Kids’ rooms should be more than chalkboard walls and bunk beds. Kaitlin Petersen, editor in chief of the trusted industry resource Business of Home, chatted with leading experts—from designers to a neuroscientist—to understand why children need a well-designed space, and how to communicate their vision at any age.
Ages 2-7: Involvement
Interests at this age tend to be intense but fleeting, so designers agree that it’s best to avoid overtly thematic bedrooms. “When kids say, ‘I love sports and dance!’ they’re thinking about the overall feel, not the individual pieces,” says Sacramento, California-based designer and mom of two Shavonda Gardner. “They just want to open their door and go, Wow!”
Getting kids involved in the design process at this age can help them develop important skills. “One of our main jobs as parents of younger children is to scaffold them from small things to teach them how to make decisions about bigger things,” says Erin Clabough, a neuroscientist, author, and mom of four. “They can get overwhelmed with too many options.”
Clabough Says… “Give them two or three choices. It’s a lovely trick to make them feel heard.”
Nashville-based designer Hannah Ozburn asks kids to weigh in on the look of their room. “I use a more sophisticated colorway for big-ticket items like walls, window treatments, and rugs so they can be used for many years,” she says. “We can swap mirrors, lamps, and bedding to tie it all together as the child’s tastes change.”
How to shake your little one’s demand for a Frozen-inspired ice-castle bedroom? If they’re crushing on a theme you can’t stomach, find a sophisticated color that evokes it. “Farrow & Ball has the most delicate, beautiful pinks that won’t ruffle your feathers,” says Boston-based designer Mally Skok. “Take the child’s instruction but create a room through your lens.”
Decisions Your Kids Can Make
Colors “This red or that blue?”
Patterns “This jungle print or that beach theme?”
Fabrics “This striped comforter or that polka-dot one?”
Materials “This canvas basket or that wicker box?”
Ages 8-11: Empowerment
As kids grow older and more opinionated, giving them more decision-making power will help them feel invested in each choice. “When you allow your child a true say, they’re more likely to stick with it long-term,” says Gardner. “They’ll feel a sense of ownership.” Empowerment is key, especially as they approach middle school. “Kids need a creative outlet—and a private space to practice trying on different personas where there aren’t giant social consequences,” explains Clabough.
Clabough Says…“Kids need to explore in order to know who they are, and a room can be a really important part of that process.”
Charlottesville, Virginia-based designer Jennifer Glickman honored an eight-year-old’s request for a Lego-and-emoji-themed room without taking it to the extreme. “We built a display shelf for his Lego blocks,” she recalls, “and I found a tasteful print on Etsy of a grid of emojis and had it framed. We also added an emoji pillow to a buffalo check-upholstered chair.”
It’s not so different from decorating for grown-ups. “I take the same approach I do with all my clients, asking, ‘What do you want? What do you need? How do you spend time there?’” says Dallas-based designer Jean Liu. In her daughter’s room, she used shelves with open baskets that double as toy storage and a display case for obsessions of the moment. “The baskets change based on what she’s into, but the furniture scheme doesn’t have to change.”
3 Storage Ideas for Toys
Open Shelves To display prized items.
Big Baskets For quickly stashing a mess.
Lockers Tall enough for sports equipment.
Ages 12-17: Free Rein
A teenager’s bedroom can be a disaster zone, but don’t let that create constant conflict. Try giving adolescents a budget and allowing them to do what they want (within reason), says Clabough. She also suggests setting a time parameter: Let teenagers know their design decisions need to last for five years, and anything they change their minds about will be at their own expense. “Anticipating the consequences and having to weigh them as you make a decision—we do that as adults all the time,” she explains. “We should be setting our kids up to do the same.”
Clabough Says… “In my house, the rule is that the design can’t impact others negatively.”
Even if you don’t want to give teens free rein, it’s important to honor their opinions, says Skok. “Let them express themselves! The wonderful thing about social media is that kids have started refining what they do and don’t like at a younger age.”
Gardner let her teens take more control of their rooms as they got older, because of their need for a physical and emotional sanctuary. “Kids seek solace from parents in their rooms,” she says. “If they get in trouble, they go to their room; when their friends come over, they go to their room. That’s where they spend the majority of their time.” As long as the design is not irreversible, a teen’s room should be a space that feels entirely their own, according to Clabough. “Say, ‘I want you to have three things: a study space, a clean place to sleep, and some level of organization,’” she advises. “Then let them come up with a plan. It’s an amazing way to develop character—self-regulation skills, working with a budget, and learning how to create a safe haven.”
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