Magic Markers on Muslin: Your Thoughts?

July 23, 2008

I had huge reservations on posting this, I feared the home owner would contact me and tell me to either bite it or she’d do a drive by and take out all of my windows. But then I thought that if you have a living room that looks like this and you allowed the The New York Times to feature it then you must not really care about the opinions of others. And that’s pretty cool.

Magic Markers on Muslin: Your Thoughts?
I’d love to get your thoughts on this NYC apartment that AT calls the Kidcentric Townhouse in the East Village. Homeowner Pamela Bell is one of the four original partners in the Kate Spade brand. In celebration of 15 years of hard work, this 42-year-old single mum has decided to take time off and dedicated her home to her three children. You can read the article When Perfect Is Not The Goal and view the slideshow here.

My opinion: It’s hard to judge how another person wants to live. Period. It’s Ms. Bell’s decision ultimately. Truth be told, I’m jealous that she has a $4.3 million townhouse. I could easily split time between there and Germany, I’d gladly trade that life in exchange for my New Hampshire home at any time. And another thing that I respect is that her home is painted in colors chosen by the children. Brilliant! The fact that the whole family was involved in the color selection is quite thoughtful.

I look at that sofa, marked up by her daughter and her classmates, and think it looks pretty cool. But then the practical side of me kicks in and that side isn’t too keen on marker art scribbled all over a very expensive sofa. And chair. But it isn’t mine, so who really cares. She likes it and good for her. My only wish is that she had offered the sofa pre-markers to me first and I could have given her my Room & Board one. (Sorry R&B, but John Derian wins in this case).

Magic Markers on Muslin: Your Thoughts?
I’m not sure if their are other pieces in the home where she has allowed marker art… Perhaps the sofa and chairs are it and if that’s the case perhaps she views them as works of art and if so, fine. Go for it. But if the children have free reign over the walls and floors and anything else, I wouldn’t allow it personally because some of the designer pieces in my own home are like books, I cherish them and would never do anything to harm them. I wouldn’t draw in my favorite books nor will I allow my future children to mark them up. But who cares what I would do. This is Ms. Bell’s home. But back to the book thing, if I do have a book that isn’t quite a treasured piece (a 1969 cookbook that is already in poor condition) then I may decide to alter it in some way. Same goes for a dresser or chair that I no longer like. I give myself permission to alter it anytime I please – new fabric, new paint, etc. I think this may be the approach that she has taken here and so part of me totally gets it.

Now to make a sweeping could-be-controversial statement having to do with money. Another paragraph I dread writing but here I go…

I think it may also be a money thing. Clearly if you have millions to spend on a home then money is viewed differently than say, how I look at it. I will never own a home worth 4.3 million dollars. I have accepted this truth as most of us have. Big deal, I live large in other ways. I have lived on all income levels actually, from poor single girl to married woman with a crash pad in Germany. So I have saved a little cash and my bank account is okay. Just not million dollar okay. But I’m happy with what I have, but my mother was raised on a huge farm in Rhode Island and my dad was born in Kentucky to a working class family. Though I was raised slightly different, their roots influenced me. They were always quick to remind me of the sacrifices that they made as kids whenever I would play the “only child” card to get my way. They didn’t buy it, I wasn’t allowed to be the cherished only kid, I was to respect them, others, and our family property. I had my creative play space yes, but it wasn’t on the family sofa with my trusty set of smelly markers (cherry was my favorite). I recall when I was 4-years-old my mother gave me an original Shirley Temple doll, one that she was given for Christmas as a little girl. I took permanent markers to the porcelain face and to this day I still remember watching her cry. She wasn’t angry, she was deeply hurt. Years later she told me it was her fault to give it to a child in the first place, she should have waited until I was older and understood the value of things. It meant something to her and seeing her sadness impacted me so greatly that I looked at material possessions differently after that.

A cherished doll and a John Derian sofa are very different things so it could be that Ms. Bell does not attach herself to items in her home enough to really care what the kids do to them. If that is the case, I applaud her. Sometimes I wish I could detach from worry and not care about staining the rug.

What is YOUR opinion? How much decorating direction from the children do you allow in your own home (or would you allow)?

(images from the new york times)


  • Reply orange you lucky! July 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Personally, I love this idea!!! As long as it’s one, max to items in the house. In fact, I love this basquiat like look! Adds a little fun into the space!
    Frankly, what would look bad in this fab space – large windows, high ceilings…etc.,
    … and you can always reupholster if you really want to:)

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    This looks awful

  • Reply Jerusalem July 23, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I let my kids paint the inside of their closet from the paint lids of various paint cans when we moved in. We have a wooden bench in the kitchen that I let my 5 year old paint, with minimal instructions, and I give them lots of choices for their own room – what wall color do they want, sheet choice etc. Also I don’t mind if they stand and jump on most of the upholstered furniture, especially in the winter when they are trapped indoors so much. I want my kids to enjoy their home and be a part of the design process, but I don’t want them to take any of it for granted and just destroy anything in their path… I think their is a line between “lightly guided involvement” and “running a muck” lol.

  • Reply Melissa July 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I agree with you regarding the money vs. value issue. Obviously if she gets tired of seeing marker scribbles, she can go buy a new sofa. I could spill coffee all over mine and still have to save up for a few months to buy a new one!

    As far as the “art” goes, I do think it’s kind of neat. It has a certain charm. I mean, what could be more creative than a child’s doodles?? However, if I had a child, I wouldn’t be able to focus my living room around something like that. Maybe if it were a piece in the child’s room. Or playroom. Or even a giant framed canvas of similar drawings hanging on the wall in the living room. Just not the sofa!

  • Reply Liason July 23, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I like your approach to understanding the thought process behind this. Well I suppose that’s not surprising given your profession.

    I like to think of it in terms of a life. Right now the couch is living the life of a canvas and a source of expression and joy to some children. Perhaps some day down the line when the children have grown and the mother becomes ready for change, she will donate it to a thrift store. Think of the glorious find for some bargain hunter who lovingly reupholsters the piece and gives it a new life…
    As long as it is a source of joy to someone, I say it’s a wonderful idea.

