- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oh, baby, take a chance and have fun when decorating a child’s room, says Kristen Hughes, owner of Lullaby Baby in Columbia, Md. She recently painted two-tone pink stripes on opposite walls for her 2-year-old daughter, Summer, to contrast with corresponding walls of light green. Her son, Jackson, 5, enjoys a surfing-themed mural in his bedroom.

“Children’s rooms can be more whimsical,” Mrs. Hughes says. “They are supposed to foster imagination and creativity.”

Though living and dining rooms usually have formal designs, children’s rooms should be fanciful and playful, she says. With a little foresight, a young child’s room can be converted easily as they grow.

Bright colors engage babies, says Maxine Cohen, owner of Maximize Decors in Northwest. Newborns are drawn to bright colors, not the pastels of olden days, she says.

“If you engage your child visually from birth, you have a good chance at making them more intelligent and more engaged in the world,” Ms. Cohen says. “Bold graphic designs help kids focus their eyes and get their brains working.”

Using pink and blue is not required, Ms. Cohen says. Unisex colors and neon hues can be fun, she adds. She prefers to do things that are bold and fun but a little more generic, such as graphic designs, stripes and plaids.

“You want your child’s eyes to be engaged, as they would be in a really great painting,” Ms. Cohen says. “You have to make it visually interesting and soothing to the mother as well.”

When planning the layout of the room, a sketch of the space should be drawn to scale, noting the placement of the closets, windows and doors, Mrs. Hughes says. Otherwise, the furniture might not fit in the room.

Before buying a bunch of cute accessories, parents should look for basic furniture, such as a crib, rocker, chest or dresser, bookcase, side table and changing table. The accessories can be purchased later to match the furniture instead of trying to buy furniture to match the accessories, she says.

“If you buy three pieces of artwork and a shelf, it might not work after you get the furniture,” Mrs. Hughes says. “See what wall space you have to fill after you buy the furniture.”

Deciding whether the furniture will be more conservative or trendy is the next step, Mrs. Hughes says. If the furniture is more traditional, imagination can be introduced through paint, wallpaper, window treatments, bedding and other accessories, which can be changed over time.

As long as a themed room is not overdone, it still can be created for a younger child and converted later, she says. Nursery rhymes, Noah’s ark, cowboys, frogs and circus animals are commonly featured in nurseries.

For furniture, darker wood is most popular right now, especially cherry and warmer tones, Mrs. Hughes says. Although white is a standard for nursery furniture, black is a current trend for cribs. Red and blue furniture also is fashionable for boys’ rooms.

Certain cribs can convert into beds so parents won’t have to buy a bed once the crib is outgrown, says Sandra Friedman, owner of Sandra Friedman Interiors in North Bethesda. Even the right dressers and side tables can be used as the child matures.

“It’s not a question anymore of putting a lot of money into baby furniture, and when you’re finished having children, you can’t use it anymore,” Mrs. Friedman says. “Most furniture that I’ve seen goes very well into the teenage years.”

Various dressers have changing tables that can be removed when the child no longer wears diapers, says Jim Streight, manager of Great Beginnings, the Baby and Children’s Design Center in Gaithersburg. For instance, the dresser might come with a foam contour pad on the top or a wooden unit that bolts onto the furniture, both of which can be removed when necessary.

Further, if the furniture is gender-neutral, it can be passed down from the first child, he says.

“It’s a lot cheaper to change the statement of the room by buying a gallon of paint than by buying wild-looking furniture that you will regret a couple years down the road,” Mr. Streight says. “Don’t throw money away on Mickey Mouse furniture.”

Most people decorate to their own taste, Mr. Streight says. If clients have a traditional oak-furnished house, they probably won’t buy white furniture for the nursery, he says.

“When the children are younger, the parents buy what they wanted as a child,” Mr. Streight says. “When the children are older, the kids’ tastes determine the purchases.”

Even toys can be adapted as a child grows, says J.B. Schneider, co-founder of P’kolino in Woburn, Mass. The company’s premier product is the P’kolino Play Table, retailing for $989. It has two adjustable heights and various removable pieces. It includes two tables, two benches, an interchangeable play kit and interchangeable blocks.

The play table can be inverted to become a reading lounge, and the benches can be used as teeter-totters, he says. Some of the pieces also are sold separately.

“It’s important to have a product that has upgrade-ability,” Mr. Schneider says. “You don’t want the environment to get stale. You want to change the environment without a lot of additional cost.”

Whatever items are purchased for a child’s room, they should be durable, says Catherine Hass Gordon, an independent interior designer in Kensington. Anything that can be washed is preferable, such as slipcovers and rag rugs.

“Kids are tough on stuff, even more than adults or pets,” Mrs. Gordon says. “Make it user-friendly and wearable.”

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