- - Friday, July 20, 2012

If the idea of designing your children’s bedrooms brings visions of bubble-gum-pink fairy princesses or a roomful of Spider-Man artifacts, think again. Most interior designers recommend staying away from a theme and reaching instead for colors, furnishings and accessories that can grow with your child’s changing personality.

“Designing a room for a child requires a very different level of seriousness than designing an adult’s bedroom,” said Nancy Twomey, owner of Finnian’s Moon Interiors in Alexandria. “In a child’s room, washability, toughness and durability are more important than almost anything.”

Ms. Twomey also said it is important to create a plan for a child’s room with some flexibility for future changes in the youngster’s interests and preferences.

“It’s in the nature of kids to change their minds often, so unless you have unlimited income to change everything every three months, it’s best to stay away from a completely themed room,” said Jessica Bonness, an interior designer with JGB Interiors in the District.

Susan Nelson, owner of Susan Nelson Interiors in Great Falls said homeowners should be practical when it comes to decorating a child’s room.

“You want the room to look nice, but this isn’t the place for a high-end fabric for the bedspread,” Ms. Nelson said.

While they are hired to work for the parents, interior designers take time to consult with children, too.

“I let the kids flip through my paint samples and look at my mood board to see what kind of color palette they like,” Ms. Bonness said. “If a child has a favorite color, we can try to accommodate in some way, but of course, when the child wants the room to be neon green, that’s more of a problem. You can find a way to work that color in the bedding or art pieces or accessories in a less permanent way.”

One little girl wanted a soccer-themed room, so Ms. Twomey brought in a black-and-white striped chair, strong green and blue colors for other fabrics and some art with the right colors to evoke the sport rather than fill the space with soccer-ball wallpaper. For someone who wants an orange room, she suggested purchasing orange toss pillows instead of painting the walls orange.

Ms. Twomey recommended starting with a simple, tidy foundation for a child’s room.

“The more chaos you add, the further down into chaos the room will go,” Ms. Twomey said. “A lot of people assume they have to go neutral, but all that really matters is that the room is unified one way or another. For instance, if the walls are one color, then the window treatments should blend with them, and the color should be picked up in a focal piece of art or something decorative. Then when the kids inject their personality the room won’t seem unkempt.”

Ms. Nelson suggested avoiding busy wallpaper and traditional baby pink or soft baby blue, but she said a more sophisticated shade of pink or peach could work well in a girl’s room.

“A simple, striped wallpaper will be appropriate at any age,” Ms. Nelson said, “but paint is even better.”

Once the color scheme has been established, the next step is to determine the layout of the room. Children’s rooms typically are smaller than adult bedrooms, so homeowners will need to be careful in estimating the appropriate sizes of furniture.

“Even if there’s space for two twin beds, I always recommend switching to a double bed right away because the second bed tends to become a dumping ground for everything,” Ms. Nelson said.

Once the bed is chosen, parents can evaluate how much space they have for additional furniture.

When furnishing a child’s room, Ms. Twomey recommended choosing a few pieces, such as dressers, nightstands and chairs, that will last and will be flexible enough to fit the changing needs of the child. She said parents can avoid furniture made specifically for children and instead should look for solid pieces that will be practical in the future.

Ms. Nelson suggested purchasing a tall dresser — even for a small child — because the extra space will come in handy as the child gets older. At first, she said, only the bottom drawers will be used, but if you’re using up floor space, you should make it count. She said unfinished furniture can be a fun option for children and parents to paint or finish together.

Ms. Nelson also recommended having plenty of space for books and an upholstered chair to encourage reading.

“I think the most important element, one that many parents overlook, is to have an upholstered chair in a child’s room,” Ms. Twomey said. “If you have the space, it’s great to have a place for a parent to sit and read or talk. It’s great for friends and for the child to read later on, too.”

For one client, Ms. Bonness placed a small table and several small ottomans in the bedroom so the ottomans can be used in the future for footstools.

“We put a small sofa in a 4-year-old girl’s bedroom with an upholstered storage piece that works as a small coffee table,” Ms. Bonness said. “She’ll want this seating space someday, so we decided to put it in now. It’s smart to look for pieces like this that add versatility for future use. The storage piece can work for toys now and then for sweaters when she is older.”

Storage can be the biggest issue for children’s rooms. Ms. Twomey likes under-bed storage drawers for children’s rooms because youngsters can reach them easily. She also recommended using bookcases with drawers on the bottom for storing toys and trinkets.

“I even like an old-fashioned toy box, which works well for things that don’t fit easily on shelves,” Ms. Twomey said. “Hooks are a great way to keep clothes off the floor, and they can look decorative, especially if you buy a robe that complements the room.”

Ms. Bonness said one of the most practical pieces is a low horizontal bookcase with cube-shaped bins.

“You can place it on the floor, and a toddler can toss toys in there, and then you can switch it to a bookcase later,” Ms. Bonness said. “At some later time, you can flip it vertically for a tall bookcase, or you can leave it on its side as a bench and have pillows made for seating.”

Ms. Nelson suggested using a coat rack for towels or clothes that youngsters tend to toss on the floor.

“You can also use an armoire or a linen press that has drawers below and closed cabinets above,” Ms. Nelson said. “These are a great place for the trillions of trinkets kids tend to have, and they can be as messy as they want behind the closed cabinet doors.”

Now if only someone could figure out how to get children to use these clever storage ideas consistently.

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