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    It’s just upholstery, and gets worn out eventually by people’s bottoms sitting on it anyway. If they were being given carte blanche to draw everywhere it would be all over the walls, the wood of the furniture, everything. This is pretty darn obvious to any parent who looks at the room, but maybe not so obvious to the childless?

    If she likes the look, she likes it. I’m not so sure I like it, not because it looks bad (it doesn’t… it looks vibrant and alive) but because supervising the kids while they draw on the upholstery and nowhere else sounds like a world class PITA.

  • Reply Anna at D16 July 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    I was ALL OVER THE PLACE with my reactions to this feature when I first saw it, and I’m going to wear myself (and you) out if I try to get into it all.

    That said, it’s probably worth pointing out that the upholstery on the sofa is just muslin, and not a “finish” fabric. Normally the muslin would be covered with the actual chosen fabric (particularly on a high-end piece like this one), so perhaps she’s planning to have it fully covered when her kids are grown or when everyone in the household tires of it.

    And now I have to stop writing, but I can assure you that if we ever meet in person, we can talk about this subject at length and to the point of exhaustion!

  • Reply Jess(ica) July 23, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with your money assessment. when I read the article awhile back though, I disagreed with it on a more basic level. At least from the pictures anyway, the only “imperfect” thing about that room is the scribbling on the furniture, which was done deliberately. I don’t necessarily think this lends a “lived-in” feel to the otherwise “perfectly” decorated upscale acstetic.

    And tastewise, it just isn’t my thing.

  • Reply fulviastudio.com July 23, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Markers on muslin is what *I* use for my work! What came through most was how much you feel torn between the ideas [freedom/restraint, boundaries/laissez faire, etc.] represented by the article. I will take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart and creative mind for this blog and all that you show me. Cordially,
    Fulvia Luciano

  • Reply karina July 23, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I was raised taking care of everything, it was too much and I did not enjoy things,I took care of things so I let my teenager (he is a man now) do whatever he wants with his room, he did a very interesting thing but I am not going to do the same with my two little ones.
    Holly , do you have any child?
    I miss that if you wrote about it.

  • Reply rifferaff July 23, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    holly, thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone and going *there*. i agree that this has alot to do with money.
    alot of the comments on the AT posting reinforce that sentiment.
    i’m torn between admiring the fact that she incorporated the kids into the decor and being really turned off by the indulgence of it. and the fact that of course she can purchase a new john derian sofa or get this reupholstered in whatever fabric she wants when she- or the kids- grow tired of it.

  • Reply RaShell July 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    You know… I really don’t like how this whole thing looks like. It looks out of place, out of style and overall, imho atrocious. But, it is her kids, and her couch… I just wouldn’t present it as an “artistic statement” or “new trend” ;)
    The rest of her apartment (especially the things that are designed for kids) look wonderful. And I do share your sentiment about the money (and the opposite of lack of it ;))

  • Reply amber July 23, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    I think it’s great that she is so mentally liberated that she doesn’t think twice about letting an expensive sofa get markered. I’m halfway there, but not quite.

    Cheers to her for making her home beautiful!

  • Reply ericka July 23, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I just wish the wood on the sofa and chair were painted a fun color too!!

    OK, While I love all things design and cherish it all, I know(especially with a little one) that I cannot get attached to these physical things. I am actually thinking about giving our four year old a small space on the wall to draw his little characters on. As far as helping in the decor, he is always by my side…he even has a little paint roller that he uses when I paint the walls. he has helped me choose colors and fabric many of times, and for just 4 years old, I think he has a good eye..LOL. any how, like everyone else…its just furniture, it’s just stuff…but the expression and time with your kids are priceless and worth more in value than our decor! so I say have fun with your children because some never get that chance.

    I have learned from having a child that we cannot get attached to our things in our home, because sooner or later something will get broken(and most cases it will be at least one thing we loved), and sippy cups will spill..I think on some levels having kids teaches you about not getting attached to it all in that sense! I have had my fair share of blotting up juice, sweeping up broken dishes, cleaning fabric dye(sigh I can still see the stain in the carpet) Carpet and kids do NOT mix…off to clean mine now…shucks!

  • Reply Christine July 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Wow, so much to say about this house… I was married to an artist and one night he decided to paint a mural on one of our walls. Living with artwork like that- partially finished, huge and bright colors, much like the sofa & chairs is REALLY hard. You think that it's cool at first. Artistic and funky. Then you find out that you can't walk into the room after awhile without wishing it away. It's just too much. So, yes, I have 3 kids and they are very much a part of the design of my new house, but NO WAY would I allow this sort of thing. I also agree with the comment about supervision of this "write on the couch but nothing else" would be a NIGHTMARE.

    Love this blog- great inspiration and thought provoking!

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    I love the room. Its the best thing I’ve seen on the blogs in over a year.

    Its a masterpiece. This is a classic example of a home as ART

    You sound a tad jealous. Okay more then a tad jealous.

    Anon :)

  • Reply Kati July 23, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I love the idea of having kids decorating the furniture – it looks very fun – but I most enjoyed your examination the fact that allowing children to scribble on good furniture is truly a luxury. Like you said, the doll and the Derian are two different things and both hold different meanings for both you and Ms. Bell. The disparity of being of modest income but working for and covering mostly higher end or luxury items can be frustrating. It’s one of the pains of curating. Sure you can’t own every gallery piece but you can share the objects and your interpretations of them with others. Thanks for sharing the image and your thoughts. I didn’t find anything to be too controversial, but then again I think what you said resonates with me particularly.

