I really enjoy designing children’s rooms. As with all my clients I try to get into their heads and imagine what would make the space a dream come true. Children make this especially fun. Kids love to tell you what they like. The creative impulse is so clear – I have never met a child who didn’t have an opinion about their room. Children’s spaces also demand acknowledgment of their interests and personalities. If you ignore the style in which they play, rest, or collect, their rooms will quickly be either abandoned or a poorly functioning mess. Listen to your children, watch them, let them inspire you and I’m sure you can create something original and spectacular for the kids in your home. Or call me…
First things first, kids’ rooms should honor their style of being in the world. Are they neatniks who need everything to have a home? Are they pilers? Hoarders? I say that with love as I have one of these… How much floor space do they need for play? Do they have constant sleepovers? Read until all hours? Need a clean surface for studying? Or are they better on a big cozy chair? Take the details into account when creating the structure and layout of a room. Each room should have appropriate light, shades, storage, and somewhere comfortable to relax. Start here – get those key needs sorted and then layer on your kid’s quirks and don’t be afraid to let them lead you down a path of whimsy and imagination.
Lighting is an opportunity for fun, but please be sure they illuminate- do not forget function! All kids should have a great desk light and nice bright bedside illumination for reading. On the flip side, blackout shades are a gift for the whole family. Put simply, the darker the room, the longer they will sleep! Bedroom shades should always be backed with blackout liner.
Kids have stuff. Lots of stuff. Smart storage is key. Many children are natural collectors. These collections will ebb and flow over the years, but odds are they will always need a place for storage, so I try to make sure there is plenty of both visible and hidden storage. Shelves are a must as most kids have things they want to display. And please be sure they are secured to the wall, so when someone decides to climb it (which they will do) they do not topple over. I really like the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System. It’s strong, simple, works in both traditional and contemporary environments, and moves with you. It’s equally at home in an office or a young boy’s room and can be reconfigured or added to as needed. A super investment. And as most parents agree kids accumulate things they don’t want to see (10,000 stuffed animals anyone?) hidden storage is a must. Perhaps add an under bed drawer or a pretty ottoman that opens to reveal the random accumulations of childhood. Think about each child’s specific collection and then come up with the best storage for that item. I like using glass containers with screw tops for gathering all the tiny things – shells, balls, etc. These always look much cooler sorted and gathered together. There is no reason to succumb to ugly plastic bins either, look for baskets of natural materials or felt. Etsy is a good source, as are catalogs like West Elm and CB2. I also like using pretty straw bags for dolls and doll clothing – there are so many around these days, even some with pompoms! I also repurpose huge old bowls of metal or wood for Legos or blocks etc. Large groupings of anything can look great.
Then it’s time to have fun! What are their interests? The breadth of possibility is only as wide as your imagination. I think it can help focus you if you pick a theme, but then expand your interpretation of it beyond the usual parameters. Of course you can go the color route and emphasize a shade they love… be bold, embrace the whole room and layer different shades of one color rather than one big bright moment – it works much better. I tend to stay away from characters, but rather look for a theme and play on that. One boy had a deep love of Batman. Rather than adding licensed superhero items we chose to focus on the feeling of Batman and Gotham and install a large wallpaper thunder scene over the bed and brought in bats in the form of kites and bedding. This child is now 14 and out of his bat phase but still loves the wallpaper mural. One fabulous girl’s room was like an enchanted forest with silver and purple floral wallpaper, a faux bois mirror, a branch bookshelf and a lovely baby deer photograph from the Animal Print Shop. We found an inexpensive old wooden desk and painted it several shades of lily pad green. A toddler boy’s room tended towards darkness so we embraced that and added a very sweet star mural on one wall and an old family wooden bed which happened to be very low. This room will grow with him for quite a while, deep blue is extremely easy to live with– incredibly calming and soothing.
Walls… they are such an opportunity to play. I love wallpaper and think it’s fun to take chances here, with great impact. There are endless possibilities now, but just a few of the companies I think make great fantastical kids paper are Flavor Paper, Schumacher, Easkayel and Bartsch. Don’t shy away from strong patterns, they often read as texture once up. I mixed two different papers in my daughter’s room, silver glitter (gorgeous and pricey) for one wall and a simple silver flat pattern (cool and not pricey!) for the other three. Painting patterns is a great less expensive option as well – free hand or stenciled. I’m a fan of imperfection and asymmetry so don’t worry that it has to be perfect. I’m a fan of a racing stripe around the room – it can bring a disjointed space together. Again, easy and big impact. Murals can be great and there are original resources on Etsy that will do a wide variety of wall stickers. Just be mindful – less is more here and I think metallics have more refinement and chic than primary colors. One shared girls’ bathroom we used glue and sprinkled glitter about, then sealed it with a clear lacquer – who doesn’t love sparkles?
