Betsy Burnham loves designing bedrooms for young children. But before she can begin, she sometimes has to steer clients away from painfully cute design ideas.
“I don’t like cutesy things – the murals, the Disney things,” says Burnham, an interior designer based in Los Angeles.
“Why give them a really babyish room, when it’s so expensive to change everything (when they get older)?”
A child’s room can be wonderfully whimsical, she says, “but it can also fit in with the rest of your décor.”
Many parents feel obligated to stick with colors and imagery commonly associated with little kids.
“But when you do that,” says designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of decordemon.com, “you create a powder keg, because then you have to redecorate when they get bigger.”
How do you create a space that is kid-friendly, but will also grow with your child and mesh with the rest of your home?
Flynn, Burnham and HGTV’s latest “Design Star” winner, Emily Henderson, share their advice:
Forget the typical pastels and primary colors. Flynn loves vibrant oranges and greens for kids’ bedrooms: “They’re high energy, but totally gender-neutral.”
White and brown are also a great combination, he says, because you can accessorize them with a range of other colors as the child’s taste changes.
If you’re set on pink, Burnham suggests using a shade like salmon or watermelon instead of a more predictable bubble-gum pink.
And rather than a basic royal blue, consider a deep navy for a look that’s crisp and a bit more grown-up.
“There are so many ways of doing color and pattern in sophisticated way,” Henderson says. “So many fabrics and wallpapers that are amazing animal prints, figures of animals that are modern and fresh and fun.”
Consider painting stripes on kids’ ceilings, or wallpapering the ceiling to bring in a pop of texture and color.
“Especially for a baby,” says Henderson, decorating the ceiling “is kind of going to wake up their imagination.”
Flynn likes using geometric print wallpaper that evokes ’60s or ’70s style, perhaps in black and white or olive and taupe. He also likes using indoor/outdoor fabric in children’s rooms, because of the impressive durability.
Burnham says a dresser with a changing pad on top can be a functional, stylish alternative to a traditional changing table.
And rather than buying a prefab kids’ table and chairs set, Henderson recommends hunting at flea markets for vintage school chairs and desks.
No need to buy a toddler bed: Your child doesn’t need one.
“If you invest in a couple of really nice twin beds, or just one twin bed,” Burnham says, “you can probably turn that bed into a daybed once the child moves on to a full- or queen-size bed.”
And leave that Spider-Man lamp on the shelf at the big-box store. Flynn says vintage lighting can give a child’s room much more style.
Chrome or brass works well, he says, “or use the plastic ones from the ’60s. They have nice fluid, biomorphic lines. It’s playful and fun and doesn’t take itself seriously.”
Of course, one person’s “vintage” is another person’s “hand-me-down.” Older children may balk at being given cast-off furniture from other rooms. So it may be wise to pass along furniture while the child is still quite young.
Note: If you’re bringing in sophisticated colors and patterns, Burnham says, you may want to balance them with plenty of kid-friendly soft things. Kids love comfort, so Flokati rugs and velvety fabrics are likely to be a hit.
in the toybox
“Buy them a Buzz Lightyear toy,” says Burnham, “but don’t put Buzz Lightyear all over the walls.”
Many kids’ rooms these days look like advertisements for popular licensed characters. Nothing dates a room more than focusing it on one character – within a few years, your child will be into something new and you’ll be stuck with the redecorating bill.
Burnham had a client whose son loved maps, so she bought a batch of vintage maps on eBay. The maps, originally used by sailors, were colored with soft yellows and pale blues. She had them pasted up as wallpaper, each one overlapping the next.
Let the room be a canvas for self-expression. Frame some of the child’s favorite artwork and make it a changing gallery. Or affix a row of cork tiles floor-to-ceiling for tacking up their latest creations.
For babies, decorate one wall of the nursery with framed artwork done by older siblings. Henderson suggests creating a simple stage for impromptu performances or stringing up some vibrant fabric to create a secret fort.
Chalkboard paint and dry-erase wall paint can be used to delineate an ample area for scribbling and drawing. (One concern: Henderson wonders whether kids will know where to stop.)
It’s possible that having a more sophisticated room will motivate children to clean up more frequently.
“Say you happen to have a kid who loves to read and has books everywhere,” Flynn says. “Do a built-in bookshelf,” and let the child know you’re investing in something special.
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