Leslie May Shares the Secrets to a Chic Family Home

Leslie May with her three children in their chic, child-proof home.Savvy chic is my approach to creating family homes that embrace fun, boisterous living and all the chaos that comes along with it, yet are still simply elegant and completely cozy. There’s no need to forego those dazzling details that make a space special—just layer them in so that they’re immune to the jostles of real life. No matter how many toddlers, teens or canines live in your home, each room can look like it belongs on the pages of a glossy interior design magazine and still be enjoyed by every member of your family.  

One of interior designer Leslie May's children lounges in the living room.All houses have spaces that naturally attract life, like the kitchen and the family room, and they have those only visited for Christmas-morning chaos or adult cocktail parties, such as the living room or the dining room. Thinking through how you want to live in each part in your house, and then giving each space a purpose—weeknight dinners in the dining room, book club in the library or game night in the living room—is the best way to make sure that you actually get to enjoy your entire home.  

If your weeknight dinners do not include table guests with exquisite manners, wrap the seats of those Federalist dining chairs in a fabulous faux leather skin so spaghetti-supper drips can be simply wiped off. Kravet has a great creamy white ostrich leather that I love so much on my own dining chairs: It is pretty much the only way white upholstery could survive in a home with my three children and a supply of Cheetos.

With a plan for living in hand, I like every space to have at least one unexpected detail that evokes the “wow, that is so cool” response. Wallpapering the ceiling is a great way to layer on the drama: Phillip Jeffries’ grasscloth or Quadrille’s Aga pattern wallpaper are two of my favorites for ceilings or on the backs of bookshelves. Upholstery is another spot to put it in the details and not the fabric, such as the tuxedo pleats of a sofa skirt with an offset tape trim (Samuel & Sons Greek key is my go-to) or a sculpted arm or curved and tufted sofa back. My favorite chic trick is storage. Try covering toy storage boxes in the same fabric as the drapes—the living room can double as cocktail venue and Hot Wheels racetrack!   

All the spaces in Leslie May's home are child- and dog-proof.Life will always be busy and crowded—even those who leave the nest return, and often with little ones of their own. Embrace the chaos and don’t compromise your design aesthetic; the two can live together under one roof. In truth, family and good friends make every home more stylish! – Leslie May, lesliemaydesigns.com

A version of this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: From the Desk of Leslie May.