  • Reply kirstenrana July 23, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I think part of it is a mother’s wish to encourage creativity in her children – just on a very, very expensive canvas! On a side note, I wonder if she pins up their artwork on the fridge? :)
    My mom ran an art and framing gallery when I was growing up, and every piece of art my brother and I created at school was framed beautifully and hung proudly throughout our small family home. She still hangs them to this day, and my sister’s ceramics are positioned next to pieces by professional artists.
    I’m not crazy about walls covered in chalkboard paint (all that dust), but there are other options like back painted glass, and my favorite, a graffitti board. Preferable hidden, like the underside of a bunkbed or a desk.

  • Reply Erin July 23, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I don’t personally like it, but that’s okay because it’s her couch in her house, and what I think doesn’t matter. (or what any of us thinks, really!) I’m sure the family element and the personal connection with her kids is what she enjoys most about it.

    The downside is- how can you ever get rid of that couch? What parent would want to discard a canvas that was covered by their children’s art in their youth, especially when faced with those same children grown and moved out? Face it, for better or worse, the homeowner is saddled with that couch for life!

  • Reply corine July 23, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I would never dare but I love it.

  • Reply erik July 23, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    To be all “Well, she’s obviously out-of-touch because *I* would never do that to an expensive couch” misses the point. If you can’t afford that couch, then of COURSE you wouldn’t do that to it. But I’ll bet you’d take some other piece of furniture that you can afford and hack it in a way that a person even poorer than you would be all “OMG Why did she paint that lovely dresser PINK! She obviously doesn’t care about the value of THINGS like *I* do!”

    From an aesthetic point of view, I like it. From a familial-culture point of view, I luuurve it. I hopehopehopehopehopehope that this couch becomes a family heirloom, and that her kids’ grandkids’ fight over who gets to take “the couch” whenever who has it dies. It’s like a history lesson that you can sit on.

  • Reply Sylvie July 23, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    I like it. But only in this context. A child doodled sofa surrounded by very expensive rugs, on a parquet floor, and as you mentioned…in a very expensive townhouse. A scribbled sofa in the average person’s home would probably look less spectacular, and even trashy. I must say, that side chair looks quite uncomfortable with the thick paint on it. But as sculpture it’s fine.
    Nice getting this dialog going Holly. You’re so clever :)

  • Reply Sara July 23, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your thought process about it. I had seen the pictures and wasn’t super thrilled with the sofa…but did also admire her for incorporating her children and their creativity.

    BUT, I completely agree that it’s a money thing. If you can afford all that, then it’s clearly no big deal to just buy a new sofa when you are sick of it. How do you balance cherishing and encouraging your children’s creativity with establishing (even if you do have a ton of money) respect for the fact that not everything in life is disposable or easily changeable?

    I frame my daughter’s art, but I also love that we finally own a home that I can decorate to express my creativity, too, so I can’t say that I would ever go for this particular look myself.

  • Reply liza July 23, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    It seems like the creation of the artwork on the furniture was a one-time event, which I think is important, as distinct from having young ones draw on the furniture any time they want. At first I thought her kids could just go add something anytime (maybe they can), which would freak me out – too many confusing boundaries. That said, I think a one-time project like this could be super, but for my child’s bedroom and maybe created on a slipcover, not upholstery. I think of upholstery as longer term and a more serious commitment, I guess. And I personally couldn’t have made the decision to let children draw on my main living space furniture because I need to know what something is going to look like in there beforehand. For example, I couldn’t live with the primary colors in big blocks on the one chair, but I kind-of like the couch and the other chair facing it. Ms. Bell didn’t get to choose, though… she made the commitment to live with their creations before they were created. That’s brave. While I couldn’t do this, I think it’s so cool that she could and I would definitely marvel and gush if I ever were invited over!

  • Reply mer July 23, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    i think it rocks.

  • Reply Doris July 23, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    My first impression? Is she nuts! But, then I realized my thinking was a money issue. If it’s okay for me to do that with a thrift store find, why can’t she do it with her John Derian pieces? The monetary value is probably comparable from her perspective to mine. I love seeing that she decorates like I do, using thrift finds (the suitcase tables, the old desk) and inexpensive artsy things like the urban outfitters light fixtures when she could obviously have afforded any light fixture her heart desired.

    Kudos to her for embracing her children’s spirits and personalities and fostering their creativity! I agree with Liza that as a one-time decorate the sofa and chairs it was a cool project. Allowing children to draw on things any time they please is quite another. DO you want them going to Aunt Sophie’s and painting the antique chaise?!? It doesn’t appear that is the case with Ms. Bell’s children.

    I love her house, and admire her for making a choice that seems to go against the grain of “her” society.

  • Reply Elizabeth July 23, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Thank you for writing about this – I thought it brought up so many interesting issues I didn’t think of when I first read the NYT story.

    What is most important to me – as I raise my children, is that no matter the cost, that we do not prioritize “things” over people. This is not to say that I will let me children misbehave or willfully destroy things just because they feel like it. But if a bowl is unintentionally broken, be it a family heirloom or a soup bowl from Target, it is important to me that we just let it go, and that we don’t make our kids feel bad because of it. It is harder to do if you don’t have a lot of money to replace the bowl, but no less important.

    As for the couch – I admire her guts when it comes to decorating her home. I really like how it looks! But I do think there’s an important distinction between children being given permission to do this, and children doing whatever the heck they want to.

  • Reply Sarah July 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I love the reasons for decorating this way and also that she was able to/feels comfortable enough to do it. However, aesthetically speaking, I think it’s hideous.

  • Reply Paula July 23, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    We’re rich and bold. Magic markers on muslin what a great idea. France eat your heart out.

  • Reply helen July 23, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Mmm… doesn’t look like it’s a house where children live. Childhood confined to a very small area. Very controlled. Yep, a cool idea, but I find the room very un-natural and I wouldn’t want to sit on the sofa. My three small kids mess my house up, make it dirty, get sand everywhere. They are on the floor, on the walls, on the doors. I let them live their lives while I look forward to them moving out and I may just get a clean house with nice carpets – one day.

