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Living with kids and a light couch

In our home, and in our main living areas, we have two couches.

One is in the living room:

couch | rug | coffee table (similar) | lamp (similar) | ikat fabric | leaf pillow

The other is in the family room:

sectional | ottoman | lamp | stripe basket | x pillow | pom pillow | leather pillow

And both are very light in color.

What we also have are four children:

(Aren’t they cute?! Taken on the first day of school last week)

A question I am asked often is “how does your light couch hold up with the kids?“.

It’s a great question.With an active family and messy kids and regularly having guests over, you would think choosing light couches would be a problem. However, we have not found this to be the case at all.

With an active family and messy kids and regularly having guests over, you would think choosing light couches would be a problem. However, we have not found this to be the case at all.

A couple of thoughts before I get all bossy on you and tell you how we make the light couches work for our family:

First, let me start by saying I prefer a light-colored sofa mainly because of aesthetics. A couch is often the largest piece in a room and keeping it neutral and light works well with my decorating style. I like that I can switch out throws or pillows to change the look seasonally and with how dark it can feel around here in the winter, it is nice to keep the furniture bright to offset the gloominess.

Second, many people proclaim their love of white slipcovers because they can be thrown in the wash and bleached. Our two couches are not slipcovered, so we don’t have that luxury of easy cleaning, but they are both nice quality upholstery with stain-treatment. I still declare my love for each one and would choose them again if given the option.

Third, these are our everyday couches and get a lot of use.

The tufted couch was previously in our great room in the old house where it was the main couch in the house (see it here). It now sits in the living room where we use it much less, but is still a go-to for bedtime reading or weekend video game playing.

Our family room couch is where the kids mainly hang out, where we gather with friends, where we watch shows and movies. It is the comfiest big sectional I’ve ever sat in and we love cozying up on it.

All to say, these couches were conscious design choices, are regularly used and still two of my favorite purchases we’ve made.

So now for how we manage to keep them nice looking, while also living …

RULES FOR LIVING WITH KIDS AND A LIGHT COUCH

  1. Shoes off

  2. No food or drinks

  3. Forts can happen elsewhere

  4. Sorry, puppy. You have to stay off.

I sound so mean with these rules, but I’m telling you, they work.

We generally take our shoes off in our house, so that one isn’t a big deal for the kids (or us). Since we live where it is rainy and shoes track in dirt and mud, we typically have the kids take them off at the door. Keeping them off the couch helps reduce the risk of dirt stains.

Since the kids were babies, we’ve always had a ‘stay in the kitchen’ rule when eating. I think this is the number one way to keep the furniture in good shape. Little crumbs and spills are inevitable and kids (at least mine) are messy eaters. Instead of fighting it, we just say no food or drinks allowed. When they are watching a movie and want popcorn, I’ll either lay down a few blankets over the couch or just have them sit on the floor to eat it. I’m slightly protective of the furniture, but it seems to be working :)

As for the fort-making, we reserve that for their bedrooms and the playroom. These downstairs couches are nice pieces of furniture that we want to have for a long time. As much as we value creative play, we also want to teach the kids about taking good care of our things. In our old house, we had a broken-in couch in the playroom that they were welcome to jump on, toss the cushions around, build forts out of. In this house, we have a kid hangout space on the third floor with a couch they can be harder on. So we’re all about providing spaces for the kids to be kids (their bedrooms, third floor, outside) and okay with keeping some places in the house just for regular living.

P.S. I felt the same way about toys when the kids were much younger and even now have a general rule that most toys stay upstairs or outside. It’s a weird balance between giving the kids the run of the house and finding ways to have kids and adults live happily together. Did you happen to see my Instagram story video of the third floor literally covered in legos? Or the time when Ryan bought a case of duct tape and the kids had cardboard all over the family room? This is absolutely a reality in our house. Of course we are a very normal family with a million legos and sports equipment, nerf guns, craft supplies and baby dolls. Those things edge their way into our living areas and we can be super flexible and accommodating to their creativity. And also? I want my house to be clean and orderly so I can function. So we work to find a balance.

And as for pets, we don’t let ours up on the furniture. Plenty of people we love are couch-pet snugglers, but it’s not our thing. Atlas, our big hairy labradoodle, keeps to the floor.

