June 17, 2024

Years ago, Jessica Nicholls, principal designer at Bungalow 56, designed the bedrooms of two daughters in a family when they were very little girls. Today, they’re 9 and 14, and Nicholls is back at work with them to update the bedrooms to reflect their more mature ages.

The younger sister in particular, noted Nicholls, is very involved in the design of her bedroom.

“She brought us pictures from Pinterest,” Nicholls said of her young client’s commitment. “She wants a more sophisticated white and wood look now that’s she’s older.”

Nicholls had earlier guided the parents in selecting good quality furniture that would last. But the plan now for the 9-year-old is to create a custom bunk bed, a big bookshelf and lots of drawers for all her crafts.

Colorful accents and soft pillows rest on shelves in the girls' shared bedroom.

The design included storage nooks and display space throughout the girls’ shared bedroom. The neutral background allows them to easily change out the decor as they age and their tastes change.

(Natalia Robert Photography)

“We’re trying to keep it a little more timeless,” Nicholls noted. “She had shown us some bunk beds that were kind of cutesy and had windows and little planters off the side, but the mom intervened and suggested we go a little more streamlined. That way it’s still cool when she’s 15, 16 and it’s her last hangout in the family home.”

The challenge in designing children’s rooms is that the children grow, both physically and emotionally. The design decisions you made for your child as a baby and young child inevitably evolve as they develop their own interests and style, and they likely want to have a say in how their bedroom looks and functions. The room, of course, now has to accommodate a larger person, larger clothes and shoes, and storage for toys, books and hobbies. And for most of us, a new design can’t break the bank.

The idea, said Lynn Siemer, director of design and operations at Blythe Interiors, is to get good quality foundation pieces — a bed, dresser and night table — that can evolve with them.

“That’s probably 70 percent of the budget,” she estimated. “The remaining 30 percent is what makes it pop. But, of course, everybody’s budget is different.”

And perhaps some of the pieces you may have thought were necessities — like a desk and a chair — you may want to revisit, based on your child’s modus operandi. When it comes to doing homework, for example, Siemer pointed out that if they’re under 10, they probably will be doing it at the kitchen table with you, until they’re maybe 12 or 13. Plus, that 10-year-old may be a very different size post-growth spurt at 12.

A space underneath the bunk bed features a quiet desk area for studying.

A space underneath the bunk bed features a quiet desk area for studying.

(Natalia Robert Photography)

“Sometimes I’ll encourage people to just get an inexpensive IKEA craft table and use that as the desk so your kid can play on it and can have toy storage, and then we can switch it out with a desk in three years,” Siemer said. “And, actually, I’ve had some parents who said to me, ‘I’m so glad we didn’t put a desk in there. They never do their homework in there even as they’ve gotten older.’”

What could go into the space where a desk might have been? Perhaps a gaming chair or bean bag or two with a monitor placed on the dresser so they can hang out with friends.

Area rugs are another component you’ll probably want in your older child’s room. Nicholls likes to keep them inexpensive in case there are spills or paint that could damage carpeting or wood or tile floors.

“There are some great polyester blends that are a little easier to clean up,” she noted.

She’s also a fan of washable rugs, and especially floor tiles.

“You can just pop one of the tiles out if something gets spilled on,” she explained.

A "farmhouse luxe" girls room, complete with window boxes and a playhouse.

Blythe Interiors brought plenty of charm to this “farmhouse luxe” girls room, complete with window boxes and a playhouse.

(Charlotte Leah Photography)

Storage is a big deal in a kid’s bedroom. Where once you needed room for tiny clothes, now they’re bigger. So, full-size dressers are important for a growing child. Plus, there may be sports bags and equipment that require a home. And the shoes are bigger, too. That’s where shelving can come in.

Built-ins provide smart storage for books and toys alongside the playhouse in the "farmhouse luxe" girls room.

Built-ins provide smart storage for books and toys alongside the playhouse in the “farmhouse luxe” girls room.

(Charlotte Leah Photography)

“We make sure there’s lots of extra storage in the closet,” Nicholls said. “We usually do a small section of long hang for sports bags and longer dresses, and things like that, and then maximize areas for doubling. We love the closet systems with drawers and adjustable shelves. We’ve done a lot of IKEA closets where you can pop in different things at different points, depending upon what the kids get into when they get a little older.”

As for personalizing the bedroom, be judicious.

“We like classic pieces that are more neutral in color or texture that can go with any style,” Nicholls said. “The accessories and brighter colors that may be the child’s favorite at one point can be easily swapped out.”

“I once had a little boy who really wanted canary yellow walls,” recalled Siemer. “We decided to paint a fun shape in the canary yellow but just on the headboard wall — a box a bit wider than the bed with a piece of art over the box. So, he had his yellow.”

