EVERYTHING in our homes has significance, says interior designer Debbie Wiener. But what should be the most important concern? "Your family," she says emphatically. Wiener, principal designer of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, Md., approaches the home with an eye on comfort, ease and function. "What is the point of furnishing your home with things no one can touch?" she says. "I don't see the point." Never at a loss for words, or humor, Wiener offers tips on creating interiors that stand up to kids, pets and sloppy spouses.
Be real: When Wiener got married, she "went to town" decorating her new home. Her downfall? "I didn't stop to think about what a slob my husband is," she says with a laugh. "He destroyed everything." Her new strategy: "Design with an eye for the worst-case scenario." If you have pets running through the house, avoid tall stacked items or flowers on tables. Place them on a bookshelf instead. If you have a bad back, choose furnishings that you can get in and out of easily. If you are tall, think about shoulder and back support.
Fabrics: Choose stain-resistant fabrics such as leather, Ultrasuede and 100% solution-dyed acrylic normally used outdoors. If you want chintz, that's fine, Wiener says. Just remember to make choices based on the animals and people, young and old, who live in the house. Plan for them.
Lighting: Wiener prefers overhead lighting. Lamps can get knocked over. Adjustable monopoints create a custom look. Attach individual track lights where you want and highlight a favorite picture on the wall or items on a tabletop. The combination of natural, recessed and track lighting provides flexibility.
Secret weapon: Wiener's kids' love of Matchbox cars led her to discover "the greatest decorator's tool ever," Wite-Out. "Cars and floor toys would zoom across the floor into my white molding," she laments. Wite-Out erases dings and blends with white woodwork. Weiner also uses it around her windows and in her heavily trafficked dining room.
Windows: Draperies finish a room nicely but aren't practical in a family home. "They're going to get pulled down," she says with what sounds like experience. Wiener prefers Roman shades and blinds that cover the window when down, yet stay out of the way when up. "You can add trimmings, valances. You can make it look as grand as you like and keep it safe," she says. If you must have drapes -- say, in a grand room -- she suggests solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. They are resistant to stains, mold and mildew and are available at varied price points and sources.
Carpet: Start with samples and live with them for a week. Place them under the kitchen table where they will get a lot of abuse. Think camouflage, not beige.
Rugs: The key to an area rug's longevity in a hectic home is color and pattern, such as in the carpets pictured here. "You can't avoid accidents whether it's your kids, your dogs or your own red wine," she says. Wiener prefers wool carpets because they wear well and resist soiling. The less frequently you have carpets commercially cleaned, the more likely the stain inhibitor lanolin will remain intact, she says.
Wall color: People often choose white and beige because they assume that color will make a space too dark. Adequate lighting, she says, is what brightens an environment. In the room pictured here, recessed lights accent yellow walls to create a warm living area. Handprints and scrapes from pets are easier to camouflage. Dark, rich color can make a room with high walls cozier. Wiener prefers commercial-grade paint such as Benjamin Moore's AquaPearl, which has an enamel-like finish. It can be scrubbed and is more durable than flat paint.
Ceilings, etc.: Don't forget the ceiling. Painting it a light, fresh, complimentary color will make the room feel airier. If you have chair-rail molding, paint the lower part a darker color. That's where the kids' damage will occur. "I love color," Wiener says. "Who wants to live a beige life?"