  • Reply 20 Something Superhero July 23, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I appreciate the owners’ thought in allowing her home to reflect the fact that she has children and that they live there too. However, this is not something I would have in my own home.Personally, I do not like the look of it. Too cluttered, too busy and just not my taste. But that can be said of other pieces NOT created by children.

  • Reply Jamie Watson July 23, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    What an interesting post! My parents gave my brother and I a wall in our laundry room to paint and draw on. It was very exciting and it made my brother and I feel very special. We loved showing it to friends and guests. My parents kept our house very neat and orderly, so I was very proud of them for letting us do this.

  • Reply TONYA July 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Personally, I think this looks fabulous .. but only in a children’s playroom. I am actually having visions of my ‘future’ playroom if I ever get one where my kids can decorate a piece of furniture just like this.

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I've just got to simplify this dilemma (I totally understand what you're pointing out): Given the circumstances with her beautiful home children & furnishings, the couch is most appropriate in an artistic sense. She's 'outside the box' here. I love it for her.

    Sylvie's comment that the couch might look trashy in more humble setting is spot on.


  • Reply ceVec July 23, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I’ve been reading through the comments, and I’m a little surprised that no one touched on a point made early in the NYT article: this attitude about furnishings is in direct opposition to her previous marriage’s style (in which she lived in “a temple to architectural perfection”).

    Yes, she and her family have the means to change their home as they wish. But this article spoke to me of a family using their home as a free expression of themselves after feeling stifled by the perfectionism of the trophy penthouse in which they previously resided.

    As Ms. Bell points out in the article: “Life isn?t perfect … and you can make yourself crazy chasing an antilogy.”

  • Reply Erin July 23, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    I liked reading your thoughtful opinions on this design approach. I too think it’s a cool idea and a great way to let your kids express their creativity. But I also have a practical side that says I would not want to look at that everyday, something I seriously consider when buying furniture or art for my home. $$, or lack there of is also something I consider when buying pieces. I just let my 3.5 yr old pick a new paint color for our bathroom, she was stoked and satisfied with her design contribution.

    On the other hand I informed her I’m wrapping all our Christmas Gifts this year in half of her large, colorful, paintings from preschool. I thought it would be a cool way to share her creativity with everyone we love. AND the remaining 40 paintings are hung in our home or lovingly stored away in a rubbermaid tote for when she decides to never look at them. Still, the girl fell to the floor clutching them saying…”NO, you can’t get rid of my art!!!” So, enjoy that couch for eternity Ms. Bell. :)

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    You are not your possessions, but what you see affects how you feel.

    It seems to me like she wanted everyone who walked into the living room to be reminded of her children’s creativity. Those that prefer kids who are seen but not heard would naturally shy away from such an ostentatious promotion of artistic values. The fact that it occurs on a very expensive sofa is admirable: it says that creativity trumps wealth. That’s a rare message in this day and age. I, for one, wish we heard of it more often.

  • Reply decor8 July 23, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    cevec – I am SO GLAD you pointed that out. Thank you. As I was preparing this post I actually wrote a few sentences about how she is divorced and perhaps this is some kind of rebellion against her ex, maybe he was uptight in his approach to their family home and so now she is going for a ‘you only live once’ bohemian lifestyle. But then I refrained from writing that because after reading the NYT article 4x, I didn’t see any mention of her ex-husband with the exception of how he attended a recent party she threw. So I deleted my sentences and published this post because perhaps her ex was this amazingly artistic guy who encouraged creativity in their home for like, ever. Now that you shed light on this, I get it and see that my assumptions were indeed correct. Now I love this lady even more. I LOVE that she broke free from her marriage and is celebrating life with her beautiful family and together, they are doing whatever the hell they want in their hip townhouse.

    Now I wonder, and it’s NONE OF MY BUSINESS, but who the man was and if that sofa was perhaps one of those ‘hot’ issues in the house… You know, maybe he was always uptight about sitting on it or getting it dirty and then the moment he left she invited the kids to draw on it – liberation, baby!

    Ha, funny thought…

  • Reply Jennifer Ramos July 23, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Thats wild, I LOVE it though! I actually posted about this yesterday on my blog.

    Jen Ramos
    '100% Recycled DESIGNER Cards & More'

  • Reply andi July 23, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Great idea, but maybe better on a smaller scale. Too busy for me.

    I let my daughter draw on and design her pillowcase with markers, and we frame and hang her art regularly. I think it’s important for children to start learning the value of things and money, but MUCH more important to learn their OWN value.

    I love art and need creative time every day, and I’ve noticed my daughter loves it too. I enjoy the memories we make more than what we make.

    It is hard to get over the ruined couch, carpet, etc., when you have kids, especially when money is scarce. However, I realize that all too soon the kids will be grown, and then I can get that ivory couch. ;)

  • Reply LaundryBasketCase July 23, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    You do have an interesting point there regarding the money aspect of it. I wouldn’t do that purely because if I got tired of the marker pen look, I wouldn’t be able to afford a new sofa. On the other hand, if it is restricted to the sofa and chair, then what Ms. Bell is doing is no different to another mother who says her children are only allowed to draw on the black board in their rooms. But free reign to draw on any surface is too much- we all need our boundaries.

  • Reply Laura July 23, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    I think it’s great, but I’m also glad I don’t have to look at it every day! I love to see kids included in decorating and creating some of the designs in their own room, or even in a family space. A painted IKEA sofa would be fab in that context! But kid art on a beautiful piece of furniture like that seems a bit too much like defacing.

  • Reply ellencrimitrent July 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    I do not love it at all, its just not tasteful in my opinion and why didn’t she just dedicate a wall full of their illustrations in frames, that would look much better. Maybe she should sell her townhouse and get the money to buy a smaller home she can really furnish!!

  • Reply annechovie July 23, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Hi Holly,
    First of all, excellent post. You make so many good points and I found myself nodding in agreement and smiling at your humor and honesty. I don’t have any children yet, but if/when I do, I think I will definitely let them do what they want in their own rooms or a playroom, but not so sure about the main living area. I am probably too anal to let them mark up an expensive sofa….

