"Designer Dad" Stephen Saint-Onge advises on creating tween-friendly spaces

"Designer Dad" Stephen Saint-Onge advises on creating tween-friendly spaces

Stephen Saint-Onge is a known as “Designer Dad” who combines his experience as a father of 2 kids, ages 13 and 5, with his interior design expertise to create amazing, family-friendly spaces. He believes that “good design has the power to change lives.” You might remember him from his time on HGTV. Stephen is the new Contributing Home Editor for Family Circle magazine and his home makeover projects and design creative direction are seen nationally.  He has his own blog, Designer Dad, and his most recent book is No Place Like Home.

Q.  Tweens are moving out of child-like spaces and wanting more mature designs, especially in their bedrooms. When updating a kid’s room, parents often want timeless pieces, whereas their children are more interested in making their space trendy. Do you have any advice for how parents and tweens/tweens can work together to create a space they both enjoy?  

I did a makeover on my blog of a Hollywood-inspired teen room…It was a huge it becuase it showcased a traditional undertone with the main furniture pieces (PB Teen FYI)…but then incorporated the teen into the mix by featuring modern artwork (from my own Canvas Collection) that was all about movie-making.  So it gave the teen some input into what they wanted the theme to be..but also gave the parents furniture they could live with.  Though I have to say that I love the idea of the kid’s room remaining the same after they leave home.  I think it is great to think of coming back home to the room you grew up in… Things kind of staying the same in our world of change. Very grounding.  I kept thinking of that as I was doing that teen room makeover…The kid is growing up – yet the needs and wants for the room need to evolve with the growing up teen.  Again, it’s a dance and balance between the two worlds… Keep it simple – ask them for their favorite color?  a theme they like?  a mood they want to go for?  I also think that the teen years are a time when they are developing their own style…their own vision of who they are….So why not let them be creatiive?  Let them have alittle fun with it too.

Q. How can home design encourage the creativity in children and all family members? Was there a particular space or experience that you encountered as a tween that set you on your path to becoming a designer?

I loved movies early on.  I was always drawing floorplans of houses I was seeing in films.  I liked how you could create environments…Perfect fit to what I do today!  But I realized even then that design can transport you….it can open you up to other world and places….So design can be very powerful and moving.  I loved old 1940s movies as a kid…so I remember having old black and white images of the stars that I liked up on the walls…But other times, I would change my room around to create the feel of a movie setting I had seen.  It was a creative space – my room- and I was able to create settings.  I suppose that is what it can be for other teens.  I chance to express themselves.  Why not?  They may find out they do not like what they have created.  For parents, I say – get the key pieces in place. Classic choices….then let the kids have some fun.  But they also should be responsible for maintaining it too…That is key.

I am always moving furniture around my house with my kids.  Change is good.  Moving furnitrue around is good. Trying new layouts, etc.  The kids love it.  It helps them see space and themselves in them – in new ways. Great fun.  Crank up some good music and change the room around with your kids instead of watching TV.  Great fun!

Q. You focus on family-friendly design, and that was the topic of your latest book, “No Place Like Home.”  What elements do you feel are most important to make a space famly-friendly?  In your opinion, do those elements change based on the age of the children in the family, or are they consistent no matter how old the children or how many generations are included?

It’s all about comfort for me.  I’ve designed for high-end clients…celebrity clients and just everyday real-life families.  They all want the same.  Comfort and something that is welcoming.  No one lives in a magazine photoshoot.  Meaning, no one lives in perfection.  We have to live in spaces that are good to us and make us feel at home.   We are not living in someone else’s idea of a home – it is our home.  It has to be good to us and our families – no matter who we are, where we are, how big or small our house is or how many generations live there…

Yes, when the kids are smaller – I speak from experience with my own kids – you tend to put things away when they are younger – but eventually the coffee table books and nice stuff comes back out.  I recently did a makeover on my blog of turning an unused dining room into a usable family room…white slipcovers and all.  It was a huge hit because it showed how you work with it…live with it and do that with younger kids.  Washable is key.  Hidden storage is key.  The dance between having it be good for kids but also be a grown up space is key.  I have seen many homes where the spaces become all about the kids.  It feels or looks like you are in a daycare…. You need to find the balance so that you have a space that works for you as a parent once they have gone to bed!

Q. If a parent only had the time and resources to design one room in their home, which room would you recommend they focus on to have the greatest positive impact on their family life?

The room they spend the most time in.  You do not have to break the bank…but do some simple, attainable, doable things that can make an impact…Set the stage to enjoy coming into that space.  We all deserve a place that is good to us…It will vary from home to home…but you know where you love to hang out..

Q. What is your parenting motto?  Is there a piece of advice that you’ve received that has been especially helpful?

I love the line from the film “Under the Tuscan Sun” – that says “never lose your childhood enthusiasm.”  It’s very true. Have fun with your kids. Laugh.  Even in the midst of being stressed by work or deadlines…or whatever… Just enjoy them..  I have a teenager that is 13 and a 5 year old.  One day they are in your arms the next day they are taller than you are!  It simply goes by fast.   Enjoy the moments.  The singer Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song that I loved called “Beautiful Racket” which sort of captures family life in way…Lots of noise and commotion…yet some people never notice or get to experience that noise and racket…but that is what makes family life so amazing (sometimes!)….

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