Uglydolls, crayon masterpieces, and mismatched pink socks. We don't fight it; instead, we've chosen to embrace it, allowing our dreams of architectural perfection to be relegated to our cache of ripped-out magazine pages in a binder.

Our Moroso coffee table has been transformed into a spaceship for stuffed animals. The red Eero Saarinen chair is the refuge of choice for middle-of-the-night readings of Goodnight Moon. And the place of honor at the head of our dining table? Once it was a Thonet chair circa 1920, scored on eBay by my husband, the superior scavenger. Now it's a Scandinavian high chair encrusted with Play-Doh, purple glitter, and dried cherry-tomato seeds.

There are many parents who childproof their homes within an inch of their lives, banishing anything unpadded or that dares to have a corner. We simply put all breakables on higher shelves and then stand by - not unhappily - as the form-equals-function credo is put to the test. Our daughter has long since mastered the childproofing gadgets anyway, looking at me with a devilish glint in her eye while expertly cracking the safety lock on the bathroom cabinet.

As for the kitchen, of course we couldn't do just the floor - we had to rip out the wainscoting so the planks could match, so let's just say the walls are a little rough around the edges. But no matter. We've tacked up this great stuff called WallCandy, which are basically panels of chalkboard for drawing. We've put a stand-up easel and a generous supply of crayons, chalk, and paint next to the island. We've effectively turned our kitchen into a toddler art studio that's also used for cooking. We have not so much renovated as reinvented this room, and apart from the pillow-filled corner in the nursery where we plunk down to read Knuffle Bunny for the 784th time, there is no cozier spot in our entire house.

Arieff is the former editor-in-chief of Dwell magazine, the author of three books, and a columnist for The New York Times. She lives in San Francisco.

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