  • Reply Alex July 23, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    I think its a fantastic idea and another great idea is to use a stencil on muslin or burlap as an inexpensive way to make your furniture unique. Look at these stenciled stools I bought in France.


  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Great topic. This is a rich family doing something that many poor youth of color do, yet the poor youth go to jail/get probation/vilified, etc. I’m glad that the art/decorating world is opening up to graff art. I hope people can try to understand the similarities between this piece and what poor urban youth frequently do.

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 10:16 pm


    …Immediately brought to mind ths armoire, which can be viewed at the link above.

    It fascinated me because it is subversive. In childhood most of us were socialized NOT to mark on furniture or other property, so it’s a celebration of taboo-breaking.

    On an intellectual level, it’s intriguing. It challenges the viewer to re-think what is decorative, what constitutes surface design.

    The sofa seems inspired by this armoire, or it could be completely coincidental.

    The kiddie-scribbled sofa is, IMHO, both the unecessary decsecration of a beautiful object
    (which posessed both aesthetic and intrinsic value) – and an interesting testimony to this person’s child-rearing philosophy.
    It represents a family’s core values are more important than arbitrary material values, that comfort and creativity are valued above objects. I like that as a principle, but would find a less extreme way to express it. The “altered/personalized” furniture could be in the children’s rooms, and instead of beautiful sofa, they could experiment with inexpensive swap-meet pieces prepped with a base coat of new paint.

  • Reply Mona Mour July 23, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    My mom once told me that her favorite thing as a kid was a new box of crayons. The excitement of using them for the first time, the smell, the sharpness. She now regrets that she was always buying me new boxes of crayons so I would have that joy all the time. She thinks she robbed me of enjoying new crayons because they weren’t a luxury and I never seemed to get that excited about it.

    If you let your kids color all over the sofas without an understanding of the economic impact of that … well, it seems like you’ve got one more frivolous person coming up in the world. Let them color all over an inexpensive sofa, and donate the cost of the pricey one to a homeless shelter. That’s embracing your family and teaching them to find joy in life.

  • Reply Haley July 23, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I love how she involved the kids in picking out the paint colors and such, but I do not think that I would ever allow my kids to color all over the sofa. I would not want them to think that it was ok to do that, that anything could be a piece of canvas to color on. I think that their is a line between including the family in decorating the house and letting the kids color on the couch. I would be too afraid that they would go to someone else’s home and do the same thing. I think that it is a great idea to have one wall in the kids room or playroom that they and their friends can color on.

  • Reply melanie July 23, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I have to say, I’m really surprised at this post. Yes, the design of this room looks expensive, and yes, it’s very creative and personal, and yes, it involves graffiti. But I fail to see the controversy.

    Decor8 is one of my favorite blogs, and certainly my favorite design blogs. But MOST ideas, products, and rooms that show up here are well out of my price range, even though my husband and I make a decent better-than-some living. Not to mention that it’s not terribly common to see things here that are kid-friendly.

    What I saw in these pictures was yet another richly decorated room in a home I could never afford, with furniture I could never afford, only this time the owner has made a point to let her kids feel involved. I don’t think it’s how I would decorate my living room, but it’s creative and reasonably well done, and she can apparently afford to do what she likes.

    I guess I’m missing the point of contention. But Holly, I can’t afford 95% of what you post here, so why would I criticize this one woman? How is this different than what you usually post: expensive design with a creative flair? What brought on the existential crisis?

  • Reply KIm July 24, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Wild. If one has endless boatloads of money to replace it when the novelty has worn off, great. Otherwise, I’d prefer to encourage my kids (if I had any, that is) to draw and let loose with chalk on something a bit less expensive, like say, the sidewalk?

    Thanks for this – loved your post and agree with you – but you’re much more diplomatic than me!

  • Reply Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 12:45 am

    I love it! There is no better art than that which is done by a child (IMHO). When you tire of it, you can upholster in a finish fabric.

  • Reply Pippa Rex July 24, 2008 at 12:46 am

    Firstly – I hate when people have their kids decorate things. Lets face it – kids pictures are not good – they may have sentimental emotional value but they are not art. I don’t want kids to cook my food, design my clothes or decorate my house! I do however like the look of the couch but it sure doesn’t go with the big fat grandpa style rug.

  • Reply angela July 24, 2008 at 1:05 am

    it’s just a sofa, sillies.

  • Reply Chef Messy July 24, 2008 at 1:19 am

    You know, I’m all for giving kids opportunities to express their creativity, but does it really need to be on the furniture? I just wonder what kind of lesson it teaches them about respecting property, whether it’s theirs or other folks’. It’s OK to color the couch at home, so why not color the sofa at Grandma’s or over at their friend’s houses? Whether it’s a $10 sofa or a $1,000,000 sofa, you just don’t trash a sofa just for the heck of it. Kids need to learn there are appropriate places for art – like on a canvas. I don’t know, I’m just really not for it.

    Then again, I wouldn’t even use chalkboard paint on the wall because I was afraid my four-year-old would get the idea that ALL walls are fair game for artwork!

  • Reply decor8 July 24, 2008 at 1:22 am

    melanie – hi! :) i’m happy you like this blog and thank you for posting a comment. you asked me a question but after reading your post several times i’m not really following you (sorry i’m tired tonight)… what exactly is your question again?

  • Reply melanie July 24, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Thanks, Holly. I guess my question is how this room is different from other rooms you feature. They’re all usually pricey and have a uniquely creative flair. So I’m wondering what the point of contention is with this room?

    I can understand not liking the result, but I don’t understand the problem with modifying expensive furniture. That shows up often enough on decor8, yes?

    The fact that she let her kids do it just seems to make it extra personal and uniquely kid-friendly.

