Kids Go Modern

How your children and your home's modern design can live happily together

kid and modern chair

For diehard fans of mid-century modern design, the idea of introducing children into the home may strike fear into their hearts. Some potential parents shiver at the thought of messing up their streamlined aesthetic, of replacing Eames with La-Z-Boy and clean surfaces with plastic toys from China. It doesn't have to be that way.

"Everyone we know was surprised to see that we didn't encase all of our furniture in foam rubber or put our vintage mid-century pieces into storage for the next 15 years," says Darren Bradley, who owns a Palmer & Krisel home with his wife Elise in Pacific Beach. The couple has a two-year-old daughter, Ava. "We don't really understand why, as we believe that our furniture's supposed to be used and enjoyed—or what's the point?

The Bradleys faced a challenge finding modern children's furnishings that were also affordable for their daughter. "My wife and I are passionate about design and architecture and hope to convey some of that to her," Darren says. "When we started, there wasn't a great deal of modern baby stuff out there, and what little there was at a cost considerably more than what you could find at a typical mall or big-box chain store. We just didn't see the logic of spending $1,000 or $1,500 for a crib that was only going to get about two years of use, at best."

The couple opted for some Ikea furnishings mixed with other mid-century modern pieces that could have fit anywhere in their home. "It was hard fending off gifts of furniture and decorating ideas from well-meaning parents and friends who frequently thought that baby girls should have lots of over-the-top frills, lace, curtains, flowers, and pink, pink, pink everywhere," Darren adds.

mom and kid

Now that Ava's two, Darren and Elise are in the process of transitioning the room to accommodate their growing toddler. They skipped the toddler bed and chose a twin—the Nelson Case Study bed from Modernica.

"We love the design and it's also very low to the ground, so easy for Ava to get in and out of," Darren says. Ikea shelves and bins became practical storage pieces for Ava's toys, and a modular Nelson sofa/table combination offers additional seating: "It's easy to reconfigure, low to the ground, and pretty indestructible...and it goes with the rest of the house!"

Sunnyvale Eichler owners faced a similar challenge outfitting their son Edison's room. "We knew that the furniture in the nursery would need to have very modern lines to match the rest of our house," Pam says. "We found a company called Nurseryworks that had a great line of furniture, and we picked up their Aerial crib and changing table/dresser."

The couple thought that a laboratory theme would fit Edison's room well, since he was named after Thomas Edison. They hunted for themed accessories and found them in unexpected places.

"We found a real old-fashioned Edison light bulb where you can see the long filaments," Pam says. "From there, we bought a bunch of Pyrex laboratory bottles off eBay and filled them with water and food coloring and put them on top of lighted shelves from Ikea."

new bed design and blue egg chair

The crème de la crème, however, was another eBay treasure: a Cray Supercomputer. The 500-pound monster computer is larger than a full sized refrigerator, and Pam refinished it to create a seating area.

"It takes up a good 25 percent of the room, but is a great bit of nostalgia, fits well with the laboratory theme, and provides a wonderful place to sit down—and perhaps a little storage later on down the line, if we get ambitious enough to take on that project."

Frustrated with a lack of modern designs for kids, Eichler owner Sean Curran of Concord took it upon himself to create a line of children's furnishings, called Sofali, after his first child was born two years ago.

"We had just moved into our Eichler and were having the hardest time finding anything that was affordable and not made in China," Sean explained. "I would see $2,500 dressers for kids, made in China out of the cheapest materials possible, and I would ask, 'How can these people get away with this?'"

Curran began sketching designs for a modern toddler bed and a chair inspired by the Herman Miller logo. Plans became reality as he outsourced manufacturing to a small company in Emeryville. He plans for a September launch.

The bed is constructed of formaldehyde-free, sustainably farmed maple plywood, and the chair requires no hardware. "Everything is eco-friendly and toxin-free. Also everything will be made in America," Curran adds.