Design Rooms that Evolve as Your Kids Grow Up

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Has your fairy princess transformed into a rock star who wants to splash neon pink paint over the castle you so painstakingly stenciled years ago? Maybe your train-loving toddler crossed over the tracks to skateboarding during his tween years and now wants to reflect this hobby in his room’s decor. Designer and dad Stephen Saint-Onge offers tween- and teen-approved tips and techniques for decorating this important space in his book, No Place Like Home (Wiley Publishing, $19.99).

It’s fun to watch the evolution of your children’s room. It may start out reflecting your ideas as a parent, but then kids grow up and begin to explore and express their individual personality in their spaces. Teens take their rooms to another level, and making their own design decisions helps them begin to define their style.

It’s also their responsibility to clean up their room, putting away clothes and keeping it in order (or not, as the case may be). They might try out new color on their walls, or collage images of who or what they love at the moment. Music and technology become important, and the room becomes a space that feels like an apartment within your home.

As I traveled around shooting homes for the book, I saw many kids’ spaces — bedrooms, playrooms and craft areas — but what resonated with me were the “moments” that gave individual rooms personal style or reflected what the children loved — the almost thoughtless, casual placement of baseballs or a bunch of toys, things that were placed in the room as if the children were coming right back. Kids’ rooms are ever-changing, and you can have a basic plan for their rooms, but there will always be a sense of constantly changing energy and motion to them.

Choose basic furniture

It’s important to make classic choices for furniture, to have the basics in place. Invest in pieces that will grow with the child. You can always restyle the accessories and props, but the bed, dresser, bookcase and desk should be able to take children through the years, from toddler to teen. You can even buy a crib that transforms into a toddler bed and then into a regular bed.

Add color with paint

The next layer is color, which is key for kids. For health and safety, use paints that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs); they give off almost no fumes or odor. Colors that can work as your child grows are a good backdrop for a room that will go from playroom to tween/teen hangout over time. A washable finish is essential, especially for a younger child’s room. A pearl or eggshell finish stands up to scrubbing but won’t show wall defects the way semigloss or high-gloss finishes will. (Save the glossy sheens for trim and moldings.)

Create personal spaces

Catalogs from mail-order furniture companies are a great source of ideas for children’s rooms. They show how to pull together everything you need, from beds to well-designed storage options, lighting, area rugs, window treatments, and even color palettes. But be careful not to make your child’s room a “cookie cutter” catalog room. Put up artwork, family photos, collections — things that reflect a child’s personality and bring the room to life.

As you look at your own children’s space, decide what activities the room needs to accommodate. Does the bedroom need to double as the playroom? If so, you’ll need to define a sleeping area, dresser/clothes area, reading area and play area with storage for toys. If the play space is in your family room, maybe you can designate a corner that is theirs for playing, with a table and chairs and storage baskets or shelves for toys and games.  n

Saint-Onge also offers a list of tips for decorating a child, tween or teen’s bedroom, such adding a chalkboard to a blank wall space, separating colors with a strip of lattice or chair-rail molding, and adding soft pillows and an area rug to create a gathering space for friends. Find more tips on Saint-Onge’s blog, Designer Dad, at

This reprint of No Place Like Home (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) by Stephen Saint-Onge was used with permission.

Categories: At Home, Early Education, Education, Finance, Home, Lifestyle, Money, Preschoolers, School Kids, Tweens and Teens