    And I’m sorry if I’m not making a lot of sense. I’m trying to type while keeping my nine-month-old from haranguing the cats…

  • Reply Raina July 24, 2008 at 1:58 am

    I love the couch. It looks fresh and not just another trendy thing that anyone can buy. As I go from blog to blog everyone is showing basically the same items that anyone with money can buy to get the look of the moment. I have 3 kids and could tell them that drawing on the couch is fine just as drawing on paper or the chalkboard walls we see everywhere is but not the walls and they would understand. As I remember her kids are not toddlers. As far as the money issue I have a Pottery Barn couch with white slipcover and could just as easily do the same thing on a moderate priced piece and in the 6 or so years until I would need to replace the cover anyway have something interesting. As one blogger pointed out it is done on the muslin that normally would be covered with an expensive piece of fabric anyway. So perhaps she is saving money and will not have to be uptight about the kids ruining an expensive upholstery job while the kids are young and later on can change it. Also she does live in an expensive home but has furnished it with many inexpensive pieces.

  • Reply Leslie July 24, 2008 at 2:48 am

    I hate this on so many levels. Fabulous space…ridiculous couch. And I’m not anti child at all, but this is plain dumb

  • Reply AnastasiaC July 24, 2008 at 3:08 am

    i personally dont like it but maybe this woman has ‘guilt’ issues and just wants to make her kids happy by allowing them to ‘express’ themselves by destroying nice pieces of furniture…vintage or new!
    my boys who are still very young always steer towards disney character decorations, quilt covers and art work, toys…im doing my best to avoid buying that kind of stuff as I dont like the look of it oh and i dont allow them to play with paint (or playdough)inside the house at all – thats an outside activity for us…haha mean mummy? maybe!

  • Reply decor8 July 24, 2008 at 3:13 am

    melanie – oh okay, i get it now. :) well i think that because i’ve never posted anything that showed a home decorated by children is unique and of course showing living room furniture drawn on by little fingers is nothing i’ve ever posted. :)

  • Reply Limauge Boutique July 24, 2008 at 4:13 am

    My first reaction to this article was, how could you let your children do that to your furniture? But then, I looked at all of the photos in the article and realized that the “kid furniture” is only a small part of the house and Ms. Bell has decorated her house with a grown up style while making the children feel like they are important and have some say in what their living space looks like.

    As far as having something cherished and seeing it destroyed, yes, I have had things like that happen to me with my children. I get mad at myself sometimes for putting “too much emphasis on material things” as my Mama would have said it but as I have gotten older I think I have figured out how to separate just an object from something that has a deep memories attached. That is why we keep those things because they remind us of a time or place and we just don’t want to give up that memory.

    It is funny how things can have such a hold on us but as long as we know which ones to keep and which ones to throw away I guess it is okay.

    Just my two cents.

    Thanks for the article.


  • Reply hildA July 24, 2008 at 7:54 am

    I just LOVE it, great idea. She owns one of a kind seats now, and the value of the expensive seats aren’t diminished, it is only upholstery. When it is worn out I would even put them up in frames to keep them as art later on.

  • Reply Johanna July 24, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Hurray for the homeowner that puts the lives and comfort of her kids first! Too often it the ‘money thing’ gets the best of the homeowner and they tend to buy the best and finest because they can (I live in a community like this.) Kids don’t need to grow up feeling like they can’t touch this or go there in their own home! In my humble opinion, when someone can afford it, it’s best to take the road that enriches the lives of the kids. As I often remind myslef, someday they’ll be grown and gone, there be no more mess and I can have the fine furniture. At that point that graffiti sofa will be a reminder of the fun and freedom she had raising her kids!

  • Reply freshie (and zero) July 24, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I loved this blog post – your thoughts were very clear and insightful – nice job! I personally think that sofa looks silly.

    When we were kids, we would draw all over a t-shirt and wear it with pride. Drawing all over a sofa is a bit inappropriate, whether or not you have millions of dollars to replace it or not.

    My mom allowed me and my friends (or maybe we just did it without asking) to write notes on my closet walls. For a decorating control-freak, something as unobtrusive as that was fine with her and it was fun to go back and visit as an adult and read our silly notes!

  • Reply AmyK July 24, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    You know, I think its fine. Maybe not just fine. Maybe great.

    Value is a relative thing. Sometimes value is measured in money. Sometimes value is measured sentimentally. I would assume in the case of this couch, the latter is true. Yes, its a John Derrian and we all know what it much cost, but who cares. I’m sure its infinately more valuable to the owner now. Its different than an accident – an inicident of a child just not having any boundries. The boundries were the couch and the chair. The children were obviously encouraged to do this, and I’m sure it was in an effort to make the house theirs too, not just a stuffy place for adults to be adults. And when it gets old, if that is ever the case- voila. Call the upholsterer and go ahead with the finish fabric.

    I cherish my stuff. My eames chairs may not be worth thousands of dollars, but if someone took a marker to them, I would probably scream. BUT- I’m an artist too and I know that there is nothing more interesting in a room than something original and brave. And this is certainly that. So I say, good for her.

  • Reply Kathryn July 24, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I kind of love it. And if you have kids, it makes so much more sense than a white sofa – or white anything actually. And as far as letting kids do this to an expensive piece, if you’re okay with the idea in general, and you can afford something like that, then why not? Martha from Nibs posted this awhile ago, where the kids have taken over an entire portion of wall space, and I love this idea too: http://nibsblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/kidfile-15-the-writings-on-the-wall/

  • Reply Tracey July 24, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I give my Little One (10 years old) some creative freedom with items in the house, but do not allow anything that would hurt the value of our real estate and investment. We all need to play once and awhile. I love jerusalem’s comment about letting the kids have the closet- great idea!
    I am staying clear of the whole money thing- sorry!

