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Credit: Erin Derby

This 2,500-Square-Foot NYC Home Is Filled With Playful Wallpaper and Serene Colors

published Dec 4, 2021
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After some two years of renovations on their 2,500-square-foot home on the Upper West Side of New York City, Neha Ruch; her husband, Dan; and their two children, Bode, now 5, and Lyla, now 3, were just settling in as a state of emergency was shutting the city down.

Fortunately, during the design process, the couple had been incredibly deliberate about creating an airy, circular flow about their new home. The strategy paid off: The layout features a kitchen at the center balanced by a quiet wing of bedrooms on one side, and communal rooms chock-full of family-friendly furniture, materials, and designated play areas on the other. 

Neha, who founded the organization Mother Untitled, a resource for moms who chose to pause their careers, says the areas they anticipated the children gravitating toward didn’t just hold up during the pandemic — the kids actually managed to maximize every inch of play space. “I remember my intentional feeling to embrace the state of life we were in,” she says. “The house was warm, [because] it was set up with corners that felt calm and grown-up and let us relax into it.”

Credit: Erin Derby

On their minimal den, designed with sturdy materials and stylish toys

With the exception of Neha and Dan’s primary bedroom, all of the spaces are open to the kids. Yet they spend the bulk of their time in the den. It’s outfitted with minimal, purposeful pieces that are comfortable and forgiving without compromising on style. 

The chic-yet-playful room is anchored by a deep-seated, sink-in sofa that cleans up quickly so the parents can relax when the kids go to bed. At the center of the room, a wood plank coffee table can take some serious kid play. Most notably, though, a row of low built-in cabinets makes toys accessible and, honestly, easy to hide. (Especially the less aesthetically pleasing variety.) Also tucked inside is a curated collection intended to facilitate play between the siblings (think: musical instruments, magnetic tiles, and costumes). There’s also an XXL Rocker Balance Board for those inevitable moments that require more active play. 

Credit: Erin Derby

On creating playful corners (so kids can help themselves)

Beyond a gridded glass wall, the adjacent kitchen and dining room houses the kid’s art table and chairs. “It’s pretty central to our family,” she says. “Now what’s cool is they’ve aged into going to the art cart, getting the supplies they need, and going to the art table.” 

In the case of Neha’s two kids, they love their art table so much, on some evenings the kids use it for their own private dinners. 

“For six months, that was their corner. In the depths of the pandemic, I got messy,” she says, outfitting the cart with a regular rotation of art supplies, including at one point, tons of glitter, watercolor, and gel pens. Together, the family indulges in sensory activities, from carving mini ice sculptures and to conducting ice rescues with water droppers to extract LEGO bricks. Neha loves to hide buttons and teeny pom-poms in Kinetic sand for the kids to unearth and dust off. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Outfitting a metal art cart with supplies is an easy way to contain and edit among the three tiers. Even if you don’t have a dedicated art space, kids will learn to roll it to the sunniest window, kitchen table, or wherever they feel inspired. Plus, the accessibility empowers kids to help themselves to art supplies. 

Credit: Erin Derby

On setting ground rules with white sofas

The dining room is flanked by the den on one side, and a living room on the other. That space feels like the grown-up room, says Neha, but in reality, “That sofa is made for jumping on.” It’s upholstered in a warm, textural, and completely cleanable Boucle Perennials fabric in (surprise!) white. It’s a choice, she says, that isn’t right for every family. “They are also rule-followers,” she notes about her kids. In other words, they know not to wipe their hands on the couch. 

Performance fabrics are not created equally. Textures, solid colors, and patterns clean up differently and some may disguise wear, tear, and stains better than others. Before you consider a sofa in this material, order a few swatches and conduct your own test, from washable marker to dirty hands, juice, and more. All that and yet, you should still be prepared to hold your family to a no-eating-or-drinking-on-the-sofa rule. 

That’s especially important in this space, where the kids get cozy for a little screen time, thanks to a motorized projector screen. 

Credit: Erin Derby

On creating a circular flow within their home

In the mornings, Dan holds court in the kitchen, mixing up waffles topped with sprinkles and, currently, apple cider donuts with the kids. “He’s the cook in our family, and thank goodness he is,” says Neha. 

Credit: Erin Derby

The family eats most of their meals at the dining table. “I purposely did the table in black to anchor the otherwise quite open flow,” she says. “Equally, the black wood and the seats in leather disguise the wear and tear because often it turns into an art table or fort. The kids literally ate under it today. 

“It’s all circling the kitchen,” she says. “We designed it that way so they would always be around us.” 

Credit: Erin Derby

On creating space for out-of-the-house activities

Also circling the kitchen, a makeshift track that Neha outlined with blue painters’ tape so that the kids can ride bikes in the house. When the magic of pedaling wears off, Neha rounds up used dryer sheets as ready-made ice skates so the kids can glide and twirl along the white oak floors. Tip: While peelable tape is a good temporary solution, don’t leave it on the floor too long or it can leave marks. 

Credit: Erin Derby

On taking input from kids on their bedroom decor 

The play doesn’t end there. The frame of Bode’s bed doubles as a play structure. “They literally swing off the top of the bed frame and launch themselves into the bean bag,” says Neha, completely unphased. But what did trip her up a bit was Bode’s thoughts on his bedroom’s color palette. 

“My son insisted on red for his room, which was not exactly what I had in mind when I was designing that space.” So, she took him to Farrow and Ball and gently led toward a less intense brown-based red called Red Earth. “Separately, I came across the Milton and King Road Trip wallpaper which broke up the color a bit with other fun bits and the idea of dinos and cars on his walls helped get him excited about the new room. The Ferm Living circle shelf is his to style as he wishes with little treasures, so that’s all him.”

Another helpful tip? If your child would like to take part in the design of their space, start by discussing their ideas. Then, based on their preferences, come up with a selection of paint colors, wallpapers, and bedding choices that they can choose from. It’s a win-win situation. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Lyla, on the other hand, was still little during the bulk of the construction. Neha says, “She’s always had a soft spot for animals and a love for being outside. I wanted something playful, but grounding and the Sparrows print felt that way.”

Credit: Erin Derby

On making a home anywhere

To keep the family grounded several months into the pandemic, Neha and Dan decided to leave their home temporarily, away from the blare of sirens speeding toward adjacent hospitals. As they hopped from rental to rental, they learned something else about their family and the meaning of home. “The kids were just fine, and we perfected the art of the move,” she says. “It taught us a lot about flexibility, that the kids are so resilient and as long as we are together, we will be okay.”