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16 Little Ways Families Say “I Love You” Through Their Homes

published Feb 11, 2021
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If you’ve ever read The Five Love Languages book (or taken the ubiquitous online quizzes to suss out which love language is yours), you may recall that they are: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and receiving gifts. But I’d wager that there’s also a secret sixth love language: Home decor choices.

Sure, I’m a decorating writer, but I firmly believe nothing says “I love you” quite like allowing your spouse to hang an eyesore of a painting in the living room — or not saying a word when they rearrange the space ad nauseam. Case in point: when I got pregnant with our son, my husband and I chatted endlessly about how we wouldn’t be “those people” that let toys take over our previously streamlined living room. Well, proof of how much we love our bebe is now strewn over seemingly every inch of floor space. Where pristine carpet and surfaces once reigned, a jumble of books and toys now dot every surface. It gets cleaned up once a day only to explode again the next morning — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Of course, there are plenty of less-messy ways to express your love to your littles and partner through your decor. I reached out to interior designers and tastemakers alike to find out how they say “I love you” to their family through their home’s design, from a subtly Star Wars-themed bedroom to an L.A. Lakers trash can.

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Revamp their room — their way.

Even if they want something you kind of hate. “Though it pained me greatly, my husband and I agreed to let our daughter [Cricket, age 9] design her own room,” says designer Jean Liu of Jean Liu Design, who lives in a 1920s Dallas, Texas home. “Unlike me, she loves bright colors, bold patterns, and lots of stuff! She chose a turquoise blue paint color for her walls, a multicolored floral-themed bedspread, and asked to have three self portraits framed to hang over the bed.” Arguably the cutest detail: they changed out her dresser’s simple knobs for painted red flower ones.

Even if you love their room the way it is. Redondo Beach, California mom and interior designer Kate Lester had a similar experience with her five year old, Mackenzie. “This year, for Christmas, my daughter requested a bedroom makeover,” Lester says. “I thought it was already the cutest most perfect room ever, but apparently it was the bedroom I always wanted, not her, because she firmly stated that it ‘doesn’t feel like me one bit, Mom.’” When she requested a Star Wars-themed room, Lester obliged, tricking out the space with a few nods to her obsession. To keep the budget in check, they kept all of the big pieces like her bed, dresser, and rug, and just updated the bedding, art and accessories. The result was well worth it: “When I opened the door to her new room, she yelled “Yes! It’s perfect and it’s like ME!” and that’s all I needed to hear,” Lester says. 

Even if you know they’ll outgrow it. In Houston, Texas, designer Nina Magon  (who has a new collection out with Wall&decò) wanted to make her daughter feel comfy in the family’s new home, so she outfitted it with one of her favorite things — Barbie — including vintage Barbie art, pink bedding, and pink glass lamps.  “Even though I know she will grow out of it eventually, I wanted her to love her new room and be happy every time she walked in it!” says Nina.

However, some designers have found themselves happily surprised by their kids’ choices. When Washington, D.C. designer Annie Elliott’s sixteen year old daughter Ruthie redecorated her bedroom, “I expected Ruthie to choose an outrageous, multi-colored, screamy wallpaper, but to my surprise (and delight!) she selected a very sophisticated design: ‘Les Toits de Paris’ by Manuel Canovas,” Elliott says. 

Display their special things.

Remind them of their best days. Making things more orderly isn’t typically a thrill for kids, but Chapel Hill, North Carolina designer Leslie May found a way. Leslie had large upholstered bulletin boards made to fit over each of her kids’ closet doors. “I covered them with photos,” she says, noting, “I had the idea when my oldest child was going through the ‘misery of middle school,’ when nothing is great. When she lay in bed at night she could see happy pictures of summer vacations and Christmas mornings and be reminded of all the love she has in her life.” (The middle schooler inside me is here to say: brilliant idea, Ms. May! I could have used that!)

