In today's society, we focus heavily on youth, on our desire to provide for them the best childhood experiences that are within our means. This may not mean material goods, but it certainly does mean creating an environment where children can feel safe and secure in their own little world.
A SAFE HARBOR
To create a sense of security, a young child needs to be surrounded with images that evoke familiarity. A child's possessions are a part of those images—belongings that can be touched, carried about, cuddled. The sense of coming home to a familiar, safe place is even more important to a child than it is to most adults. In a toddler's room, the colors, wall coverings, fabric window treatments, bedding and upholstery, as well as toys and framed art, should be carefully chosen to create a warm, kind, caring environment.
A young child's room is very important to him, as a place for fantasy play, for day-dreaming, for peaceful slumber and perhaps a place where a parent gives reassurance, reads and talks to the child. For adolescents and teens, that space needs to be conducive to study and learning, as well. The attitudes and interpersonal relationships children develop during their early years will shape who they become and how they relate to others the rest of their lives.
As design professionals, a keen understanding of how important a child's personal space is should make us more sensitive and more attentive as we guide parents through the selection process.
Creating this safe harbor is a challenge even with the dramatically increased number of children's wall coverings. It is evident this market has increased, which makes the responsibility of making wise choices even more important. Many wall coverings are based on a theme that stimulates creative play by setting a stage for a world of fantasy. There are many advantages to this approach to decorating:
•It feeds the child's imagination and fuels their playtime.
•It gives them a sense of ownership and a solid place in their home.
•Colors that are soft and reassuring give peace, contentment and security.
•Colors that are lively and bright are stimulating, lively, fun or happy.
•It surrounds the child with continuity of theme.
•It is instant thematic decorating.
TEENS AND ADOLESCENTS
In later childhood, the adolescent and teen years, the images on bedroom walls affect attitudes as well and shape values that are beyond what a child can imagine. Adolescents and teens are very impressionable, even though they often pretend not to be. What we choose or approve for their wall images will shape their goals and aspirations. This true story illustrates how crucial the artwork and interior design of a adolescent's and teen's home is.
A mother came to her ecclesiastical leader for council on the fact that all of her sons had joined the navy. Why they had done this in light of other opportunities for careers, schooling, or even another branch of the military service was perplexing and disturbing to this loving mother. The church leader tried to explain the need that young people have to break away and make their own way in life. But he, too, considered their actions unusual and difficult to explain.
Then he decided to pay a visit to the family home. As he entered the living room, his eye was drawn to a magnificent ship under full sail. It was the only piece of art in the room. He turned to the mother and said, "Here is the reason for your sons' actions. You have taught them every day the romance and adventure of the sea. You have taught them well. It is no wonder they have all joined the navy."
COMMON SENSE, GOOD VALUES
We cannot underestimate the power of artwork in our lives. Whether fine art or mass-produced art, we are influenced by it. The images we select is an indication of those things that are of value to us.
In the case of children's rooms, encourage your customers to consider seriously what they want the children to think and to do in that interior, and what values the artwork will imbue in their lives. The images surely will impact how they think, what they feel, and how they behave. Ask what functions or activities will take place in the room. These answers should be a guideline to intelligent selections for themes for the room.
Often we see adults make decisions for children based on their own fantasies or dreams that they were unable to fulfill in their own lives. A wise parent is one who will solicit the input of the child in determining what the theme of his or her room will be. Sometimes a child's input will be entirely different than the direction the parent was planning for the child, and some negotiation may be in order. One thing that is certainly wise is for the parent to plan a large bulletin board—some designers make an entire wall a bulletin board—where children can pin up their own artwork plus things they find in magazines or posters, for example. This gives children and teens the sense of control and mastery over their own environments, and they can change their minds as well as these images—often without expense.
In the wall covering arena, there are a host of selections that are gender-based. Again, these images will direct the values the child absorbs whether it be ballerina shoes or monster trucks. A wise parent first will evaluate commitment to extracurricular activities and what direction in behavior they desire for this child.
Consider also the longevity of the theme—a nursery that soon will become the personal space of a elementary school child and later an adolescent may require a wall covering or paint that will grow with the child. However, if the parent plans to redecorate in just a few years and is financially prepared to do so, then this issue is a mute point. But do have the discussion so that the parents' planning can be wise.
COLOR IN CHILDREN'S SPACES
Finally, consider the effect of color as seen through children's eyes. Color psychology is very much at work on children. It can dramatically affect their behavior and attitudes. In general, colors that are bright or intense will be stimulating and promote active behavior, while colors that are pastel (light, dull) are calming. White in the room makes colors seem cleaner, crisper and more active. Touches of black make colors seem more dramatic and vivid.
