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The kids are all right

High chairs? Finger guards? Door stoppers? Forget it. Some parents refuse to compromise their style and shun child-proofing extremes that turn showcase homes into plastic playhouses.

April 12, 2007|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

SHORTLY after learning "ma-ma" and "da-da," Ginger and Ruby Rosenheck said "bye-bye" to their high chairs.

"They are the lamest, ugliest, most restraining things in the world and when you have twins, high chairs just take over the room," says their mother Cindy Capobianco. "So at 14 months, we got them their own table and chairs."

"It took a few days to teach them to sit -- and eat -- there," says her husband Rob Rosenheck, who dines nearby with his wife in Ikea metal chairs at an 18th century colonial table. "But now they do and it's so damned cute."

Though the family lives in a two-bedroom rental home that was once a former 1920s hunting lodge in Laurel Canyon, space wasn't really the problem. It was a quality-of-life issue: As children of the 1960s and first-time parents with firmly established tastes -- he is a photographer and filmmaker, she owns a marketing firm that caters to the fashion industry -- neither wanted to dial down their colorfully offbeat approach to decor, a blend of bohemian chic and thrift shop cheek. Nor did they want their living room turned into a minefield of building blocks and Barbies.

They are not alone. A growing number of new moms and dads are overwhelmed by the amount of toddler furnishings on the market but underwhelmed by their appearance and quality. They have seen other parents succumb to the culture of fear that has made baby-proofing a booming business. And they have watched friends and relatives surrender their design sensibilities -- along with the better part of their homes -- to an avalanche of kids' stuff.

"Every house that has kids, there are toys and white plastic furniture everywhere. You can tell the kids rule the house," says designer Jorge Dalinger, the father of a 2-year-old. "You don't have to sacrifice the look of the house for the baby."

Dalinger -- who has turned a four-story architectural box into an ornately detailed Spanish showplace -- and the Rosenhecks refuse to let their stylish homes become peewee playhouses. They believe that listening to their inner interior decorators, taking the necessary safety precautions and setting proper boundaries for their kids make for prettier, happier nests.

This seems a welcome antidote to the "child-centric" home, as Chicago clinical psychologist David deBoer calls it. "Parents who are trying to reclaim their adult space in the house and set appropriate boundaries help foster realistic expectations versus a sense of entitlement. They are not giving their children a grandiose sense of omnipotence that will be shattered in the real world."

Being raised in a design-conscious home can nurture basic social skills, says Arlene Drake, a licensed marriage family therapist in Encino. "It instills a sense of the value of things. It helps children to be respectful of other people's possessions and their own. When you never say "don't touch" to kids, that's too permissive. What they learn at home is what they take out into the world."

Professional decorators, naturally, applaud this notion. "All the Alexanders and Ashleys who stay up until 11 o'clock and are allowed to draw on the walls because their parents put up vinyl wallpaper are going to end up in therapy because they don't know what's appropriate," says Andrew Baseman, who decorated the set of the forthcoming film "The Nanny Diaries."

In recent years, the Manhattan-based interior designer has noticed parents opting for grown-up furnishings such as vintage wallpapers, higher-maintenance wool carpets and upholstered storage ottomans that can be used to stash toys. "I am seeing more people with older children who are growing up sophisticated about design. Maybe some parents actually enjoy sugary pastel colors, but you don't have to give kids pink or blue bedrooms."

For the Rosenhecks, simple whitewashed walls suffice for their daughters' room, which is filled with tidily organized rainbow-bright toys. Ginger and Ruby sleep in wooden cribs without bumpers because that's how mom grew up. In many ways, the Rosenhecks are doing what they never quite imagined they'd do: They are becoming like their own parents, raising kids the way they were brought up.

Both spent their early years in 1960s modern homes in suburban New Jersey. They were orderly, decidedly adult environments with comfortable dens where the family hung out and fancier rooms that were reserved for company.

Back then, Capobianco recalls, the bowl of hazelnuts and a heavy metal nutcracker in her childhood family room were not considered a choking hazard or a broken finger waiting to happen. "Today's parents tend to overprotect their kids," she says, scoffing at the notion of the latest infant fad, a warmer for baby wipes. "If [the kids] can't deal with a cold wipe, how are they going to deal with not getting a job?"

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