Soon parents everywhere will start gearing up for a new school year: plotting schedules, reorganizing desks and going though drawers and closets to remove items their children no longer use. In some cases, they may find that it’s not only clothes their children have outgrown, but their bedrooms, too. Pastels, primary colors, firetrucks and fairy princesses: all sensible choices for a baby or toddler’s room, but not so cool for a tween or teen. Unfortunately, a makeover every few years isn’t budget-friendly. Nor is it practical, says designer Annie Elliott of Washington, D.C. “If you’re running around with kids, you’re not going to have the energy to update their rooms,” she says. “You’re just going to be too exhausted to want to deal with it.”
But there are some simple steps for taking the design of your child’s space from toddler to teen without spending too much of your time or money.
“Themes can be very, very cute, but it makes it very hard to transition later,” says Christiane Lemieux, founder and creative director of DwellStudio, a home furnishings company.
“You’re going to have to eventually redo it. Avoiding themes is going to save you money in the long run.”
So, forget the wall-stenciled soccer balls and the bunny rabbit area rug. Make less of a long-term design commitment by incorporating your child’s interests and hobbies with accessories.
“Have a motorcycle on the dresser or on artwork or pillows instead of on the rug or textiles,” suggests Lily Kanter, chief executive and co-founder of Serena & Lily, a baby bedding and furniture company.
If your child loves ballerinas, Kanter suggests putting a tutu into a shadow box and hanging it as artwork. For a baseball look, find vintage baseball cards on eBay to frame and hang on a wall.
When Sally Porter of Washington, D.C., redid her daughter’s room, she took into account the preferences of 6-year-old Aman Aine (lots of pink) but with the help of designer Sally Steponkus chose a sophisticated, timeless look.
Porter mixed pink walls with an heirloom bed, an upholstered chair and a desk that doubles as a vanity, so her daughter “has a place to put all her lip glosses.” To personalize the space, she had the bed linens monogrammed.
“She’s so proud of her room,” Porter says. “She’ll show someone her room and say, `These are my initials.’ It gives her ownership.”
Learn to compromise
Believe it or not, there is a happy medium between what a child likes and what a parent wants.
“It’s probably less about compromise and more about limiting where they can go 100 percent,” designer Elliott says.
Mia Worrell, of Arlington, Va., says her goal when redoing her 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom was to find a balance between what works with the rest of the house and what makes young Vivienne happy.
Vivi’s wish list was short but definitely sweet: a pink room with princesses and flowers.
Rather than painting the walls pink, Worrell, who co-owns Timothy Paul Bedding and Home in Washington, D.C., had floor-length curtains made with a graphic pink-flowered fabric.
This way, Vivi “gets her pink, she gets her flowers, but it’s not a big flower stencil on the wall and it’s not a pink wall,” says Worrell.
“I wouldn’t want to walk into a room every day that’s pink. I would tire of that more quickly,” she says. “This is something we can both be happy about.”
As for the princesses, a coat rack stands in the room and holds all of Vivi’s princess apparel, like a piece of decorative art.
Invest in furniture
Rather than buying furniture that will be tossed when your child gets older, spend now on quality pieces that will last into the teen years and beyond. Once the child has grown, well-made furniture can always be re-covered, refinished or used elsewhere in the house.
For her son Holden’s room, Worrell paired a wool area rug, a nice wood dresser and a custom shelving unit with an inexpensive toddler bed from Ikea, which will be replaced with a regular-size bed as soon as Holden, 2, is old enough.
Spending on shelving (even splurging on built-ins) is worth the investment, says Elliott.
“They will go from diapers to toys to books to aquariums, whatever the child is into,” she says.
When it comes to other storage options, “Elfa ( www.elfa.com) is, bar none, the best use of closet organization,” says Nicole Anzia, founder of Neatnik, a professional organizing business based in Washington, D.C.
“When children start to dress themselves you can put the rods low so they can reach them … you can switch out rods and shelves, add on rods and bins.”
Choose bold paint
“Nothing makes a room look more designed than a great color, and a coat of paint is a pretty inexpensive way to do it,” says DwellStudio’s Lemieux.
She suggests going bold with color as early as the nursery days.
“If you think outside of the box right from the beginning, that transitions you much more easily,” she says.
Lemieux recommends chocolate brown, bright blue and orange for a boy’s room, a grayish-lavender or blush pink for a girl’s room, and kelly green for a gender-neutral color.
Don’t forget about the ceiling, she says.
“Putting stripes across the ceiling is really easy and will make your kid’s room look decorated in a second. It really makes a great visual impact.”