Pity the poor parents-to-be with subscriptions to Architectural Digest. They believe that with a bit of imagination and flair they can piece together a home that will be at once a personal design statement for them, a cheery haven for the kids and a showplace for the neighbors. They visualize a kind of Brady-Bunch-goes-to-Versailles house.
Then the kids arrive and destroy it all. Instead of a spiffy stereo wall, the parents are obliged to install bunny wallpaper. Instead of Persian rugs, they consider concrete. Waterford decanters give way to unbreakable (yeah, sure) Masters of the Universe drinkee mugs.
Mom and dad come to realize that, with kids, anything in the house that can break will break, that any spot in the house that can support a mess will support a mess. And with this realization comes, over the years, subtle changes in thought and action, all motivated by a single purpose: getting the kids out of the house.
But one fine day the sun comes up on Saturday morning and mom and dad realize that there is not one single compelling reason to get out of bed. No one is downstairs screaming for Cheerios. Junior is off at college, choking down cafeteria food.
And, at last, the parents' fancies lightly turn to thoughts of redecoration.
Something like that happened to Sharon Rice. She had been living in her Fountain Valley condominium with her son and twin daughters since 1974, and when the kids began to approach the age when they would go away to unbreakable dormitory land, she began to think of decorating with colors that wouldn't necessarily mask dirt.
The idea, said Rice's decorator Betty Hyde, was to produce a home that was intended for adults, both aesthetically and practically, a place that Rice and her husband, Donald, could enjoy visually while taking advantage of the extra room.
"I think many people in their situation do that," said Hyde, who is affiliated with Ultimate Designs Interiors in Laguna Niguel. "Many people like bright colors, or they'll use things like crystal or kinds of upholstery they didn't dare to use before. When the children go away, it changes the whole aspect of a place. Also, the parents may have more money to spend on their home."
The change, said Rice, was gradual, beginning about 10 years ago. However, the home today has evolved into a place that is decidedly adult.
The most significant change, said Rice, was the color scheme, particularly of the living room. From more neutral pale blue and cream colors, the room has become rich with a blue-green shade called celadon, paired with a teal carpet and chair coverings and drapes with accents of rose and peach.
Nearby downstairs is a media room--a decidedly adult concept--that was designed by Hyde. The room is decorated mostly in earth tones and accented by a light blue sofa, and its focal point is a series of decorative wood wall cabinets containing Rice's collection of kachina dolls and a good array of stereo gear. Previously, said Hyde, the room had a more durable look--without the media wall.
Upstairs is one of the most tangible bits of evidence that the kids now are grown and living hundreds of miles away in Seattle: One of the girls' bedrooms has been converted into that most adult of rooms, a study.
There was, you see, this pressing adult need. Donald Rice had accumulated a good amount of books and needed a place to put them, Hyde said. Shelves were installed along one wall. On the facing wall are more shelves above what is today known as a desk. In its previous incarnation it was a daughter's sewing table.
But perhaps the most complete sign of change in the room is a small sofa, unremarkable in and of itself. However, it converts to a small bed, effectively turning a former daughter's bedroom into that bulwark of the adult home, a guest room.
Also, the Rices are apparently expecting a lot of company, because their son's room has also made the conversion to guest room.
The changes at the Rice condo have been made without the use of a sledgehammer, although Hyde said that many other parents with empty nests decide to knock a few pieces of that nest to splinters in the name of living space.
"Where they've had a series of small bedrooms for the children," she said, "they might want to take a wall out and make two rooms into an entertainment room or a room for their TV and stereo or a place for hobbies."
Still, said Hyde, parents never really get a break. Not entirely. The rub comes in the form of biological inevitability: grandchildren.
And that, said Sharon Rice, is why she and her husband chose more flamboyant--yet dark--colors for the living room, why they made sure that elegant did not necessarily mean delicate. It's still possible to effectively clean up a mess on designer carpet. In fact, she said, the room she and her husband consider to be set aside for the grandkids is the den, uh, media room, with its adjacent patio.
As long as families continue to continue, there may never be a perfect solution to the transient generation question. However, I once saw a home in Kansas City that came closest. It had a basement, which had been converted into a kind of jury-rigged soda fountain, and any surface that wasn't bulletproof Formica was concrete. The walls were brick. The concrete floor sloped gently to a drain in the center. The entire place could be hosed down in two minutes. It was the world's most functional room.
I was 11 when I saw it. I didn't like it much then. I love it now.
Kids don't know when they're well off.