A few years ago when my 19-year-old-college-senior-on-full-Scholarship-of-Merit Diana was a baby, I created a lovely bedroom for her. She hated it. She fell asleep in my bed every night and was carried to her room slumbering as a toddler. I couldn’t understand the dilemma because the room was picture perfect, lots of soft little girl pink and whites—a dreamy room. I got a clue into her personality and unique approach to life one day when she was four as we were driving down a street together and I decided to teach her about stoplights. I said to her, “Diana, green means go and red means stop and yellow means slow down.” Without missing a beat, she responded in that authoritarian four-year-old way, “And purple means go FASTER!”
What I learned was that this child needed more stimulus. She wanted
a different environment for her talented, intellectual and active
life which was unfolding. Although she moved to a different bedroom,
that room is still a sweet and delightful space. It became a guest
room and a sleepover room for grandchildren. Recently one of my
adopted children (OK, we have five birth and five adopted children),
Sabrina, who is Kazakh, has moved into the nursery and loves every
moment in this still princess-pretty room. Her personality fits
the space. She is a gentle, sweet, kind and quiet girl who loves
order and a feeling of calm and empathy that the neutralized pink
provides. She is vastly content.
HOW DO I KNOW?
This little story echoes the concerns of parents everywhere who
tend to create wonderful rooms based on what they think their children
should want. When assisting client-parents who are making decisions
for the interior décor of a child’s space, perhaps
we could consider some sound advice from experts.
In his book, “In My Room: Designing For and With Children”
(Fawcett Columbine), Antonio F. Torrice, ASID, states, “Looking
back, I realize that children have taught me the greatest lessons
in life. From them I’ve rediscovered the wonderment of youthful
spontaneity, innocence and the kind of positive energy that makes
you believe you can do anything.” His approach in designing
for children is to design with them—make them part of the
One technique he found successful was to create a simple pencil
drawing of the child’s room, then have the child narrow down
a selection of crayons to a few favorites, then to color the room
in the colors they preferred as they wanted it. This was used as
a guide in the selection of paint, textile window coverings, bedding
and flooring. Later, in planning colors for a children’s hospital,
his study of color led him to the work of Nobel prize winner and
Soviet electronic technician, Semyon Kirlian and his wife, Valentina,
who captured on photographic plates colored images of energy emanating
from life-forms under emotional or physiological changes. Their
discoveries led Torrice to deduce that red is absorbed at the base
of the spine, orange corresponds to the circulation, yellow to the
chest and lungs, green to the throat, blue to the eyes, ears and
nose, and violet to the top of the head and brain activities (see
the Diana story above). Torrice then used these concepts in planning
hospital healing areas where children made remarkable improvement
during therapy in areas colored to correspond to the ailment.
Other books filled with ideas for children’s rooms include
these: “Children’s Rooms: A Mothercare Book” by
Jane Lott (Prentice Hall), “Designing Rooms for Children”
by Mary Gilliatt (Little, Brown), “Kids’ Rooms: Decorating
Nurseries to Teen Retreats” edited by Linda Hallam (Meredith
Corp.) and “Rooms to Grow, Creating Rooms and Furniture for
Children” by Jane Cornell (Prentice Hall).
Babies have become big business in niche decorating markets. More
money is now being spent on fewer children than in any time in history.
Sweet rooms that are dreamy places with soft colors or happy places
through vibrant colors nurture not only baby but parent as well.
Spaces that are beautifully decorated connect child to parent and
parent to child. A child’s world should be a place where he
or she feels safe and secure, accepted and loved and where intellectual
growth and motor skills development are encouraged.
SELECTING A THEME
If the parent does not have a firm direction in mind for selecting
a theme, there are places to go for inspiration for a child’s
room. Fabric, wall coverings, area rugs, furniture and accessories
are all good places to find a theme. Baby, nursery or toddler themes
are delightful, and can serve from one baby to the next if they
are kept generic, such as nursery rhyme, alphabet, animal or playful
For preschool and elementary children, general themes may include
a favorite cartoon or movie/television character. Bedding for these
themes are generally very large in scale and bright, but are temporary,
so that the background should be able to blend and support without
usurping the image or locking the room into a very bright and over-stimulating
As boys grow, they gravitate toward themes including sports such
as a particular favorite sport or general ball game theme. Boys
may love chess or computer themes, or collectable themes—say
racecars. A boy may have a hobby that he loves such as fixing things
or camping or participating in community groups such as a team or
scouts. He may love outdoor settings, science or outer space exploration
or the world of dinosaurs. He may love animals.
