Can Formal Decor Still be Family Friendly? Yes!

The question on deck is this: can formal decorating still be family friendly? It’s a comment/lament I hear from families so often – that they can’t have anything nice because their kids (or pets) will destroy things. Okay, so first – and not to be too obnoxious about it – but kids don’t need to actually jump up and down on the nice furniture. I recall my parent’s having rules about the kind of behavior that was acceptable in which room. In other words, the living room was for entertaining in nice clothes and we weren’t allowed to sit on the furniture in our play clothes (much less jump on the furniture). And our dog was never allowed on the living room furniture. And you know what? My parent’s had that furniture for 40+ years. I still have their Hickory Chair settee which has been reupholstered once, about 20 years ago.

Anyway, the good news is that technology has come a long way and there are so many wonderful and durable fabrics on the market that even mishaps are nothing to worry about. And this is not to only blame the kiddies and the pets. We adults are known to slosh a martini or red wine around at times as well – amirite?

Linda Merrill design South End Boston 02116 | michael j lee photography Formal Living Room gold tan Formal family friendly 1
Linda Merrill design | Michael J. Lee Photography

For this South End Boston townhouse project I worked on a few years ago, my clients wanted a truly formal a luxurious living room. But they also had an 18 month old baby and they wanted it to double as a work space and as a place for over night guests to sleep since they didn’t have a guest bedroom. Smaller city dwellings need spaces that pull double duty.

Linda Merrill design South End Boston 02116 | michael j lee photography Formal Living Room gold tan Formal family friendly 2
Linda Merrill Design | Michael J. Lee Photography

The main furniture pieces – the sofa from Baker Furniture and the arm chairs from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams were upholstered in durable fabrics that were comfy to the touch, wouldn’t show wear and tear and were cleanable. The sofa was upholstered in a fine nubby chenille and the chairs in a cleanable velvet. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure – the client’s did forgo a cocktail table while their daughter was still a toddler.

Linda Merrill design South End Boston 02116 | michael j lee photography Formal Living Room gold tan Formal family friendly 3
Linda Merrill Design | Michael J. Lee Photography

And the table below, situated in the bay window space, actually had a glass top which we removed for the photos. It made this the perfect work space for when my clients needed to work from home.

Linda Merrill design South End Boston 02116 | michael j lee photography Formal Living Room gold tan Formal family friendly 4
Linda Merrill Design | Michael J. Lee Photography

From Atlanta designers Heather Dewberry and Will Huff, we have these gorgeous formal family friendly spaces that were featured in Traditional Home. (Click over for images)

From the article: “While the chaises were custom-made to fit Jeff’s 6-foot-1-inch frame, “the kids have totally claimed them,” Andee says. Fortunately, the designers covered them with a durable chenille basket-weave fabric. “This is a high-traffic room, so we made sure fabrics would perform.” A center coffee table/ottoman wears easy-care Ultrasuede. “You can spill anything on it and wipe it off,” Dewberry says.”

“Durable fabrics such as Ultrasuede cover furniture to withstand traffic from the swimming pool just outside this terrace-level rec room.”

All of the fabric houses today have durable high-performance fabric lines for family friendly decorating. Some are indoor/outdoor, some are still better indoors, but can hold up to a lot of use and abuse. Gone are the days when Sunbrella Cabana stripes were all you could get!

Lonni Paul for Duralee Crypton fabric formal family friendly
Lonni Paul Crypton Fabrics for Duralee


Thibaut Fabrics Reverie-Quinlan Crypton Fabric Formal Family Friendly
Thibaut Fabrics Quinlan pattern from the Reverie Collection a Crypton fabric
Thibaut Fabrics Crypton fabrics from their Reverie Collection


Schumacher high performance fabrics formal family friend
A sampling of Schumacher high performance fabrics


I’m currently working on a project for some lovely clients who are doing a total gut-reno of an older home in a suburb outside of Boston. They are looking for high-style that’s also highly durable.

Dining Room rendering 021819

This image above is a rendering I did for their floating banquette seat for their dining room which we’ll be upholstering in a faux leather that looks and feels like the real thing.

Linda Merrill blue and white formal family friendly

In the kitchen, we’ll be making a custom French Mattress style bench seat cushion using this luscious blue fabric from Perennials Fabrics that will stand up to any spills that may occur.

