• The average number of children in American homes today is less than two, so there are more resources to indulge the few rather than to meet the basic needs of the many.
• Across the board, there is more disposable income today. With houses generally smaller and with fewer rooms to absorb the resources, more money can be spent making each room a delight unto itself.
• The numbers of juvenile fabrics, wall coverings, innovative window hardware, bedding and sturdy, functional furniture have dramatically increased in the past few years, making decorating easier and a smoother process than in the past.
There are two basic approaches to decorating children's rooms: Ignore the child and make selections based on the parents' and decorator's choices, or involve the child in the decisions. There are advantages and disadvantages to both plans.
Adults Decorating for Children
Decorating for a child without the child's input is far simpler and more enjoyable for adults. Coordinated colors, patterns and textures are better judged by grownups than by children (or so we think). And it's far more likely the outcome will be a joy to the parent who judges the aesthetic and physical condition of the child's room on a daily basis. A parent can tolerate more child clutter if the design scheme is charming and delightful . . . to the parent.
The down side of doing the decorating without the child's involvement is that the child may not like the choices, and feel frustrated or resentful at having the colors and patterns forced on him or her. Over the many years I have conducted color psychology seminars it has amazed me how many people still are resentful about the choices forced on them as children by their well-meaning or assertive parents. The child's frustrations can be manifest in surprising ways, often unrelated to the room, although conflict over its state of cleanliness can escalate when the child is unhappy with the room from the start.
Involving the Child
The advantage of bringing the child into the selection process is to assure the child that his or her opinions matter and that the parent and decorator sincerely care about the child's happiness. The child inevitably will enjoy the space more when his or her input is the basis for the decisions.
The disadvantage is the potential for differences of opinion and the resulting conflict between parent and child. Frequently a child will select colors and patterns that don't coordinate with the rest of the house or that the parent simply does not like. Parental distaste also can bring about conflicts, even to the point of leading to family contention.
Obviously the parent would be at fault in this case, but often parents feel their judgment is better and that they know what is best for the child. Yet every child has real feelings and wants very much to have them recognized.
How to Make Both Happy
Compromise is the key to success in children's rooms. The child who can feel secure in expressing an opinion and see that it makes a difference in the outcome is indeed fortunate. However, guidance is factor. There are times when a child will request something that will not turn out well aesthetically, or that can have a negative emotional impact due to its intensity.
On the other hand, too much primary color, bright and perky as it is, may over stimulate some children. Certainly successful toy companies know what they are doing by making toys with intense colors. They are exciting and motivating a child to play with the toys. However, when the bright colors cannot be put away because they are on the walls and windows, the child may become hyperactive or, conversely, fatigued, cranky or confused.
Knowing the needs and personality of each child is an important factor in helping the child function best in the space. Respecting the child as a human being with equal (and sometimes greater) passions than adults is a key factor in healthy relationships at home.
In My Room
Innovative interior designer, Antonio F. Torrice, who co-authored In My Room with Ro Logrippo, presented a revolutionary concept in furnishing children's rooms. Granted, this method may take longer than a one-hour sales call to the home, but it certainly has merit.
His theory was based on research done by a Russian team, Semyon and Valentina Kirlian, who discovered that certain colors were absorbed and emanated from specific areas of the body and that these colors could be used to help a child who has developmental needs in those areas. Torrice used this theory to great success in children's hospitals where the rehabilitation rooms were colored with the ailment in mind.
In his clients' homes, Torrice would meet two or three times with a child for brief, friendly sessions so the child would not feel threatened by him as a stranger. He would ask the child to select from a large number of crayons 10 that were the child's favorite colors. Then he asked the child to narrow the choices until only three favorites remained. Using a drawing of the child's room, he requested the child to take the most favorite hue and color it in everywhere the child desired, then repeat the process with the other two colors.
The results were somewhat surprising, but in each case the child improved in areas that had been difficulties such as speech development. Why? Because the child instinctively knew which colors would stimulate him or her in the way each needed to be helped.
Torrice concluded that colors helped children in these areas:
• Red, absorbed at the base of the spine, helps motor skill activities because it stimulates blood pressure, metabolism and respiration rate. Red will help a child want to use arms and legs and motor activities.
• Orange enhances the circulation and nervous systems, improving the ability to fight off disease in these areas.
• Yellow affects the heart and the respiration and can affect or improve breathing disorders such as asthma.
• Blue affects sight, hearing and smell. A cool blue has a calming effect on the heart rate and respiratory system.
• Violet supports intuitive thinking and spiritual skills.
• The neutral family of gray, brown and beige does not stimulate nor slow down blood pressure, but helps a person feel anchored and sedentary.
• Black, when used alone, prevents stimulus and allows in dark or depressing thoughts. As an accent, black can make other colors sharper, brighter, more precise or more hard-edged.
By selecting a particular color, do not assume the child has a problem or is experiencing bodily damage in that area. It may be that the color is an area where the child is developing.
Pattern is equally important as color in creating a psychological effect for a child's room. When selecting patterned wall coverings, fabrics for bedding or window treatments, two prevailing attitudes are worth considering:
• Patterns that are faddish due to marketing trends or popular characters or heroes, or motifs that relate to a certain age level or child's interest such as juvenile dinosaurs or teddy bear ballerinas. These are designs with a short aesthetic life span. Coupled with bright colors or a locked-in color scheme, these patterns may become tiresome in a short time.
• Patterns that grow with a child. These patterns will not reflect current, short-lived fads or heroes but will be of a more general or generic theme or one that has universal appeal such as boating and fishing, hearts or florals. Avoid assuming that the child will like these patterns. Many children are quite capable of understanding the colors and patterns that appeal to them, not just today, but in the months and years to come.
With your guidance, children's rooms can be a source of comfort and satisfaction to them and appealing to their parents as well.
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.