Remind them of their victories. In San Francisco, designer Emilie Munroe took a similar tactic for her 8 and 3 year old sons. Both boys have large 36″ x 48″ cork boards in their rooms to display their art, awards, photos and trinkets. However, she says their most special cork board is in their kitchen. “It’s a mix of all our special memories and events:  Dad’s bike race pennant, sonogram pics from both boys, polaroids from our wedding and swim race results.  This board is a bright, loving reminder of the energy and passions of our whole family.”

Take their artwork seriously. Liu lovingly displays her daughter’s ceramic dog and unicorn sculptures throughout their home. “One sits on a Lucite base in the library bookshelf, while another is displayed on an 18th century Italian commode. We love these little touches throughout!”

Put fun and imagination first.

Center a space on a really fun toy. The only thing better than a few hours at the arcade? Bringing the arcade home. “The children got a vintage Mrs. PacMan machine for Christmas and the whole family is having so much fun with it that I am letting it live permanently in my living room,” May says. “It does not go with the alligator wallpaper, but the family time together and belly ache laughter is worth it! That’s love!”

Go big on imagination. In Vancouver, Canada, Storkcraft President and CEO Adam Segal encourages his two daughters, Georgia and Coco, to dream big — so much so that he styled his youngest’s room in a sky theme. “The clouds on the wall over the sunny blue backdrop serve as a constant reminder to me that life is full of so many possibilities, and that the sky truly is the limit,” he says.

Design to their dreams. “Every stylish framed piece of art I chose for above my son’s bed was met with “please take it out of my room, it gives me nightmares,” says Manhattan Beach, California, mom of two Lauren Meichtry, founder of designer pillow shop Elsie Home. So she surprised him with something she knew he’d adore. “I redid his bedroom with a giant map of the world above his bed,” she says. Now he can dream about places he’ll visit someday (when we can all travel safely again).

Include a piece of the past.

Combine fun with comfort. “I love my boys through their bedding,” says Nashville designer and mother of four Stephanie Sabbe. In her home, the blankets and sheets have meaning. “Fun sheets let them know I love a well-designed room, but I care about what they love more. I top each bed with vintage patchwork quilts with a couple of holes to show them the beauty of imperfection, and a fluffy flannel duvet. Because what day is not made better by a kiss and a prayer and a warm, fluffy duvet nuzzled up to your chin?”  

Pay attention to their favorites. When Los Angeles designer Melissa Warner Rothblum’s then-four-year-old daughter became obsessed with her bureaus (the iconic Dorothy Draper-style Espana chests), Rothblum redid the dressers just for her. “When she got her ‘big girl room’ I surprised her by having them refinished from black and gold, to coral and white, to suit the rest of her space.”

Hold on to things they love. Atlanta, Georgia, freelance writer Emily Jackson, the brainchild behind Stuffy Muffy, decorated her daughter’s nursery long before she arrived. “It is a space brimming with bows and traditional touches that she has been able to enjoy as she grows,” she says of the space, seen here.  When her daughter recently reached the big girl bed milestone, her main request was keeping her beloved floral Biscuit bedding. So Jackson swapped the crib-sized sheet for euro shams in the same pattern, continuing the thread from her baby room.

Treat your partner, too.

Everyone deserves a space for their treasures. Carving out a space for you and your partner, separate from the shared family spaces can be an act of love. “We recently built a guest house in our backyard which includes a home office for my husband,” says Rothblum. “Although I’ve had my eye on lots of things, I catered the office toward his hobbies and interests, so he can have a space that really feels like his own.”  Rothblum even installed floating shelves specifically to hold his bobble head collection. She also hung large photographs of some of his favorite concerts (he’s a huge live music fan), but the piece de resistance is an L.A. Lakers trash can he has had since childhood that had never found its footing in the main house. 

Focus on what matters to you. Of course, with your partner, sometimes showing love is about what you don’t say or do. Says Portland, Oregon designer, father of one, and author of the new book Modern Americana (April 2021)Max Humphrey: “I could rearrange the entire house and bring in all new furniture and paint the exterior hot pink and Mayra wouldn’t notice for about three months and then maybe would say ‘is something different about the house,’ and that’s why we get along.” Now that’s love!