LOS ANGELES—Shortly after learning "mama" and "dada," Ginger and Ruby Rosenheck said "bye-bye" to their highchairs.
"They are the lamest, ugliest, most restraining things in the world and when you have twins, highchairs just take over the room," says their mother Cindy Capobianco. "So at 14 months, we got them their own table and chairs."
IKEA metal chairs at an 18th Century colonial table. "But now they do, and it's so ... cute."
Though the family lives in a two-bedroom rental home that was once a former 1920s hunting lodge in Laurel Canyon, space wasn't really the problem. It was a quality-of-life issue: As children of the 1960s and first-time parents with firmly established tastes -- he is a photographer and filmmaker, she owns a marketing firm that caters to the fashion industry -- neither wanted to dial down their colorfully offbeat approach to decor, a blend of Bohemian chic and thrift-shop cheek. Nor did they want their living room turned into a minefield of building blocks and Barbies.
They are not alone. A growing number of new moms and dads are overwhelmed by the amount of toddler furnishings on the market but underwhelmed by their appearance and quality. They have seen other parents succumb to the culture of fear that has made baby-proofing a booming business. And they have watched friends and relatives surrender their design sensibilities -- along with the better part of their homes -- to an avalanche of kids' stuff.
"Every house that has kids, there are toys and white plastic furniture everywhere. You can tell the kids rule the house," says designer Jorge Dalinger, the father of a 2-year-old. "You don't have to sacrifice the look of the house for the baby."
Dalinger -- who has turned a four-story architectural box into an ornately detailed Spanish showplace -- and the Rosenhecks refuse to let their stylish homes become peewee playhouses. They believe that listening to their inner interior decorators, taking the necessary safety precautions and setting proper boundaries for their kids make for prettier, happier nests.
This seems a welcome antidote to the "child-centric" home, as Chicago clinical psychologist David deBoer calls it. "Parents who are trying to reclaim their adult space in the house and set appropriate boundaries help foster realistic expectations versus a sense of entitlement. They are not giving their children a grandiose sense of omnipotence that will be shattered in the real world."
Being raised in a design-conscious home can nurture basic social skills, says Arlene Drake, a licensed marriage family therapist in Encino, Calif. "It instills a sense of the value of things. It helps children to be respectful of other people's possessions and their own. When you never say "don't touch" to kids, that's too permissive. What they learn at home is what they take out into the world."
Professional decorators, naturally, applaud this notion. "All the Alexanders and Ashleys who stay up until 11 o'clock and are allowed to draw on the walls because their parents put up vinyl wallpaper are going to end up in therapy because they don't know what's appropriate," says Andrew Baseman, who decorated the set of the forthcoming film "The Nanny Diaries."
Grown-ups at home
In recent years, the Manhattan-based interior designer has noticed parents opting for grown-up furnishings such as vintage wallpapers, higher-maintenance wool carpets and upholstered storage ottomans that can be used to stash toys. "I am seeing more people with older children who are growing up sophisticated about design. Maybe some parents actually enjoy sugary pastel colors, but you don't have to give kids pink or blue bedrooms."
For the Rosenhecks, simple whitewashed walls suffice for their daughters' room, which is filled with tidily organized rainbow-bright toys. Ginger and Ruby sleep in wooden cribs without bumpers because that's how mom grew up. In many ways, the Rosenhecks are doing what they never quite imagined: They are becoming like their own parents, raising kids the way they were brought up.
Both spent their early years in 1960s modern homes in suburban New Jersey. They were orderly, decidedly adult environments with comfortable dens where the family hung out and fancier rooms that were reserved for company.
Ginger and Ruby, now 1 1/2, are allowed everywhere except the kitchen and their parents' room. "We want them to see the world as a safe and open place. They crawl and climb up on furniture and if they fall, we wait to see how they react instead of freaking out and making them fearful," Capobianco says. "Most of the time, they just get up and keep going."
In this artsy, groovy place, Ginger and Ruby are kids in an eye-candy store. On the walls of their living-dining room, there is an Egyptian-themed stained-glass window, odd bits of folk art, estate-sale paintings and Rosenheck's photos of Joshua Tree landscapes and portraits of his kids as newborns.
The vaulted Tudor-style family room with a banquette and daybed covered in Indian and Moroccan fabrics and pillows has a TV that is never on when the kids are awake. Instead the room serves as a stage for family jam sessions, with dad on guitar and the kids on toy pianos and percussion. "We don't buy anything that needs batteries," he says. "We really want them to bring their imagination to things." There is an orange bucket in the room to keep stuffed animals and dolls in one place. "Kids learn quickly," Rosenheck says, "and they can live in an adult house."
An iron will