How a mom with two kids (and a dog) pulls it off.

By Katie Holdefehr
Updated June 04, 2018
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Joanna Ballentine

Fact of life: When you have kids living at home, whether they're five years old or fifteen, it's almost impossible to keep your home looking nice. From the toy clutter, to spilled plates of food, to crayon scribbles on the wall, living with little ones makes maintaining even the best home decor plans difficult. So when we stopped by the home of Joanna Ballentine, the blogger behind Irrelephant, and saw how she kept a home that was effortlessly beautiful while living with two kids under four and a dog, we had to ask her her secret. As it turns out, designing with the kids in mind and letting them inspire her decor choices helped Joanna create a home that's as much a sanctuary for her little ones as it is for her and her husband. Here are some easy-to-follow tips to turn your own home into a stylish, family-friendly space.

Joanna Ballentine

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When you have a “dream home” in mind, it can be hard to reconcile the design choices you want with the reality of living with kids. To help make practical decision that are still pretty, Joanna says she would envision what she wanted and then ask herself an all-important question: “Is this going to get destroyed?” If so, it was time to consider something similar. “So, for example, I wanted a linen couch,” Joanna explains. But with two young kids and a dog, it just wasn’t in the cards. “Basically, we went with a leather couch and anything that we could build.” The couch is still a beautiful natural material, but one that’s much more durable than her original plan.

Joanna Ballentine

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“I like things that have character and flaws,” Joanna says when describing her personal design aesthetic. Luckily, that wabi-sabi-inspired, bohemian-influenced look pairs well with little ones. “Even if we didn’t have kids, I would probably still want things that have texture,” she says. Choose vintage finds with patina and you won’t have to worry if something shows a little wear and tear. Most importantly, this will help you create a home that’s as much for you as it is for your children. “I don’t want to create a home where I get frustrated with my kids,” Joanna explains.

Katie Holdefehr

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Joanna’s natural style is pretty neutral, so after having kids, she realized that she was going to have to relax the color palette. “ I want them to have memories of our home being joyful, and like a sanctuary for them, and I think color can bring that out,” she explains. Small bursts of color pop up all over the home, from the supplies in the explore room, to the kids’ framed artwork, to the painted pastel circles on the walls of Theo and Alma's shared bedroom.

Joanna Ballentine

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From the kids’ artwork, to beautiful framed family photos, to the “explore room,” where crafts and learning take place, Alma and Theo have helped inspire their home’s design. To make things easier, Joanna has strategically placed storage so it’s accessible to her little ones—kid-friendly snacks are stashed on a low shelf in the kitchen so the kids can help themselves without having to bother mom and dad. And next to the kitchen sink, an IKEA hack stool helps her kids wash their dishes or a piece of fruit without having to be held up (or worse, climb on the counter). The result of all of these carefully considered kid-friendly choices is a space both kids and adults will love. “We do have a lot of adults come in, we love hosting and having people over, and I want them to feel comfortable and relaxed and feel like this is a little sanctuary for them, too. It’s just a good balance of children and adults, combining and feeling like it’s a retreat.”