Child-friendly homes aren’t a top priority for most architects. This is true mostly in developing countries where child-safety laws aren’t as stringent as developed countries. Further, child-friendliness isn’t just about safety. It is about providing the children of the house, a living environment that nurtures them and helps in developing them into healthy individuals. Architect Clare Cooper-Marcus published a book in 1995, titled “House as a Mirror of Self”. The book was a result of almost twenty-five years of research and it involved interviewing about sixty-five people about their homes. The book has a chapter called “Special Places of Childhood” and the author has expressed throughout, how our house reflects our inner psychology.
But most architects don’t think about children when creating a blueprint for a house. Apart from the token ‘children’s bedroom’ and probably an outside play area, there is not much thought put into the young residents. It is important the architect understands family dynamics, for example, “are they a family that sticks together” or “do we need to create more privacy for the teenagers?”. Now let us look at some key pointers that can help an architect design child-friendly homes.
This applies if an architect has come on board before the client finalizes the location & plot. As parents, most clients will think about the obvious factors such as proximity to schools, public transportation, and community sports centers, etc.
However, as an architect, you need to weigh in more on the size and shape of the plot. If a plot is large, then a backyard with a play area is essential. But if the client’s budget is limited, you can help them select a plot on which you can innovatively include the outdoor needs of the child. You can make space for the car garage and garden accordingly.
If you notice, most playschools and nurseries tend to leave a lot of indoor open space and keep very little furniture. It is known that too many dividing walls and furniture tend to restrict the child’s growth in creativity. This of course applies to younger children more than teenagers. Small children need space to run around and channel their energy. If an outer yard is not possible, then there should be space created indoors.
In fact, if the kids are very young, the architect can create a separate playroom inside the house. Later as they grow, this room can be redesigned to accommodate the parents’ hobbies or for any new requirements. In the outdoor play areas, the architect can add elements that occupy less space and yet are fun for the children. For example, a trampoline, a sandpit, or a kiddie pool. Small ideas go a long way in creating child-friendly homes.
In modern young families, the kitchen is becoming the center of most activities. It is a unifying place where the family eats breakfast, works on school projects, and entertains their children’s friends. Hence, an island counter or a dining table within the kitchen has come to play a large role. Architects need to allocate space to the kitchen to accommodate such activities. Further supporting storage is also needed. For example, there could be a snack cupboard assigned with easy access, so that the kids can help themselves independently. As the table takes center stage in the kitchen, the architect might want to allocate a separate storage room for groceries.
If space is a constraint while creating a child-friendly home, a pull-out breakfast bar is useful. It helps a working mum whip up meals as her kids eat their morning breakfast. It can later be used for homework in the night, allowing the mother to oversee the kids as she cooks dinner. Safety is essential, so all inflammable and heated spaces should be kept at a distance from the kids. Architects are now accommodating built-in ovens in the wall or cabinetry. This helps protect children from unwanted burns. Countertops and tabletops should sturdy, easy to clean, and scratch-resistant. This helps reduce restrictions on kids, which is an essential element of child-friendly homes.
Unlike other members of the family, children pass through multiple phases of life, in a span of a decade. As they grow, there are more things added for functional reasons, and the old items kept for nostalgia. An architect should add sufficient storage space to all the rooms- living room, dining room, kid’s bedroom, and common areas such as large corridors. Space under the staircase can be used too. When the children are small, toys strewn around tend to make the house messy. A unique solution is to provide storage inside the floor. A cavity within with a pull-up wooden panel makes the toys accessible to young kids. Yet, it also makes it easier to literally sweep the toys under the floor when guests come in.
School-age kids need to work on projects, that may need storage through the school year. A large study table or floor space is essential to work on these. Luckily, as most schools go digital, physical school books are on the decline. However, if there is a reader in the house, ensure space for books. Teenagers might have their own hobbies so space for storing hobby items like drum kits, paints, or sports gears is essential to create a child-friendly home.
Floors & staircases tend to fall either in the interior designer or architect’s purview. However, let us start with the staircase structure first. An architect should avoid spiral staircases or hanging staircases. In the former, a child is mostly incapable of the hand-eye coordination required to use a spiral staircase. In the latter, there is the risk of the child falling through. The railings must be so designed that they are close enough and the banister should be of a sufficient height.
It is important that floors have one property- that they are anti-skid. In many developed cold countries, carpets are the most kid-friendly option. However, in warmer climates, architects opt for ceramic or vitrified tiles that have an embossed surface. They are grainy on the surface and unpolished so that one gets a good grip when walking on them. Wooden flooring is a good natural option or laminate floors work just the same, for clients who are on a tight budget. Lastly, bathroom floor tiles should have suitable anti-skid properties.
Let us now talk about general safety measures. For entry and exits such as gates and main doors, architects should use locks that have double safety features. One, that is ideally not easily operable by children. Nowadays, the whole house can be wired using IOT so that parents can remotely monitor and let a child out, in case of exigencies. The window should be grilled or netted to prevent accidental falls. Cordless drapes are more suitable for child-friendly homes.
If designing a pool, it does no harm to use measures which are required by law, in some countries. A four feet tall fence which is self-latching is important around a pool. Additionally, one can add alarms to the door that leads to the pool. For non-fitted furniture and large electronic items like TV, it is important that they are prevented from falling on children. Make sure your clients anchor these items and use anti-tip brackets where necessary.
We hope the above pointers have clarified the requisites of a child-friendly home. Most importantly, an architect must acknowledge that these are evolving homes. So, everything from the kids’ bedroom to common living spaces, must change as they cross various life stages. So structurally, a child-friendly home should be able to accommodate these changing factors. Apart from this, a little thought and perspective through the eyes of a child will go a long way in creating successful homes for young families.