While small children love to have furniture just their size, I caution against filling a room with furniture made just for kids. It can very quickly look like a catalog and I find the quality of most kids lines is just not great. I also am not a big fan of toddler beds. I prefer to just move directly from the crib to a mattress on the floor and add a frame when ready, rather than wasting money on something so short lived. I avoid predictable and boring – there is way too much opportunity for something special here! Creativity for kids’ rooms is also a great problem solver.We needed a bedside table for one project and simple canvas covered blocks were a great solution. The child took it one step further and made magnificent drawings and doodles with sharpie all over them… a very cool original piece. Don’t be afraid of using adult sized furniture or using paint on something less expensive to make it interesting. I love family heirlooms in children’s rooms, and often the quality of older furniture is better than new. They are very grounding and every kid likes having something with a story behind it. I also believe in investing in something special that they will have for the rest of their lives. I splurged on a BDDW desk for one of my son’s big boy rooms with the thought that he will have this special piece as he goes off into his grown up life. I think living with special things and being taught to care for them teaches appreciation.
Here is my main no kid furniture exception: I love a bunk bed. Ducduc makes a great one using hardwoods (no MDF!) and solid construction. Some of them have the option of conversion into twin beds. I also like custom building these into rooms in such creative ways when space is at a premium. Trundle beds also work well and are great for storage. Mattresses are important – invest in a good one, as this is where they will do all of their growing! I really like The Organic Mattress Company who will ship right to your door. And for bedding, I get creative and will find beautiful king-size sheets (there seem to be more varied options) and have someone sew up a twin duvet cover with sweet unusual buttons. Bedding is such an easy switch, take chances and mix and match sets. I also love the Australian bedding company Castle. Their color sense, flouros and fabrics are awesome.
Carpets are another need and opportunity. Everyone wants to be able to sprawl out on the floor at some point, so be sure they have a comfortable place to do so. I prefer throw rugs over wall to wall as they can be removed easily for cleaning. I also suggest investing in wool for the same reason – it cleans. The Rug Company carpets are amazing for their quality and wonderful patterns. They can bring a room to life. A simple natural alpaca next to a bed is lovely as well.
Please put art – real art – in your kid’s rooms. Art need not be expensive, so there really is no excuse for anything less than special. I also love the idea of celebrating special birthdays with a painting or sculpture. A gift of art can be treasured for many years. One of my children collects penguins and has way too many stuffed versions that I am fairly confident he will not take with him to his first apartment. But last year I came across a small bronze penguin sculpture by Rogan Gregory. I purchased this for his 10th birthday. I also found a great vintage black and white photograph of penguins on an iceberg. These pieces acknowledge his interests, add art to his space and encourage art appreciation. There is plenty of great photography out there – rock star images, stunning florals and vintage race car editions all work well in kids rooms. I consigned many special original prints from the wonderful NYC gallery Staley-Wise when I had my children’s store. I do love the Animal Print Shop’s very sweet baby animal photography, And now you can even use your own images and blow them up onto graphic wallpaper. There are tons of inexpensive art fairs where you can find really great paintings that any child would be lucky to have. I also tend to find pieces in junk shops. Just keep your eyes open – some of my best finds were total surprises. Why not think outside the box as well? In one child’s bathroom I hung metal chocolate molds in the shape of old fashioned race cars found at a flea market. I also love hanging objects – banners, dream catchers, unusual mobiles, or tassel garlands by Confetti System which all add personality. Tamar Mogendorff makes lovely fabric animals to hang or mount on walls – these flew out of my shop. Art is the soul of a room for me, and children always seem to appreciate this instinctively.
Don’t underestimate children or their sensitivity to their environment. They can and do appreciate living in highly personal, functional and beautiful spaces. I think when they are involved in creating them there is a sense of ownership, appreciation and pride. I see it in the smiles and feel it as they tug someone’s hand encouraging them to “come see MY room.”