Designing Kid Spaces
Be creative and design a space that will grow with your kids
When it came time to redecorate, Katie Countryman knew exactly what colors she wanted for her bedroom. Her walls, formerly a soft periwinkle, are now more alive in shades whose names--lipstick and lime tart--sum up the look she was going for: bold, creative, and "more my age," says the 13-year-old from Somerset.
Katie's mom, Debbie, initially questioned her daughter's choice of hot pink and lime green, but she decided to give Katie the freedom to design the room she wanted. Katie worked with interior designer June Jones of Somerset's Finishing Touches to select custom bedding, window treatments, pillows, and accessories that seem to break the rules and mix patterns of circles, stripes, and flowers in several hues of pink and green. The result is an inviting, fun room that both Katie and her mom love.
It goes to show, whether it's a nursery or a teen's bedroom, a play space or a study nook, there are no hard-and-fast rules these days about how to create a successful space for kids. Almost anything goes--so long as it helps create a room that kids love to be in.
A generation ago, families might have bought their child a bunk bed, painted their bedroom pastel pink or blue, and called it done. That's not so often the case anymore, as the process of "truly designing kids' rooms" has become more sophisticated, says Wendy A. Jordan, author of New Kidspace Idea Book. "People are becoming much more creative and ambitious," she says, "with wonderful results."
That means bold color choices are trumping softer, more traditional ones, particularly for preteen girls, says Louisville interior designer Mary Alexander. "It's a lot of pink and greens, pink and orange, pink and red. Very nontraditional mixes of color. Very bright."
It means standard kids' beds are giving way to space-saving bedroom systems that, through careful lofted designs, can pack a dresser, a bed, a desk, and ample storage space into a single unit that occupies the same floor space as a twin bed. While the single-unit bedroom systems have been around for a few years, their popularity has taken off recently, says Bud Spoerl, co-owner with wife, Donna, of Baby's Room & Kids Too, a children's furniture store in Lexington. The units offer a very direct--and fun--way to create play, study, and sleep zones within the limited space of kids' bedrooms, often the smallest in the house.
And it means a new mom like Betsy Harned of Glasgow no longer feels obligated to buy heaps of pink things for her daughter's nursery, when doing it up in gold, black, and green seemed more fitting.
"I wanted the room to look rich without being too girly, because I really didn't know what her personality was going to be," says Harned, whose daughter, Wells, is now 2.
Harned had fallen in love with a black tapestry fabric inlaid with a frog motif, and that became the starting point of the nursery she created with help from interior designer Lisa Richardson of Glasgow.
Harned and her husband, Jeffrey, had used the room previously as a study, and when it came time to convert it to a nursery for Wells, she opted not to change the wall color from its rich, golden mustard.
"With that room, we were thinking outside the box of the baby-pink theme," says Richardson. "It was very tasteful, and very classy." A low, burled-wood dresser that the Harneds had received as a wedding gift became the changing table, and a mahogany rocking chair that Betsy's mother had used for Betsy came down from the attic. To add a bit of fun, Richardson suggested adding a mural to the room. So, one wall got treated to a lily pad, while the space just above the changing table became home to a leaping frog.
Now that she's talking, it's clear the room has Wells' stamp of approval. "She loves the frogs," Betsy Harned says. "She calls them, 'my froggies.'"
Let the Room Grow
One of the biggest challenges in designing kids' rooms is creating a space that can grow with them, one that can be adapted and modified easily as their tastes and interests change. After all, your son may love his SpongeBob SquarePants room now that he's 7, but he might not still feel it's as cool once he turns 15.
For that reason, it may be best to steer clear of room themes centered entirely on cartoon characters or other motifs that are quickly outgrown, says Charlene Thompson, co-owner of Argosy Interiors in Elizabeth-town. She points out, for example, that while a theme like moon and stars might be appropriate only for a nursery, designs incorporating frogs, ladybugs, insects, or racecars--all very popular right now--could work well for both a nursery and a toddler's room, as the child gets older.
And while themes can be fun, Jordan cautions against overdoing them: "When a kid's room theme is carried to the extreme, what happens is that the look becomes static," she says. If the theme dominates the room, rather than the other way around, she says, "It can be hard for children to let their imaginations go in other directions and enjoy other kinds of play."
Of course, a room's paint color, accessories, and bedding can be changed relatively inexpensively as a child outgrows a certain look. But buying all new furniture is another story, says Alexander. "You want your furniture to be an investment that you can keep and change the look of as the child grows," she says.