Linda Merrill orange tan brown palette formal family friendly

In the tv sitting room, there will be a brown velvet sofa and possibly this fun upholstered bench below that my clients ordered from Ballard Designs. I’ve pulled together an assortment of durable fabrics from Kravet and Lee Jofa to use on a love seat that will also be in the room. Comfy seating, that can withstand feet up and doggy cuddling is very important!

Linda Merrill ballard designs bench seat formal family friendly

In one of the bedrooms, we will be reupholstering a comfy lounge chair. Below is an assortment of fabrics to choose from. The color palette has been inspired by a Cloisonné lamp that my client owns in a gorgeous teal blue color. Such wonderful and chic choices, no?

Linda Merrill teal green palette Formal Family Friend

And finally, an assortment of high performance brown velvets for a headboard. What’s amazing is that there are is so much choice in color and texture in these durable fabrics!

Linda Merrill brown tan palette formal velvets family friendly

So, as you see, if you have a hankering for a more formal living space or for luxe fabrics in special places, don’t let the prospect of kids, pets or too many cocktails worry you!

Formal family friendly fabrics (I love a good alliteration, don’t you?) are so accessibly and come in a nearly infinite choice of colors, textures and styles – there is truly something for everyone! Many of these fabrics described here are available to-the-trade only, but please be in touch if you would like any information!

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7 thoughts on “Can Formal Decor Still be Family Friendly? Yes!”

  1. Ha, wouldn’t it be nice if kids did actually jump up and down anywhere instead of sitting transfixed on their electronic devices! We never really had a formal living room when my children were young but our living room was the room with only the fireplace (no tv) and that’s where we’d snuggle and read and wind down for the night. More like the quiet room rather than the formal room. I love your designs Linda, they are amazingly beautiful!

  2. Great post, Linda! Indeed we have come a long way from the scratchy awning striped outdoor fabrics of times past! So many lovely choices and your current project is going to be beautiful! I’ve heard the “the kids are just going to destroy it” excuse to justify disposable furniture more than once, and it’s just not necessary – buy correctly and you only need to buy once! Ultimately, that’s both financially and environmentally more responsible.

  3. Hello Linda, When I was growing up, we had a living room and a family room. Both rooms were used and welcoming, and we kids were expected to be at least semi-civilized (the basement and yard were for our less-restrained moments!). As with you, the furniture lasted through many moves, and some is still in use.

    It’s funny that there is a designer named Will Huff. There is a bizarre story of the mega-famous march composer Henry Fillmore using the pen name Will Huff, and a real march composer named Will Huff (not to be confused with another popular march composer named Huffine), and how their names and compositions became increasingly intertwined, especially after the two Will Huffs met and started collaborating!

    • Hi Jim – Obviously the name Will Huff is popular! And yes – we had a living room and family room – and neither place was the place for jumping on furniture. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that people don’t teach their kids to respect their property. I mean, of course kids will try to do it – it’s fun after all. But guidance is needed!

  4. I’m intrigued by the floor in the South Boston house. Our son rented “space” in South Boston years ago when he was at Berklee College of Music. It was in a house that had been absolutely beautiful, but it had been carved up into many tiny rentable spaces. The floor was parquet, and I wanted to bring it home with me to save its soul. South Boston seems to have changed over the years.

    • Hi Caroline – I’m not sure when your son was living in the South End (South End or South Boston?) I’m guessing End since it’s closer to Berklee. But it’s been completely gentrified over the last 25 years with extremely high property values. I loved the floor in this townhouse. My clients had bought their unit from a flipper who had gouged the floors using a circular sander and then splashed cheap poly on them. We had a flooring restorer come out, sand the right way, reset all the nails and refinish. But he did say that was the last time they’d recommend sanding as they were extremely worn down with age and bad care. So, from then on they recommended an annual cleaning and re-application of the sealer, but no more sanding. I don’t think my clients ever did that. And now the floors are no more because they did a total gut reno (without me!) a couple of years ago and moved the kitchen from 4th floor to the 2nd and the floors had all been replaced. I saw it in real estate listings when they sold it last year. It was a beautiful renovation, though I was sad to see the floors go.


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