So, yes. You can live with kids – and a dog! – and a light couch. It takes some conscious decision-making (are we okay with shoes on the couch? do we like to eat on the couch?) and a mildly protective nature, but it is totally doable and enjoyable and a light couch looks great in almost any room :)

Anything you’d like to add? Do you agree or disagree with our family’s approach to keeping the house nice? I’d love to chat about it!

42 Responses to Living with kids and a light couch

  1. Jessica November 3, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    Question, Emily…on the Chesterfield…does the back of the sofa feel uncomfortable or does your husband have a strong opinion on the matter? My husband worries it will be too short and uncomfortable to sit and lean back. Thank you for your insight.

    • emily November 3, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

      A tight back sofa will not feel cushy (obviously), and so sometimes a throw pillow behind is nice. If you are looking at buying our exact couch, I will say that it is very comfortable to sit on. If you are buying a different chesterfield, I would say look for one with down wrapped cushion as that will be a good clue to comfort. My sister bought a set of very pretty chesterfields (from wayfair or overstock, I think) and they are hard, hard, hard. Not terrible (although I make it sound that way), just not real snuggle-in comfortable.

      You might also want to look at seat depth. The bigger the seat depth the more room you’ll have for throw pillows.

  2. Donita September 8, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

    “Sorry…no video games during the school week.
    House Rules!” Kids seem pretty ok with different (even crazy!) house rules.
    It also helps to distance the rule…it’s not my rule against you, it’s just a House rule.
    (One mom actually said, “I wish that was my House Rule.”)

  3. RM September 8, 2017 at 5:55 am #

    …and children like clean places… whether they act like it or not 😂. When they are accustomed to it, hopefully they will grow up and do the same 🙏🏼

  4. RM September 7, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    Yep and Amen

  5. Lindsey Burnett September 7, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    We just bought a beautiful new light grey linen couch and chairs last year. We have the same exact rules and our couch still looks brand new. My family thinks I’m super strict and picky, but my couch is still clean! We also don’t wear shoes in the house so our carpet stays (mostly) nice and clean. As clean as it can be with 2 kids, 2 cats and 1 dog. :P

  6. Brandy September 7, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    These are the same rules we have in our house. Like you, we occasionally allow popcorn in the LR during a family movie night, but it is eaten on the floor. No dogs on the couch, no shoes on the furniture, food belongs in the kitchen, no roughhousing on furniture or building forts on the couch. We have 5 acres, several barns (including a huge loft that was renovated to be a kid hang-out), so there is no excuse for using our furniture as gym equipment. ;). Even when we had a place with no land, though, we still implemented these rules. Our kids are teens and young elementary age now, so it is just how it has always been for them and no big deal.

  7. Jen F September 7, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    These are great rules! We have a light colored microfiber couch that has removable/washable cushion covers, but I still implement a no food, no drink policy in the living room (for the kids). I don’t know how I’d do a couch that isn’t washable in the future, though, because I’ve noticed that it starts to smell like dirty sheets and needs a good washing every few months.

  8. Casey K September 7, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    I grew up with a “no shoes in the house” rule and have lived that way my whole life. Not only does it keep out the dirt, but the icky/germy stuff that you can track in on your shoes too!

    Is this an odd rule though? My husband’s family recently stayed with us for a week+ and there were ‘surprised’ comments about no shoes in the house…one adult even made a point to tell us that they went out and bought a special pair of flip flops/house shoes to wear inside because of our rule. We didn’t apologize or change the rule though!

  9. Barbv September 6, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

    How come you don’t talk much or show pix of your Doodle? I’d love to see him!

  10. Kate September 6, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    What do you say to your guests who bring rowdy kids? Our friends bring their 2, 4, and 7 year olds, all of whom jump hard on their own couches, so they naturally jump on ours. It gets awkward when we step in to tell them not to and the parents don’t catch on…

    • emily September 7, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      That one is tricky … we had friends over last weekend and the little girls were wanting to eat a roll in the family room and I just nicely said, “you’re welcome to eat that on the hard floor, just not on the couch”. The mom was totally fine with it and even mentioned that she liked the idea of not eating in the living room. So, yes, it can totally be awkward, but hopefully, your friends will understand that you’re rules might be different than theirs, but they should still honor them.

