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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Designing Children's Bedrooms

A young boy's bedroom with a nautical theme.
Ordinarily the subject of designing bedrooms for children wouldn't be significant enough to merit mention in a forum such as this where art is the primary topic of discussion. However there are a few extenuating circumstances in designing a child's most personal space which call for a heightened awareness. Mainly, assuming there is a conscious interior design effort involved, the "extenuating circumstances" boil down to the fact that boys and girls are different (DUH). Second, children have a habit of wanting to redecorate at least four or five times from the period during which they play with dolls and until they invite them up to their room for to "help with homework." Long gone are the days when you could automatically "do" a girl's room in pink and a boy's room in blue (below). There are also greens, browns, oranges, black, white, grays, red, maroon, and no small number of other hues which are equally appropriate for either gender. Needless to say, this complicates the whole affair, augmented by the fact that the line dividing traditional gender interests is becoming more and more blurred almost to the point of non-existence. And if you really want to stir things up, try designing for two different brothers, separated by five or six years, sharing the same room.
Pink and purple are no longer girls' only options.
Today, kids care about how their rooms look (design-wise if not in terms of housekeeping). They invite their friends in and, consciously or unconsciously, they want to impress (girls especially). When I was growing up, children's bedrooms were for sleeping (period). Today they are usually somewhat larger than mine, and have become home to a whole menu of childhood activities most of us had to do elsewhere. I don't recall ever doing homework in my room (there wasn't room). There was only one TV in the whole house, no computer, of course, a toy box full of mostly broken or outgrown toys, and nowhere to play with them in any case. The room was so small there was barely room for bunk beds. As I grew older I shared a somewhat larger room with a younger brother (eight years younger) and two orphaned cousins--upstairs where it was either too hot or too cold most of the year. I think I recall choosing the wallpaper and the Linoleum for the floor. We weren't poor, but the furniture was all hand-me-down; and any mention of "interior design" would have been met with a quizzical look, if not outright laughter.
A Minimalist, pre-teen, boy's room. Noticed the pile of dirty clothes
in the middle of the floor and "sweeper" next to the bed.
Although professional interior design advice might still be considered rare today in the case of children's bedrooms, most parents are acutely conscious of their kids' feelings in the matter. Other than age, the key element involved today in designing a child's personal space is not gender but personality--the geek versus the jock, shy versus outgoing, bookish versus social media butterfly, Harry Potter versus the X-Men, snob versus slob. As for age, I'm speaking from experience here. Our son went from a room done in yellow with a hand-painted mural (by two of my art students) featuring Muppet and Sesame Street characters, to a smelly zoo replete with fish tanks (one with a piranha) and various caged reptiles (including an iguana). That eventually evolved into an industrial strength man cave of black, gray, and white, heavy with heavy metal and NASCAR. We considered ourselves lucky to have gotten by with just three different decors.

This gives a whole new meaning to the term "rollaway" beds.
As with most areas of interior design, there are rules. As I suggested earlier, most of them would have been laughable sixty years ago when I was a kid. Now they could be considered, if not hard rules, at least valuable guidelines.

Remember, what's fun today will be boring tomorrow.
1. Children's bedrooms should be fun and happy places.

A child’s bedroom should make them feel content. Think bright colors, icons from their favorite stories, and reminders that they are loved and cared for. At the same time, don’t go overboard on a character or color theme, especially since kids change their minds about what they like quite often. Let the kids choose, but not once a year. Let's face it, kids' bedrooms today are for more than just unconscious rest. Turn the space itself into an exciting place to be, rather than just a room containing a few fun things. Often today mattresses are set in bed frames shaped like race cars, pirate ships, or princess carriages (top). If space permits, you might consider an indoor treehouse complete with an access ladder. Include a desk with plentiful lighting (computers are optional). If there's a creative streak, provide a space to encourage such efforts (unless they're into ceramics). Parents' lives are much easier if the kids really enjoy being in their own rooms. However, "Go to your room," looses its disciplinary edge if the room is too accommodating.

Bunk beds with a twist.
2. A children's room should be a practical place.