Parents of younger children sometimes make the mistake of buying furniture without long-term use in mind, says designer Buff Fallot of Louisville. "A lot of times, what I see are parents buying their children a desk when they're 6 or 7 and starting school. But those desks are so tiny that by the time the child is 12 or 13, they can barely fit." Fallot advises against buying loft-style beds for the same reason: children typically outgrow them by the time they hit their teens, she says.
To get the most for your furniture investment, Jordan suggests opting for "good, quality furnishings that are neutral in style," so that the pieces will last as the child grows and his or her tastes change. If the pieces are modular, all the better, she adds, because they allow for "mixing, matching, and rearranging to adapt to the child's evolving needs."
Above all, though, Jordan says, it's important to allow children to have an active role in the design of their own spaces. Doing so gives them a sense of ownership and pride. Even toddlers can pick from among a few color choices, she says, and teens can be given a budget and allowed to take charge of the entire design--just as Katie Countryman did. Already, Betsy Harned is giving her daughter, Wells, some say in the design of her new toddler bedroom. While the 2-year-old's room will soon be redone in orange, mustard, and green, the frog mural will stay. After all, she loves it. And that's when you know the room's a success.
TIPS FOR CREATING GREAT KID SPACES
Here are more tips for making the most of children's spaces in your home:
Supply plenty of low, easily accessible, colorful storage bins or baskets in bedrooms and playrooms of young children. Labeled with pictures as well as words, these can become a home for toys, books, art supplies, and more that even the youngest toddlers can learn to use whenever cleanup time comes. --Adapted from New Kidspace Idea Book, Wendy A. Jordan
Remember that the more you contrast, the smaller you make a room look. Instead, if lack of space in a child's room is a concern, try using similar colors throughout. Cool colors like blues and greens recede and help the room look larger. With a client who had to accommodate three cribs in a 10x12 ft. space, we painted the walls and cribs the same color--a light aqua--and used a similar blue for the ceiling and carpet to help the room seem larger. Nonblue, accent colors came through in the pillows and crib skirts. --Mary Cynthia Knowles, president of Martin Durr Caldwell Interior Designers Inc., Danville and Lexington.
(Note: In addition to marketing their own interior design instructional videos at www.decoratebydesign.com, Knowles and her husband, True, host a talk radio show answering callers' decorating questions. Their show, Decorate by Design, airs in central Kentucky, 7--8 a.m. Saturdays on 630 WLAP-AM.
Consider using ottomans with removable tops to provide both seating and storage options in playrooms for children and teens. Also, remember that kids expect their playrooms to be up-to-date: plan for adequate space and wiring capacity for electronic "must-haves" like TVs, DVD players, computers, and video game consoles. And if you're decorating on a budget, don't overlook stores like T.J. Maxx, Target, and Pier One, which have great accessories for almost every look. --Valerie Johns, interior designer, Louisville
Start your design by selecting the floor covering or the wall color and then work from there--except in instances where another element, such as a fabric, is the key focus of the room. --Buff Fallot, interior designer, Louisville
UNIQUE KIDS' FURNISHINGS
Homes can get messy with children's toys all around. These new toys double as great furniture pieces for kids as they inspire imagination, learning, and playfulness.
Puzzle Chair, Puzzle Table PortaSmart introduces an ingenious children's chair and table that assemble in the form of a fun easy puzzle. Called "learning furniture," the Puzzle Chair and Puzzle Table are composed of primary shapes and colors. Now, kids can help put together their own seat and table. The Puzzle Table/Chairs three-piece set is $129.95. The chair alone is $49.95. All are sold at www.PortaSmart.com.
Play Pillows Soft and comfortable, Play Pillows from Play Smart Toys are plush pillows on the outside and open up to unique settings on the inside. Available in three designs--School Bus, Police Car, and Fire Station--each pillow includes bendable figures like a fireman or school desk that adhere with Velcro. Machine-washable, these play sets allow children to use their imagination and creativity whether at home or on vacation. Play Pillows are $24.99-$29.99 and can be purchased at www.playsmarttoys.com.
NEW KIDSPACE IDEA BOOK
In New Kidspace Idea Book (2005), published by The Taunton Press, Wendy A. Jordan offers ideas for designing creative and unique bedrooms, bathrooms, playrooms, study spaces, and even outdoor play spaces for kids. An award-winning writer and editor with expertise in residential remodeling and home building, Jordan is the senior contributing editor of Professional Remodeler magazine and the author of nine books, including Kidspace Idea Book (2001).
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