      And then, sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it for a while for the sake of the friendship :)

      • Maureen September 8, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

        I think it’s so important that house rules are house rules for family and guests.
        When our kids were young we’d hear them say, “the rule at our house is…”. They learned respect for their home and had a nice way to let friends know some things weren’t ok at our house. All the visitors had no problem adapting to that.

  11. Pam September 6, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

    Great rules, I love them.

  12. Lora September 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    How do you handle the dye transfer from denim jeans? My car seat is perpetually blue and as much as I’d like our next couch to be light colored I don’t know how to prevent the staining.

    • emily September 7, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      Oh, that’s a great point! I haven’t noticed it on the couches … but when I had light leather upholstery in my car, it definitely turned blueish :)

  13. Hannah Reeks September 6, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    We have similar rules at our house too. We currently have an old leather lounge that my husband bought before we were married but it doesn’t suit our current house so we’re looking into buying a new one. I love the idea of a light colour because the room is quite small but with babies in the house I worry about vomit and drool! My husband doesn’t want to spend too much on a lounge but if rather buy quality that will last the test of time.
    I don’t like to be bossy when we have nieces and nephews / friends over but I guess it’s our house so we can have our rules!

  14. linda September 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm #

    great rules, beautiful couches!! could you share where the sectional is from?

    • linda September 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

      I found the crate and barrel sectional … could you share the fabric you chose? it looks like it was one of the special order fabric choices? thank you!!

      • emily September 7, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

        We have the sectional in the Taft fabric in cement.

  15. Ginny September 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

    Your rules sound good to me.

    I would probably be the one to spill something, to which my husband would reply, “I’m certainly glad I didn’t do that!”

  16. Allison September 6, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    We just recently implemented the same rules in our own house while it was on the market and I have to say, we will be keeping these rules in place from now on! We have never been dog-on-furniture people so that one was already in place.

    I need to know… where is your sectional from?? I have been searching for a huge comfy couch for our next home!

  17. Lucy September 6, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

    Instead of buying the $4000 sectional from Macy’s, we bought the $2000 sectional from a local furniture store. We worried we’d be sacrificing a bit in quality, but actually, it has been such a comfortable couch for us. We just love it. And when my kids curl up with their bowls of popcorn while we watch a movie, it doesn’t bother me one bit.

  18. Taylor September 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

    We use these same rules and I’m all for them. But man,
    I’m so bummed that our IKEA couch stains even from a water spill. I wonder if it’s just cheap fabric or if tiny invisible pieces of dirt stick to the water. Water leaves a big ring or dark mark and I spend days trying to rub it out … with more water.

  19. Kristy Seibert September 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    I love this post and recently wrote a similar post because our house is mostly white slipcovers. We have the same rules for our kids and it works great for us. Recently one of my sons friends started heading upstairs with a big bottle of red Gatorade I had to stop him and remind him about our “house rules” and he was fine. It’s good for kids to learn how to take care of their home and have a few boundaries. Thanks for your post and your home is beautiful!

  20. Kimber September 6, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    I had nightmares of red koolaid on our couches and so when the littles were tiny, we had a “bottom” rule: juice, drinks and food were kitchen only and one’s bottom needed to be planted on the floor. No wandering snackers, thank you very much. One of the first things our son learned to say was “bee-bop,” which was Alex-ese for “bottom.” And he adhered to the rule beautifully. Even when he had his sister sit on the floor so he could squirt copious amounts of Squeeze Parkay all over her head to his hysterical laughter. #cuethepsychomusic

  21. Tami Walsh September 6, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    Nothing out of the kitchen that can’t get sucked up into a vacuum. That’s my food rule. And only water. My rules are similar, but I couldn’t imagine not having my schnoodles snuggle me on my couch …. but we don’t live where they get muddy paws. :) Our light color (linen) couch holds up well … my main problem is keeping the little girls from using the long side as a tumble track!

  22. Kste September 6, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    It goes the opposite way too! You kids will grow up knowing how to be respectful of other peoples’ homes. I have friends who are on pins and needles when their kids visit others. I will also never forget the time my eight grade son called from a party with his hockey team, “Mom, you would never want to have so and so over. They don’t know how to behave here.”