Beware of extremes in quantity. A room flooded with bright colors will over-stimulate and cause hyperactivity, although the child will calm down somewhat after a while. A plethora of pastels will cause a lethargy and drain energy, and later make the child restless and irritable. Too much white or pale blue is insecure and frightening and too much black is depressing and ominous.
One designer who attended a color psychology seminar I presented approached me afterward to relate a traumatic experience. The teenage son of a client insisted on black in his bedroom. The mother and this designer decided they would satisfy his wishes and created for him a totally black interior. The young man later took his own life in that room. As she related this sad tale she asked, "Was this my fault?" I responded, "You should have known better."
To understand what colors do for and to children is a serious charge. Keep in mind that the initial effect is different than the effect when the child has been in the space for a longer time. This is because the color wave bands of energy are absorbed by the cones and rods in the back of the eye and stimulate impulses in the visual center of the brain. During the decoding process, certain endocrine glands are signaled to release various hormones. After a while the glands stop dispensing that substance into the bloodstream, and the body compensates for the stimuli by swinging the mood back in the other direction. I call this the "after-effect." Here is a sampling:
Black and white: Has been shown to produce interest in very young infants because they are able to discern value (light/dark contrast) before they can distinguish colors. Black and white as a scheme should always be accented with vibrant colors such as those listed below as bright.
Bright red: Stimulating physically and mentally. May induce aggressive behavior and hyperactivity. Keep red to small doses, where it can add punch and excitement, but not over-stimulation. The after-effect is comfort and relaxation or exhaustion, possible irritability.
Bright pink: Celebration, party mode, cheerfulness, spontaneity. Again, a smaller quantity is best. The after-effect is fatigue or evasiveness.
Pale pink: Calming, soothing, reduces energy. Be certain to balance pale pink with complementary colors. The after-effect is restlessness, and possibly even aggressive behavior.
Dark pink or burgundy: This is a serious, anchored family member that adds steady, thoughtful qualities to a design composition. Too much is stifling and overbearing, and the after-effect may be a bit of rebelliousness, at least against the color.
Bright orange: Playfulness, boisterous behavior. Rooms will be less likely to be cleaned up from active play. Orange contains the mental and physical activity components of both red and yellow. The red produces the aggressiveness; the yellow the mental excitement. The after-effect is warmth and security.
Pale orange or peach: Relaxed euphoria. A good color for adolescents who often feel insecure in middle school or junior high school. The after-effect is boredom.
Bright yellow: Mental stimulation. For carefree children, yellow creates a talkative stimuli and encourages personal interaction and playfulness. For children who are uptight, yellow is assaulting and irritating. Too much yellow produces an after-effect of exhaustion and irritability.
Pale yellow: Mental energy, enhanced thinking power, investigative thinking, also spirituality. Balance yellow with lots of white and some earthy colors such as a sage green or neutralized blues. The after-effect is evasiveness or critical behavior.
Bright/dark green: Safe and secure, comfort and approval. Green is a good color for a monochromatic scheme with lots of neutrals and browns in wood, for example. The after-effect is tiresome.
Pale green: Depending on the amount of either blue or yellow, it will lean toward those respective qualities. Assuming a pure green, lightened or dull, pale green is calming, soothing and sets a stage for long-lived concentration such as reading or studying. The after-effect is boredom and restlessness as the mind seeks stimuli.
Bright blue: Recreational, imaginative activity, stimulates playful imagination. Keep bright blue to smaller doses. The after-effect is exhaustion or fatigue.
Pale blue: Dreamlike imagination and mental experimentation. Balance pale blue with white and with earthy colors. The after-effect is insecurity and fear.
Teal or blue-green: As a bright color it is preferred by boys and contains the recreational activity of bright blue and the long-lived endurance of green. A dulled or neutralized blue-green is often chosen by girls and is combined with pale pink, rose or peach. In this case it is a reassuring, confidence-building hue.
Bright violet: Regal, royal, serious behavior or theatrical implications. The after-effect is stubbornness or unrealistic behavior or attitudes.
Pale violet: Dreamlike romantic obsessions. The most imaginative color for make-believe. Balance with white, yellow, pale green. Pink will enhance the imaginative effect. The after-effect is sadness or disappointment.
From the above list, you can see that colors need to be very carefully handled and, above all, balanced in a bedroom for a child—and for adolescents and teens as well. If the decorator can learn something of the child's personality, interests and talents, as well as the goals of the parents, then choices can be made that will be beneficial for all.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.