Kathryn M. Ireland, the former music-video producer turned interior designer, has helped with a textbook's worth of schoolwork while raising her three boys with her Saturday Night Live filmmaker husband, Gary Weis.
Yet the full extent of their homework headquarters consists of little more than a nook in the kitchen of their Spanish-style house in Santa Monica, Calif.
"You just find a corner and put up shelves on top and then a desk portion bottom, and then get baskets to put papers in and to put staplers and pens in, to get those out of the way." Ireland e-mailed from France, where she has a home.
What? No trio of junior-executive suites for Oscar, Otis and Louis (age 20, 18 and 16). No, not three. Not even one. That's no tragedy, say many interior designers.
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The low-tech, minimal space requirements for a homework retreat should assuage parents who have deferred upsizing their home, perhaps staying in the urban condos of their DINK (dual-income, no-kids) days even as their brood has grown and begun grammar school, with nary a playroom/craft table to call their own.
"Life doesn't allow for absolute silence. I'm not a believer in solitary confinement being the only way children can accomplish something," says Celerie Kemble, the New York and Palm Beach-based interior designer and author of To Your Taste: Creating Modern Rooms with a Traditional Twist. "Your child can work around a kitchen table; perhaps that's the best space. You want to be within chatting distance."
Kemble, who has two tots, does believe in one study-hall-at-home amenity, no matter the children's age: "One of the most important things is letting them have control of their drawers and supplies," she said. "If you can control the chaos and clutter and give kids an easy and understandable way to create their own order, they'll enjoy the ritual to sit down and do their task."
HOW TO CREATE AN ALCOVE
On a dime: Children don't need the deep, hulking "magic desk," says Kemble. Scout out a kitchen corner or a small closet to convert, or look for a window niche to retrofit in the kitchen. Install a countertop across it, then buy a file cabinet on wheels. "Those can fit under a countertop, and when you need to convert the space to 'grown-up' and attractive, the cabinet can be rolled easily into a coat closet."
Deluxe: If you have the space, a playroom can provide surface area and storage for homework and craft projects. For one client, Kemble's team installed a double-wide desk whose top can convert to a magnetic art easel, with a built-in roll of craft paper. "That is an example of a really tricked-out space," Kemble said, "down to the point where we have special hinges so that they wouldn't crush little fingers."
ON THE WALLS
If you have a simple desk area in the kitchen, Ireland, author of Kathryn M. Ireland: Creating A Home,due in stores in October, suggests adding a cork wall covering -- using tiles or sheets. Custom-cut them to the space as a "backsplash," with push pins to post schedules, good grades or quick references for math and grammar.
Fabric-covered bulletin boards add a punch of color, as does a small lamp with a fabric shade.
Ireland likes chalkboard magnetic paint for inside the pantry door. "It's easily customizable and you can add and subtract on a weekly basis depending on your family's schedule."
Deborah Skolnik, a senior editor for Parenting magazine, recommends building enthusiasm for homework with a few affordable amenities for younger children: the fish-shaped stapler, the monster pencil sharpener that chomps as it works and -- the ultimate status symbol for youngsters -- the 120-count box of Crayola Crayons.
"Even if they're not allowed to take (certain) cute things to school, you can designate some only for home."
Skolnik is a fan of the kitchen table as homework HQ. "If you're a working mom, you can do your homework -- checks to write, whatever -- at the same time your child is doing homework, to role-model for him. And you'll be nearby if he needs help."
Or you can make dinner and use recipes as a way to stealthily incorporate math -- reading recipes together and working on fractions with slices of cake, for instance -- which can double as a reward for an A-plus effort.