Girls’ themes often include princess or femininely artistic
topics. Cuddly animals and gentle themes in color and form are thought
to be more feminine. Some girls like fun, clean, spunky bright colors
and patterns that are cheerful and encourage visiting or connecting
to others. Some girls like sports as much as do boys, or outdoor
themes. The key factor is to interview the child to determine interests
and personality and to not make any predetermined decisions without
adequately consulting the child.
Children who have a say in their bedroom planning will be happier
for longer. On the other hand, they may learn quickly that what
they thought they wanted so desperately and insisted on isn’t
that livable after all. This can be a good lesson to learn in helping
them also to develop a more long-term view of their own decorating
tastes. Personalizing the space can be accomplished when the child
selects the art and accessories and helps with the rearrangement
THINKING IT THROUGH
Another approach is to keep backgrounds more neutral or more flexible
and use materials that can be changed easily such as bedding or
fabric window treatments as the more personality or thematic portion
of the décor. As a general rule, carpet lasts for many years,
so a long-term approach should be considered. Children stay babies
and toddlers for a very short time, and by the time they enter elementary
school their preferences begin to emerge. In middle school or junior
high, and certainly in high school, the child can become an active
partner in making decisions.
Sometimes, however, children want items or colors to which parents
are not willing to consent. In this case, the desired color for
the wall, the wall covering or bedspread can be placed on a wall
that is not immediately in view from the opened door. In fact, the
idea of the child having a bit of a hide-away retreat space for
dreaming, reading or homework holds as much appeal today as it did
during the Victorian era when nooks and crannies were designed into
the complex rooflines of homes. The bed itself can accomplish this
goal through fabric hung from the wall or ceiling or by a custom-built
or unique bunk bed arrangement.
WHERE SHALL I PUT IT?
Beginning about elementary age, children also can be involved if
the parent allows them to draw sketches of how he or she would like
to see the bedroom furniture arranged. This can be a fairly simple
approach under the direction of the design or decorating consultant.
It may be learned that the child wants to rid the room of certain
pieces or add different furnishings into the space; both offer opportunities
for giving the room a different look.
For little ones who may fall out of bed safety should be a priority
in arranging the room, such as placing a bed in the corner of the
room against two walls. Beds and climbable objects such as dressers
or chests and bookshelves should be away from windows. It’s
always best to anchor these to the wall if the child has a propensity
for climbing. A large object that falls over onto a child can harm
him for life.
Parents should have concerns about allocating spending in a child’s
room. Although some affluent families are prone to spend more, many
families who seek a professional’s help should also receive
some guidance about where the lion’s share of the money should
be spent. The carpet or flooring is a more long-term investment,
so good quality should be sought. Likewise, a sturdy bed that can
give proper support to a growing child for 10 to 15 years is important.
Window treatments with safety features such as break-apart cords
give peace of mind. Custom bedding and window coverings, items such
as upholstered window seat cushions and pillows or upholstery are
a matter of taste and budget.
Selecting furniture that will grow with the child is always common
sense. For example, the youth beds with plastic frames in cute but
faddish designer styling will likely be very short lived, so furniture
that is a bit more mature will be appreciated by the child in a
few short years. Children may be sensitive to or embarrassed about
living in a baby’s room once they arrive at the ripe old age
at which they become kindergarteners. So long-term planning can
bring greater family felicity and less conflict.
If the bedroom plan does have a long-term focus, then the space
may not be gender-based. It may simply be a pleasant space that
can accommodate the flexibility of a child’s growing up years.
Perhaps the room will have a more neutral background so the child
can place vinyl appliqués, posters, personally selected or
created artwork on walls and collectibles and memorabilia on shelves
without worrying about whether their choices match a theme. These
types of bedrooms can more easily adapt to other uses when the child
leaves home as a young adult.
I often ask my university students what their bedrooms back home
have been turned into. The responses are always revealing and humorous
as they realize that their very own bedrooms are not theirs anymore
but have become spaces with entirely different purposes. When they
visit, they become guests.
The fact that children will grow up quickly and move out seems like
a far distant event to a young parent. Yet life is so fleeting that
good long-term planning will help parents to more wisely allocate
their resources to the best advantage for now and for the future.
And if their choice is to decorate for the sweet little child who
is here and now, then green means GO!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design
at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window
Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of
design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books
including Win- dow Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors:
An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies
& Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education