  • Reply melanieiscushti July 24, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Firstly, this couch is hardly ruined. It's not like Bell let her kids loose on it with spray paint, a hatchet & a blow torch and displayed the resulting mess as a piece of abstract art and flagrant display of spendiness. The sofa shipped in muslin, ready to be upholstered. In that capacity I see it acting more as a time capsule – at some point that muslin is going to get grimey but can be upholstered over which is likely the intent all along (to put words in the mouth of Bell) but the choice was made to enjoy and make a mark on its bare-bones state for a time.
    I really like it. I think it's a wonderful testament to the choices parents need to make all the time between having nice things and acknowledging that those nice things will be subjected to the whims of children.
    I am about to embark on a similar venture with an Ikea couch I bought for $75 second hand through kijiji…though mine will involve kids ranging in age from 6 to 47 and be done on the canvas slip cover with paints at a front yard painting party.

  • Reply Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t understand how letting kids draw over a couch symbolizes their presence in a household and allows them to be involved in the design of their living spaces. To me it’s just an expensive craft project that got installed in the middle of the living room. As far as interior design goes, I think this is more of an eccentricity or rebellion from the structured work environment the designer was exposed to for fifteen years.

  • Reply Nathalie July 24, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    If i had children and they were old enough i would certainly do up their room as they wished, whatever color they wanted as we are entitled to our spaces, wheather we are 5 or 35. But markers off the white sofa full stop ! :)

  • Reply furniture4evr July 24, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Just because I strongly dislike the disorderliness and it looking like a mess doesn’t mean that it’s wrong – just different.

  • Reply lizzyl July 24, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I love this!

    I personally don’t see the controversy… That is the sofa she liked, the shape is beautiful, etc. It isn’t “ruined” just because the kids were allowed to decorate it. Kids can understand the difference between being allowed to do that on a specific piece of furniture and not doing it in other people’s homes, especially at the age her kids are. The sofa is easily recovered and it isn’t that expensive to do that.

    I think it’s great that she let her kids take part and is encouraging their creativity. One day they will probably look back and remember projects like this as what got them started in living a creative life.

    I also love the juxtaposition of these “messy” pieces with the other things in her home. Also, it’s just a couple of pieces like this, not the entire house!

    When I read this piece I bookmarked it bc I thought her home was so inspiring. I also don’t really think it’s that much to do with money. I didn’t grow up with any and we were encouraged to take part in decorating our home through painting murals on the walls, choosing colors, etc. Being allowed to do that at home didn’t teach me to trash other people’s things or turn me into a tagger! ;) I think it’s more of an attitude that things are just things; whether you can afford a John Derian couch or an IKEA one, the concept is the same.

  • Reply dekko July 24, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    actually i find it fantastic, unexpected and “nuts” case.
    I loved it.
    I will start to look around for an empty sofa.

  • Reply kirsten July 24, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    I’m envisioning this woman laughing and spending time with her kids…and for a few hours they are more important than the sofa (something that she probably cherished at one point during her career)…

    so maybe it’s not just making a statement in her living room, maybe it’s really a statement in her living – if she stopped to stay home with her kids maybe this was just part of the process, staking a claim that she’s reprioritizing what she finds important.

    i love it, can’t afford it…but love it.

  • Reply Laura July 24, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    I hate this. With a passion. Are we meant to raise children so entitled, so “super special”, that they think scribbling on the furniture is “cute” and “charming”? Please, no.

  • Reply Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    In my opinion, there is a difference between inviting children to decorate a piece of furniture and tolerating marker vandalism. I think the chair and sofa look fabulous — and I’m sure the owner thinks so ever more so because they have been personalized by her children. Naive/children’s art is a very refreshing touch in a wealthy person’s home — but of course it does look better surrounded by a home and objects of obvious value. It’s also very practical because accidental marks are not going to ruin the pieces. I’m sure that many people who had valuable pieces upholstered in the 80s have since had them re-upholstered to update them. I don’t see why that would not be equally possible in this case. Upholstery choices usually aren’t forever.

  • Reply Cindy July 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I love the sofa and the chairs her children did. It made it truely child friendly and removed the angst and worry about
    “what if the kids get [fill in the blanl] on it??!!”

    Besides, the New York Spaces had an ad for sofas upholstered in patchwork fabric. While I loved the first few I saw, I disliked how they looked in the ad…to polished and shiny. Does that make sense? Devoid of charm is the main thing (as opposed to the first few I saw which were wonderful).


  • Reply AshleyBug Designs July 25, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Personally I think this is fantastic. I’m really into bright color where you don’t expect it. I also love that your children can play a role in decorating your living space. It also teaches them that material possessions and furniture aren’t to be worshipped and that fun and creativity should be a part of everyday life.


  • Reply Rick Bucich July 25, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Reminds me of the Edisto Graffiti Boat in South Carolina. Definitely has some charm to it and some memories were made and preserved by letting the kids use the markets on the furniture. Not sure if I am quite on board regarding doing it myself however. I marked up the walls of my bedroom as a kid and my mom left it all there, probably as a lesson because it?s quite embarrassing now.

  • Reply Anonymous July 25, 2008 at 2:29 am

    I dunno – I read the post and these comments before actually reading the NYT article.

    The whole article read (to me) like a Valentine to the three children whose mommy feels remorse about “working double time since 1993” while stifling them in their temple to architectural perfection. The house looks pretty cool – and clearly money is no object. But I think the central issues on display here are less about avant garde decorating and design and more about a mid-life crisis, rebellion/reawakening after divorce, plus a whopping good case of Mommy Guilt.

  • Reply ChrysRT July 25, 2008 at 2:42 am

    This is very courageous of you Holly to express your opinion and therefore to open up a discussion among us. You put yourself out there.

    I just want to share a similar experience that of Pamela Bell.

    We had an fairly big apartment with white carpet all through out. One day we found out that underneath was hidden a beautiful wooden floor. Before we removed the carpet, we invited all our friends and their children for a Fun Carpet Trash Party.

    We had set markers, paint everywhere and anybody could do what ever.
    It was such a rewarding, freeing experience!!!! We still all remember it with fond memories.

    Memories are important to built in a family or/and with friends. I think that she gave her children and their friends a very stimulating, fun and freeing experience that they will remember all their life.

