Globe & Mail It’s child’s play Sumo Bean Bag Chairs

May 13, 2006

Ann Tancio


It’s child’s play Barbie-doll pink closets, flea market finds, scrawled-on walls: Give them creative freedom, JANICE LINDSAY says It’s an odd thing. Grownups who take the most time and care decorating their homes often have the hardest time letting their kids take the same pleasure in their rooms. Says architect Janna Levitt, a mother of two teens, “When I go into a house where the kids’ rooms are perfect, it doesn’t feel right. It’s all about the parents.” Environmental psychologists say that to feel comfortable and productive in any built environment two essentials are necessary: cognition and competence. This translates into spaces that are logical and functional but also ones that don’t own us and control us. We have to feel we participate and have the power to effect change. Giving kids carte blanche might be a challenge. Levitt admits that when she did the bedrooms for the daughters of a client, the colours they chose made her feel nauseated. “But they just loved them and that’s what matters.” Many a great designer started out as a kid who got to decorate his or her room. When my client Shirley Rivas calls with a decorating question I ask her what her design-savvy 12-year-old, Tara, thinks. And I usually suggest she go with her daughter’s opinion. Letting kids design their spaces is much more than an aesthetic exercise. It shows respect for their opinions, that you listen, that you think they are ready to take on responsibility. It is empowering and, frankly, it is lots of fun. Here are five principles to help ease the process. A kid’s aesthetic includes clutter Kids take a kind of avian approach to decorating. They like to gather bits and pieces of significance and surround themselves with their hoarded objects of desire: stuffed animals, model cars, trophies, happy snaps, toy ponies. Sam Berson-Weinberg, 13, put it like this: “Kids like clutter. Your own mess is a good kind of mess. You know where everything is. It’s friendly. When it’s all tidy, it feels like an adult has been through.” It’s only paint Paint is the perfect tool for personalizing a room. Most kids have an instinctual colour sense that is strong and clear and if they say they want a colour, give it to them (but you pick the paint). If the room can’t handle their signature hue on all four walls, put it on one. Add colour to the ceiling in brightly coloured rooms. At the very least, tint the ceiling with a lighter tone of the wall colour or a co-ordinating pastel hue. For a client who didn’t want her four-year-old’s small room to be Barbie-doll pink, I suggested a soft turquoise for the walls and used the pink in her closet and inside her dresser drawers. With the doors open, the closet is her favourite play area. Now let’s deal with black. Black is beautiful. It is not the colour of depressives but the colour of the confident, independent and — okay, slightly rebellious. Don’t fight the dark, just limit the quantity if you must. And if they want murals, let them paint them themselves, and if they want stripes, let them have stripes (or handprints or whatever . . .). Let their walls be an invitation to shape and enjoy their world. We learn as much from our mistakes as our successes. Repeat after me: This is not body tattooing, it’s only paint. It’s not for keeps “Kids are much more dynamic beings than we are,” architect Ed Weinberg says. “So their rooms should not be deterministic. If you want a nursery with matching drapes and things, that is okay as long as you know it will all change.” Kids change what they want around them all the time. They are not fickle, but evolving, individuals. Their rooms should be as flexible as possible. Don’t invest a lot of money in “kiddy furniture” or matching bedroom suites. I suggested to a client who was about to buy one for her daughter to let her put the mattress and box spring on the floor. The girl was thrilled. We spent the money on a simple custom dresser with each drawer a different pink-red. These can be painted every time the room changes. Keep the fashion in the details Items that are for the long term should be style-, gender- and age-neutral. Keep bought pieces simple and modular and built-ins designed to be functional for any age. Window treatments last longer than bedding so go design-crazy with the sheets and let the bed be the fashion statement. Mary, my savvy 11-year-old client, knew she wanted blue and white Marimekko bedding (fabric available through to contrast with her orange walls. Simple curtain panels can be made to match but long-term elements like blinds should be neutral. Encourage creative urges Encourage kids to discover their own flea market finds or get creative with your old junk. They can customize their furniture with markers and paint, write all over an old set of white drawers or collage all over the walls. Rather than buying art, give them a huge whiteboard or chalkboard. Install a corkboard area from baseboard to ceiling that they can cover with their art, photos and bits and pieces they enjoy. If you feel the need for some unifying force, pick one colour and use it on all the furniture: black chalkboard paint for drama, high-gloss white for freshness or variations on a single colour for fun. Why have pink when you can have pinks? Janice Lindsay is a colour and design coach, PINK Colour + Design, 416-961-6281, Do’s and don’ts Don’t have: Matching bedroom suites and fully co-ordinated fabrics (after the age of 7). Precious things. A specific style or theme. A television. A bed with a footboard (unless the room is big). Do have: A Sumo beanbag Omni and Otto set ( A bulletin board of self-healing cork. Magnetic paint by Sherwin Williams (use three coats under wall colour to get the necessary grip) and strong magnets from Lee Valley Tools ( Benjamin Moore chalkboard paint on a section of wall. Sleep-over capacity: a bunk, a trundle or a double bed. Related Link: Globe & Mail

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