  23. Bethany September 6, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    I raised my children and a collie with an off white linen couch and we kept it in the main family room for 12 years! It was a sectional so it was huge! I had the same rules. I found that my kids learned how to respect furniture and I never worried about them at other people’s homes. We just gave it away before we moved and I bought another light colored sofa but this time it’s a polyester that looks like linen instead!

  24. Donna September 6, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    Your sectional is the one I’m leaning towards for our main living area but I’m a little concerned about the depth. We are not tall. Is it hard to get comfortable if you are ‘sitting’ rather rhan ‘snuggling in’?

    • emily September 6, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

      It does require a throw pillow or two at your back if you want to sit up tall. I would highly recommend visiting a local store to see it in person and get a feel for the depth. It’s super comfy!

  25. Liza September 6, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    We have the Lounge from C&B too! We ordered it in the Indigo since the rest of our living space is very light… .and yes, bc I live in fear of dog/son/me with a wine glass type of mess. The sofa is the BEST for family time. We can all pile on – 4 humans, 2 80lb dogs and lots of laughs. Wish I had started the no food rule a while ago -but live and learn!

  26. Molly September 6, 2017 at 11:03 am #

    As a family, we usually don’t have problems keeping our light-colored furnishings clean. The issue we have is when guests come over to eat. With our light-colored walls, I’m considering going darker with upholstery and lighter with accent pillows (at least I can recover those more easily). Comments? Suggestions?

  27. Tiffany September 6, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    That’s pretty much our rules too. We have a living room that is basically claimed as “my room”. Our kids have their own rooms, a playroom AND a craft room to themselves so I feel a little less crabby with strict rules in a few small spaces. I joke that the kids aren’t allowed on the one light colored (same couch as your big sectional, just the large loveseat version) couch except when they are fresh out of the bath :). They have their room, with their couch that they too jump on, build forts one, etc. But like you, I love them to create and play hard, but I need some pretty spaces to keep my sanity. 3 kids, 2 dogs and 1 cat means compartmentalizing. No dogs on any furniture in our house as well. Moms have to do what they have to do :)

  28. Sarah September 6, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Such great rules to have! We have a light colored sofa as well, although it’s a slipcover. We’re also a no shoes, no eating on the sofa and pets can’t be up on furntiture family. I’m probably the worst offender because I drink my coffee on the sofa and often have spills when the kids bump me. I just figure, I’m the one that has to wash it, so I’m allowed an occasional spill. Haha!

  29. Carolyn Brown September 6, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    Love your rules. You’re teaching your children by example. Respect is such a needed trait these days. Thanks Emily for sharing.

  30. Mandy September 6, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    We had a small fire in our kitchen when I was a child. The prospect of having to get out of the house quickly regardless of the weather has made me and indoor shoe-wearer for life. We just use a lot of doormats and small rugs both inside and outside the doors.

  31. Deborah Raney September 6, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    I like your approach, and I bet your family is welcome wherever you go because your kids have been taught to respect not only your things but other people’s. I think it’s great for each family to make their own decisions about how relaxed or formal they will be (and I’m glad you acknowledge that kids need to have space to make messes in their own home). We had a similar policy when our kids were little because our living room WAS our family room/TV room, and our kitchen WAS our dining room. (We raised 4 kids in a small duplex.) The kids’ rooms were where they could relax the rules and be messier.

  32. Barbara September 6, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    I have had my same off white couch for 25+ years. Same reasons. Same rules. On the other end, looking back. I wouldn’t change a thing!

  33. Shauna September 6, 2017 at 6:02 am #

    I asked you about this on Instagram last week or so, and we just decided to go for it! Our “cement” lounge arrives next week! You mentioned stain treating, what did you have done? Hopefully it will hold up to my 6 and 3 year old and Baby on the way :)

  34. Susan September 6, 2017 at 6:00 am #

    We do much the same, although now our youngest is in 8th grade, so we’ve relaxed the food rules a bit. They have popcorn and eat some ice cream on the family room couch with no big issues. I think my coffee is the biggest danger! :)

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