Go Wild With Children’s Room Makeovers Without Going Crazy Over Money or Time

By Susan A. Merkner


It’s a Jungle in There!

Turning a child’s dream bedroom into reality doesn’t require back-breaking work or bank-breaking costs.


Looking for inspiration?
Check out Kids’ Rooms From Cradle to Teen ‘Crib,’ along with other suggestions for keeping children’s rooms neat and organized.
It’s not only possible to create a child’s fantasy bedroom for less than $500, it’s fun, too. Most kids have a clear mental image of the type of room in which they would like to spend a third or more of their life. With ingenuity, careful shopping and a willingness to put some sweat equity into the project, parents can help their child put together their dream room.


As children move into the late elementary and middle-school years, their bedroom becomes an expression of their interests, rather than their parents’. When our son turned 9, he began complaining about the babyish look of his room, which featured pastel farm animals and a hodge-podge of toys, framed pictures and his various collections (rocks, shells, Pokémon cards and more). Inspired in part by Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, my son asked that we convert his room into a jungle. The steps we followed are applicable for any type of themed room, whether the motif is a castle, racetrack, storybook garden or a favorite licensed character or sports team.


Here are six steps to creating a child’s bedroom makeover:


-- Establish a budget and stick to it. Children will learn the cost of a variety of materials during the room makeover, and not over-spending is a good place to start. For our son’s 10-by-10-foot bedroom, we set the spending bar at $500 and came in well under budget. We kept all the existing furniture, which included a twin-size bed with headboard, a chest of drawers, a long desk and a set of tall bookshelves. We also agreed to leave the existing white, vinyl mini-blinds as the primary window covering.


-- If you’re using wallpaper or border, select the pattern early on.  It’s much easier to match paint and bed linens to a pattern, rather than the other way around. We purchased three 15-yard rolls of jungle-themed border for about $75 online.


-- Choose the bed linens and window coverings to establish or compliment your theme.  Our family shopped local discount retailers for months in search of the perfect bedspread to carry out our jungle theme, toting around a roll of our new wallpaper border to judge color compatibility. Although my son started out wanting camouflage-colored bed linens, he changed his mind after we stumbled upon a bargain-priced “bed-in-a-bag” set (quilt, bedskirt, three-piece sheet set and pillow sham) in a leafy pattern involving many shades of green. Our son pronounced the pattern perfect, and mom was pleased because the twin-sized set cost less than $50.


-- Next we purchased the paint, a dark green semi-gloss latex that matched the trim on his bedroom furniture. We used the wallpaper border hung about 3 feet up from the floor to give the illusion of a chair rail and to serve as a dividing line between the white upper walls and the colored lower walls. Using a darker color only on the bottom of the walls makes the room feel larger and helps keep fingerprints and dirt marks to a minimum.  In our case, we did not need to repaint the upper walls, ceiling or trim, since all were in good shape, so we only painted the lower portions of the walls, applying one coat of dark green over the existing blue. Paint is one of the most affordable ways to make a quick, dramatic change in a bedroom. One gallon of specially mixed green paint cost us less than $30 at our neighborhood home-improvement store. In our garage, we unearthed all the necessary drop-clothes, brushes, roller and pan. 


-- At this point in the project, it’s fun to start planning some of the fun accessories that can be added to a themed room. As we strolled through crafts supply stores, we tossed around various ideas for carrying our jungle theme to the next level. A package of long, slender bamboo poles caught my son’s eye. He knew he wanted to use them in the room somehow. A vision of the window crossed my mind. Why not use the bamboo poles as an informal “curtain rod” to support long garlands of silk ivy and leafy vines, which the crafts store conveniently had on sale? We were so excited by the concept that we couldn’t wait to get home to hang up the poles (using large cuphooks screwed into the wall) over the window and the closet door. We wove the artificial vines around the poles, and were extremely pleased with the result.  While reading Where the Wild Things Are yet again, we had another inspiration and purchased three more garlands of faux vines, which we suspended from the ceiling with thumbtacks to provide even more jungle atmosphere. The poles and vines cost approximately $100, but we still were comfortably under budget.


-- Next, it was time to tackle the room. The most time-consuming aspect was sorting through everything, deciding what to keep and how to store it.  Outgrown clothes and toys were packed up and donated to charity. The bookcases were emptied, and all the breakables put away.  On the weekend we started work, we pushed all the furniture into the middle of the room. Over the course of three days, we washed the walls, painted and hung the border. When we re-hung some of our existing artwork in the room, we grouped like items together, so that one wall featured several pictures of airplanes, along with an airplane-shaped windsock that previously had been gathering dust on a bookshelf. With some imagination, this created the effect of a landing strip in the jungle. Finally, we tacked up some glow-in-the-dark plastic stars that were bought years ago and never used. As we put the finishing touches on our jungle-themed room, it was deemed “very cool” by our young decorator.


Largely because we incorporated existing furniture, and shopped carefully for bargain-priced bed linens and accessories, our project cost us less than half of our original $500 budget. From a mom’s perspective, that was very cool, too.



Have Fun With Your Room, by Lynette Jennings, Aladdin Paperbacks, 2001. How-to projects for teens who want to accessorize their room.


Ideas for Great Kids’ Rooms, Sunset Publishing Corp., 1993. From planning to shopping, from babies to teens, inspiration and advice for redecorating children’s rooms.


Kids’ Rooms, by Jennifer Levy, Chronicle Books, 2001. Fully illustrated manual addresses the fundamentals of a room makeover and offers thematic ideas for ages 4 to 13.


Room Crafts: Add Some Simple Style to Your Space, by the editors of American Girl, Pleasant Company Publications, 2004. Young crafters will find instructions for plenty of fun projects, such as picture frames, pillows and more.

Susan A. Merkner is editor of Our Kids San Antonio, a United Parenting Publication, October, 2004.