    Memories like that feeds your soul, emotions and mind. And these memories are priceless!!!!

    And as it has been mentioned the furniture are still covered with muslin fabric and I don’t see any damage to the furniture.

  • Reply patti haskins July 25, 2008 at 4:03 am

    I like the couch. But what do I know, my furniture is all decorated by my six claws intact cats. Shred art we call it.

  • Reply arline July 25, 2008 at 5:10 am

    I love the idea, and to me, her house looks tasteful.

    I too, would love the means to have what she has. I save, put things on layaway, and really appreciate what I have, but what she has done does not mean she does not appreciate what she has, she seems to be embracing her life, and is being creative, while at the same time, including her family.

    We were not even aloud to go into the living room growing up. I never understood what we had a living room for. It is nice that she allows her children the freedom to enjoy where they live.

    As for letting my kids choose the colors, well that would be fine, as long as I too loved the choices.


  • Reply www.projectblancoyd.com July 25, 2008 at 5:49 am

    This is such a tough thing to think about. I have a house that screams the set of lemony snicket or harry potter and kids want to come in and play with everything but at the same time I and have a mini panic attack when something breaks. I guess I am too into the velvet room idea. Although i once heard of a couple that were shrinks and they had a room designated in the house where the kids could do whatever they wanted to it including drawing on everything. When the house sold the room looked much like an abstract painting. I think this is a better idea if you do get sentimental and attached to your belongings and money is an object

  • Reply Designer furniture July 25, 2008 at 6:36 am

    These rooms look wonderful, to my eye. I love the creativity of “designing” your own furniture and I love the paint colors throughout the house, the wallpapers, and pretty much everything else?s. but I did not have a chance to look at the whole place but it is so far pretty.

  • Reply pinkstilettos July 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    This is a great idea but I don’t think I could ever do it. The children have there things everywhere as it is- the entire house would a playroom which I guess is the idea here! Daisy~

  • Reply Jennifer July 25, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I don’t think this is a money thing b/c she would have honestly bought something perfect if she was wanting something designer…sometimes i think rich people get judged a bit harshly. I do agree that it might look “unconventional” and to some – tacky. Sure, everyone has their opinion….However, it is her home, and it is her style. In my opinion, I think she gets a kick out of knowing that her kids have put in some of their design input. Kids have no restrictions when it comes to their creativity-when you grow up, there are many restrictions that hinder your creativity and kind of stifles it….

    At any rate, I think it’s her home, so she can do whatever she wants to do, and it’s sure interesting!


  • Reply Hurma July 25, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    When I first looked at this image, I thought it looked unique, but not tastefully put together. And the fact that the sofa is expensive made me a little irritated. “Let them eat cake” came to mind, because it seems like she is teaching her children that expensive furniture, like anything else, is there for them to use however they please. I try not to be bitter. But then, I read her story. It appears that this situation is unique to her and the spotlight changes. They lived in a stiff unhappy environment before her divorce… and it seems she didn’t buy the couch for them to scribble on… but that it was a symbol of new beginning. None of us knows anything about her life, except for what we see in the pictures and read in her article. Though I would prefer it if she donated the couch to charity and bought them something less expensive to decorate… it is her house and her right. This was how they wanted to start a-new and this is exactly how they did it. Props to her for making light of life.

  • Reply Ibidem July 26, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I find it mildly irritating when people suggest she should donate the value of the couch to charity. Why? Has she done something wrong? It can’t be the fact that she is rich, at least not in America, where wealth is considered a positive thing.

    To me, it seems that she has offended some prudish values typical of the middle class (including the imperative “learn the value of money” and “worship hard-earned things”).

    I think that this post demonstrates the clash between that type of little bourgeoisie mentality and the upper class relative freedom from the diktat of status. It seems to me that what you are saying is that it?s ok to save up to buy an Eames chair, as long as it?s displayed in a classic way, without subverting the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie values.

    I believe that’s what brought the existential crisis on (I think Melanie’s questions were spot on).

    I apologize for any mistakes, English is not my mother tongue.

  • Reply TopsyTurvy July 28, 2008 at 2:32 am

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, but … I think this goes beyond money , and is more about ego … How cool & hip & uncaring about money am I that I let my kids draw on the sofa?

    Also seems like the “me” generation and their spawn are now seeing their own images in their children and falling in love all over again, with the kids. And in the process are becoming totally indulgent and letting the kids rule the households and make all the decisions.

    Initially, I thought the couch looked pretty cool, as I like the graffiti art look. But aside from how it looks, I think that children need to be taught boundaries and guidelines and how to live with nice things without destroying them.

    These kids are going to grow up with even bigger egos and senses of entitlement than their parents. I would certainly give them decorating rights in their own rooms, but not give over the main living areas.

    My question to the mother would be, are her own friends and other adults comfortable in her home? I know I’d be afraid that if I sat on that sofa, magic marker ink would come off on my clothes. Yikes!

  • Reply Anonymous July 28, 2008 at 2:32 am

    This sickens me. To think that I may have to teach these children with boundary issues and a cultivated sense of entitlement makes me shudder.

  • Reply Liesl August 13, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    It’s only a sofa. I don’t understand the controversy OR the need to make assumptions on the character of the homeowner or her children.

    I think it’s a fantastic and would cherish it as an heirloom.

  • Reply Jennifer May 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I agree with Liesl above. It’s only a sofa. They are only things and can be taken away in the blink of an eye, no matter how much money you have or don’t have. Children are members of the household and should be encouraged to participate in the creation of the environment they are going to live in. Wouldn’t we all feel stifled if we lived somewhere and had all the decisions about that place made for us? By looking at the rest of her home, you can see that this was a chance for the whole family to express themselves collectively with the couch being just a part of it.

    At the end of the day, what’s more important? Keeping a piece of furniture pristine and “valuable” to everyone else or sharing an experience with your children by allowing them to create something and add significantly to your home?

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