Chaos is not a type of décor. Include ways to keep toys organized so the whole room doesn’t become a junk closet. Just because storage is a practical necessity, however, doesn’t mean that it can’t have a fun look. Colorful stacked bins, shelves of different shapes and sizes, and drawers (lots of drawers) can look cool. The trick is to reduce clutter, and increase space efficiency without taking away from the fun atmosphere. The easier kids can access storage, the more likely they are to use it. Coming up with creative places to put books, art supplies, clothes, and toys encourages kids to keep a tidier room.
A bed reaching lofty heights.
3. A children's bedroom should be a safe, quiet place.
It goes without saying a child's bedroom should be safe. Even with play areas that let kids literally "climb the walls" to heights heretofore deemed unimaginable, the room should still be safe. Weight bearing structures like ladders and loft must be built well and anchored solidly. If Dad can't handle it, then by all means have such things professionally installed. Just as important is that a child's room be age-appropriate in design. Maybe the rock climbing wall for your toddler isn’t a good idea just yet. By the same token, sometimes kids need to de-stress, calm down, or rest. Balance colors and creative activities with curtains that give the room privacy or twinkly lights that make it glow comfortably. This will allow the parental option to transform the room into a calming place rather than an energetic one at bedtime, during afternoon naps, or at “time out.” Soothing elements in the room help kids think about the room as a safe place to go when they’re upset, angry, or tired. A separate electrical circuit breaker my also be helpful during "timeouts."

Recognize the handwriting on the wall? It's that of Walt Disney.
4. A children's bedroom should be a personal place.

Kids love the idea of having a place that is just for them. Customizing and personalizing their bedrooms gives them a sense of belonging. Brainstorm with them creative ways to include their names or initials in the décor. These might include chairs or pillows with embroidered names, wall murals featuring their initials, or erasable door hangings where kids can leave messages for visitors. Kids enjoy showing off their rooms to friends and family.
Whether a boy's room or that of a girl, messy is messy.
5. A children's bedroom should be a clean place.

Good storage might keep things neat and tidy, but you can also design with clean in mind. Kids make messes (it's almost part of their dictionary definition). Avoid fabrics that can’t be washed, light colors that stain, expensive rugs, or soft woods that mar easily. You want the space to look nice and be furnished well, but you don’t want to waste money or ruin things derived from their just being kids.
A socializing platform
6. A children's bedroom should be a friendly place.

Even though a child’s bedroom is their own space, it’s also a place for socializing. Kids often invite friends and family to join them for movies, stories, and games, so they need space for their guests. This doesn’t mean that a small bedroom won’t make a good children’s room. Consider where grandparents might sit at story time. or where a sleepover friend might spend the night. Loft and bunk beds are space efficient and fun, often allowing space for a reading corner with a comfortable adult chair, body pillows, or bean bags.

Flexible sleeping arrangements lead to flexible space usage.
7. A children's room should be versatile.

Versatility is more than just style and color. Kids grow fast and two years from now they might not want the same princess themed door decals they were desperate for yesterday. It's not easy to design a room that is age-appropriate yet one which can change with their tastes over the years. Incorporating their favorite color is a safe choice, but they might not want super heroes painted across the wall when they’re 16. Decide how often you want to face redoing the entire room. Perhaps a compromise can be reached which allows the room design to evolve easily. An art corner with a chalkboard desk can be transformed into a study corner and computer desk for high school, while the tree house loft might make great space for an expanding shoe collection.

Overindulgence...maybe, maybe not.
The key factors involved in designing a children's bedroom are the kids, of course, their age, interests, gender, and latest census figures. In addition, money, flexibility, space, and parental indulgence are also factors. Are you willing to watch your teenaged son feed live mice to his piranha? Can you afford to allow your daughter to choose "fifty shades of purple" for her walls? Will you devote an entire corner of her bedroom for a media center with it's own video projector? Do you consider Playboy pinups a valid decorating accessory for your teenage son's bedroom? Do you have a limit as to the number of SpongeBob SquarePants effigies you can stand to see in visiting your preschooler's room (below)?

Keep telling yourself, it's just a phase...they'll outgrow it.


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