Decorating Children's Rooms (Part Two)
It goes without saying that most people want to give their kids the best of everything. And at times like this when the economy is flush, with more working people having more expendable income than we've seen in a few decades, many parents are taking every opportunity to bestow upon the their little ones all the attributes of the good life. From private schools to new clothes to flat-screen digital TVs, spending on kids has exploded in huge ways in the last few years. Pair that with interior design and decorating being industries whose fates are intimately linked to the ups and downs of the economy, and it only adds up that decorating for kids is currently all the rage.

Whereas once upon a time it was considered going all out to have a matching football-themed bedspread and curtains in a kid's room, now entire sets of sheets, duvets, curtains, rugs and even wall hangings all featuring the same Powerpuff Girls or N'Sync motif can be acquired for a song at places like Kmart and Bradlees. And any respectable wallpaper outlet will have not just a few, but a vast selection of kid-themed patterns, as well as the all-important matching borders. (FYI, wallpaper borders are now a very big deal in the kids' decorating world.)

But with so many options now available, it can be hard to know just how far to go with it all. Or even where to begin, for that matter. It's always an option to go out and get all-matching everything and cover every surface of the room with all one theme, be it flowers, gorillas, The Little Mermaid, or Mack trucks. But all but the most die-hard matching maniacs out there, including the kid who's obsessed with whatever it is, will most likely find such an environment more than a little overwhelming.

The best strategy to use when you're about to begin decorating a kid's room, just like when you're designing any other space, is to keep in mind what the room will be used for first and foremost–then get into what it will look like. Ask questions like these: How many kids will be sleeping there? If it's just one, do you expect that he or she will have to share sometime in the next few years? Will the bedroom be his or her main space for play as well as sleep, or will there be a separate play area? Is he really into arts and crafts, which would mean the floor and work surfaces should be easy to clean up? Is she likely to get very tall and need a double bed? All these questions are much more important than whether to paint the walls powder, shell or rose pink. Not that color isn't important, for it most definitely is. But function should be your first consideration.

That having been said, let's take a look at the usual basic elements of a kid's room:

  • a bed with a good mattress

  • bedside table with a lamp

  • desk with a chair and lamp for homework

  • surface for art and play (can be the floor)

  • a mirror

  • places to store hanging and folded clothes

  • storage for books, toys and games

A bed with a mattress that provides good support is extremely important. Kids' bones are still growing and solidifying at a fast rate, and spending long sleeping hours in bad positions can lead to or exacerbate serious posture problems. Different cultures have different ideas what constitutes support and what constitutes torture–sleeping on a Japanese futon (the kind you find in Japan, not our cushy American version) feels like sleeping on pavement to your average westerner, but many Japanese find our much softer beds overly indulgent and worry about their backs. It's all a matter of preference, but most doctors around the world agree that too soft is a big no-no. Use your best judgement, and keep in mind that in the world of mattresses, you usually get what you pay for. Skimping on a cheap mattress for your kid now just might cost you more in medical bills later.

A bedside lamp is also important, if only because it's really nice to be able to turn on a light without getting out of bed–especially if you're afraid of the dark, which most kids are at one point or another. It's also nice to have a close light for reading bedtime stories, and a table underneath it is handy for a glass of water, a nightlight, or any favorite books.

And just like it's good for you to have a home office area if you ever work at home, it's a good for a kid to have her own place to do her homework–a place that's just for study, with ample light for reading and writing and a comfortable chair that provides good back support. Sure, homework can be done at the kitchen table, and often is. But providing a place that is just for study, separate from the rest of the house and in the child's own space, is a good way to convey the message to him that homework is something that should be taken seriously and consciously made a priority.

If the room is also the child's primary play area, you'll want to keep this in mind when considering the flooring. Granted, children have played on bare wood floors for centuries with no problem. But something softer like cork, or soft rubber tiles that come in bright colors just for kids (available at many carpet and tile stores) will hurt a bit less when they fall and will go easier on their knees when they're kneeling. While it's far from necessary, it's something to consider. And if the kid loves to make a mess, rubber flooring is an even better idea, since it easily wipes clean.

And speaking of wiping clean, a popular trend right now is to cover the lower half of one wall with blackboard paint (available at most paint and hardware stores) so the kids can draw with abandon–and it also saves paper. If something so permanent doesn't appeal to you, a real blackboard hung on the wall or propped on an easel will serve the same purpose.

And while we're talking about permanence, that's another important thing to consider when decorating for a kid. It's nice to really do a room up, but bear in mind that kids' tastes often change pretty rapidly. That Barbie motif she likes right now at age nine will seem childish once she hits twelve or thirteen and wants to be Jennifer Lopez, so you might not want to invest in something as permanent as Barbie wallpaper. The same goes for colors. Many little girls go through a lavender phase, but get sick of it after a few years.

Some people don't mind making frequent major changes, but for the rest of us, it's often wiser to stay somewhat basic with the features of a room that take the most time to change, like the walls and carpeting. Classic colors like pale blue, pale green and yellow can be dressed up with accessories–lamps, area rugs, sheets and curtains, toys–featuring the kid's favorite cartoon characters, pop stars or what-have-you. And in the case of older kids, they'll probably cover the walls with posters anyway.

When choosing furniture, many people find that regular grown-up furniture is just fine for kids. A full-size wood dresser or bookshelf, from another room in your house or bought new, can be livened up with a fresh coat of paint in white or a bright color–and the child will never outgrow it. But there are more and more furniture stores catering just to kids, with brightly colored plastic (read: hard to break and easy to clean) furniture and even traditional pieces scaled down to kiddy-size. Pottery Barn has a whole catalog of undersized furniture, most of it also available for adults, including a leather club chair (weird...)

The upshot is this: Treat a kid's room like any other room in the house, but keep in mind that the person you're decorating for will be going through drastic changes in his or her tastes and mindset over a fairly short period of time. Flexibility is key, for the more effort you put into everything tying together in one theme, the more work you'll have to do to change it as the child grows up or gets a sibling to share the room with. If that sounds like fun, then have a blast! But for those who'd rather take a more practical approach there's a wealth of accessories out there, in a variety of themes ranging from Pokemon to Peter Rabbit, that will help you make the perfect haven for the little pride and joy.

–Holly McWhorter