She also went through a similar situation with one of her daughters.

“When she first got her big girl bed, she wanted everything to be purple. We got her a white bed, but we had the purple bedding, the purple walls. We had some custom throw pillows made and, you know, three years later, purple was not a color she wanted anymore — so we could keep all of the main expensive furniture pieces and swap out accessories.”

A boys room in a "farmhouse luxe" project has sturdy climbing racks to the bed above and play space below.

A boys room in the “farmhouse luxe” project also loads in the fun, with sturdy climbing racks to the bed above and play space below.

(Charlotte Leah Photography)

Siemer’s also big on having gallery walls to hang school art in inexpensive frames. The art can easily be switched out for the newest pieces they bring home. You can also add larger affordable frames for posters that can also be switched out as the child’s tastes change.

What if you have kids of different age ranges and even different genders sharing a bedroom, with all the different taste levels and needs jammed together?

Built-ins provide storage in the "farmhouse luxe" boys room, with desk space adjacent.

Built-ins provide storage in the “farmhouse luxe” boys room, with desk space adjacent.

(Charlotte Leah Photography)

Siemer recently had clients who live in a small downtown condo. Their two daughters — one a toddler and the other several years older — share a room and will be doing so for some time. The designer came up with a bunk bed for the older girl that provides room below for both a crib for her younger sister and space for a craft desk for the older child.

“We designed it so that under the bunk bed, there is enough room for a queen-sized bed so that when the older one (on the top bunk) is a teen, she can put a queen bed underneath and the little one (in the crib) can occupy the top bunk. We forecasted really far in advance on this design,” said Siemer.

A different situation presented itself to Nicholls.

“We donated our services for a little girl with cancer and did a room for her and her brother,” she explained. “They’re different ages, and the room was the tiniest thing I’ve ever seen. She crochets, so she really wanted a wall of yarn. We were able to build a little room off of their room for all her crafting stuff and did a really neutral bunk bed with under-the- bed storage in baskets for both of them. We did white dressers and cubbies with baskets so that they can split storage down the middle. She could have her crochet stuff. He could have his soccer stuff.”

Nicholls also had some fun with LED lights in different colors, and each child could personalize their own bunks.

The two designer have other tips for parents approaching a bedroom design redo:

  • If you haven’t already, consider your house rules, said Siemer. “Can the kids do arts and crafts in their room? Can they eat and drink in the room? I had one mom who said her daughter couldn’t use nail polish outside of the kitchen table. Those decisions can help you set your budget.” One caveat, she noted: “No matter how many rules you have, kids get sick. They have accidents.” And so do pets. Are pets allowed in the bedroom? In other words, do you really want pricey custom bedding for a 10-year-old, because you might be throwing it out after a bout of stomach flu or delivery of a juicy furball.
    Items reflecting the children's current passions — and personality — help bring life to the space.

    Items reflecting the children’s current passions — and personality — help bring life to the space.

    (Charlotte Leah Photography)

  • If you think you’re going to be replacing furnishings over the next few years or your kid is passionate now about a particular color — like having a red bookcase — but you think they might be over that next year, Siemer and Nicholls both suggest checking out Facebook Marketplace for deals. It’s also an option for rehoming furnishings that your child has outgrown.
  • Invest in “clutter collectors,” like drawer and shelf systems and baskets for toys that can be repurposed in a few years for hobby tools and accessories. They should be easy to access and marked so your kid can do an easy clean-up and keep the room organized — especially if the room is small.
  • If your child wants input into their bedroom’s design, depending on their age and interest, discuss their favorite colors, what they’re into in terms of toys and hobbies, and perhaps help them look at Pinterest so they can identify everything they’re drawn to, from colors to pillow styles to rugs that will help you come up with a plan and help you shop. Be like a designer: Narrow those choices down to two that you’re willing to purchase or put on walls so you kid feels like they’re involved, but you’re still in control.
  • Keep the foundation of the room neutral enough that you can make inexpensive adjustments as tastes change. Just because your kid says they want lime green walls doesn’t mean they have to all be lime green. You can go with a more muted tone to stay on the neutral side. You can have a green accent wall, put up peel-and-stick wallpaper or stickers that incorporate green, or hang posters (or their art) that feature green.
  • Consider below-bed drawers, suggested Nicholls. That way, you don’t lose space and gain storage.
  • Finally, remember that a child’s bedroom is an arena for creativity, but primarily a place of respite. As Nicholls said, “Everything should have a place to make it easy to clean up the clutter so they can destress. Neutral colors are more calming; keep bright colors to soft furnishings, like a pillow.”

Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.

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