What would you differently in decorating your kids rooms?
March 26, 2021 8:43 AM   Subscribe

We have a lovely house to make our own and are likely going to start with the kids rooms. They seem less overwhelming than the more family oriented spaces. We have two boys, ages 6 and 2, and are looking for the lessons that you've learned in doing your kids rooms. What worked well? What didn't? What was worth spending $ on?

I'm feeling torn between doing some kind of themes in their rooms or just making them colorful and bright. Any input is welcome. I'm not much of a design/decor person and I am a person of efficiency - let's get this done so we can move on kind of person. The idea of browsing Houzz or Pinterest seems overwhelming!

Both boys have beds and dressers (in white). One has a white bookshelf. We plan to stick with this furniture and build from there.
posted by rglass to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Storage! We have some wooden toy bins, and a rack of smaller bins like this. Our guy (5yo) has enjoyed choosing his own decor stuff for the most part, so we didn't overdo it at first, and let him choose. ("Oh look, wall stickers, do you want to choose your favorite?") His room went from "mostly neutral & blue" to "SPACE IS AWESOME."
posted by jeffjon at 8:49 AM on March 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't do themes again because they outgrow them so very quickly and then you have an 11-year-old who doesn't want to have his friends over because his room is all trains (or dinosaurs or whatever) and you haven't redecorated because wasn't he 6 just last year??

I would make the walls and flooring neutral (for whatever value of "neutral" you like; neutrals can also be bright solid colors!) and then add decorative elements that appeal to the kids at the stage they're at now and can be replaced as they grow older (pillows, bedspreads, lamps, throw rugs, artwork).

And I would choose a durable, washable paint and touch up as needed. Kids are HARD on their living spaces.
posted by cooker girl at 8:50 AM on March 26, 2021 [21 favorites]

I've learned that their tastes tend to change quickly so rather than invest in wallpaper or murals or anything like that, put a neutral-ish (but still fun!) color on the walls and instead buy some themed curtains, pillows, and/or bedsheets.
posted by mezzanayne at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Definitely storage and when they were little, creating floor space (which we did kind of in reverse, a bunk bed with plywood and play mats on the top to play on and a bed on the bottom.)

We just did fairly neutral walls and let them grow with the accents just as people have said above - also, we didn't spend too much so that we didn't freak out when they picked up a Sharpie That One Time.

Good light-blocking drapes paid off quite a bit - the blinds tended to get wrecked.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:52 AM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

A family anecdote: My room, when I was tiny, was decorated with really cool vintage sixties/seventies retro wallpaper with drawings of trains. My parents soon replaced it with pink and blue cabbages roses but I was obsessed by the train wallpaper scraps that we still had and my father used to get them out for me to look at when I was three through seven or so. I always deeply regretted the trains and never liked the cabbage roses, even though my parents have pretty good taste and the cabbage roses were inoffensive if you like that sort of thing. IIRC, I complained regularly about not having the trains.

The moral of the story is not to invest in themes, especially before your kids can pick.

What about posters, calendars and those removable wall decals they have now? Also, as they get older, shelves for them to display their collections/favorite things?
posted by Frowner at 9:00 AM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

You could make it relatively easy - especially for the 2-yr old - by using black and white patterns and one, bright art work. For example, I have a nice framed Keith Haring poster that works great for almost any age in a kids room. Get curtains and a rug that looks great with the bedding. If you’re more into design, here’s what I suggest:
Particularly in a new house, I think it’s nice to let kids pick the wall color and a coordinating bedspread. Let them help paint too. Or you could do one wall in their favorite color and leave the rest white or a neutral light gray, if it’s a crazy color or you’re not up for a big paint job. Mind you, I’m not saying they necessarily pick the exact paint color - what I would do is pick about two shades lighter if they want a really bright color. (We are a pretty DIY family and painting is pretty easy for us, so ymmv on that paint strategy). While I agree a theme is usually not a great idea, you could talk with them about it and sometimes kids will surprise you and pick a relatively mature design theme, like my 8-yr old who picked green and a lovely tree painting so it could “be relaxing like a forest.” Who could say no to that? I’m thinking a rattan light fixture for that room next and maybe one wall of removable wall paper in a forest theme. Another time my youngest wanted a koala theme and we found an adorable big stuffed koala and a couple bamboo lamps, which is a really easy design theme to switch out.
posted by areaperson at 9:17 AM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Make sure the storage is at a height and configuration that they can use, but also set it up so they can see their toys and books and remember what they have. Our daughter plays with the toys in clear bins way more often than the things in opaque bins.

Also, remember that the toys and books themselves are going to bring in a lot of colors and visual noise. Calmer colors on the walls and flooring might look boring as you're doing them but once the boys have moved in things will balance.
posted by The Librarian at 9:44 AM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

To add on to the anti-theme bandwagon, themes make it hard to incorporate gifts from other people. One person I know, who's not a child anymore but whose bedroom hasn't been redecorated since he went to college, had a sports theme in his room: Yankee-pinstripe wallpaper with ball-and-glove border, a bedspread with various sports equipment, a throw pillow with a uniform number, etc., posters on the wall, ticket stubs and game programs, etc. Then, on one wall, just above his nightstand, there's a small framed commendation letter from when his grandfather (after whom this guy is named, btw) was in the Army. It was a gift when he was younger from someone in his family. It's probably the most meaningful and interesting thing in the whole room, but you barely notice it because it doesn't fit the theme. That's an extreme case, but it's easy to see other such scenarios. You have a sports theme and someone gets the kid a giant stuffed giraffe, for example.

The flip side is that once people know of your theme, the kids will *only* get gifts that fit the theme. Before my first kid was born, I mentioned to a co-worker that we had a couple of pieces of zoo animal decor for the nursery, and pretty soon, we were getting so much zoo animal stuff that we couldn't display it all. You're trying to create a theme, not a comprehensive museum.

One other thing to keep in mind is that it might not matter at this point in their lives. As parents, we try to make everything special for our kids and this is a pretty big opportunity to do that. But like, my four-year-old daughter is going through a phase where she hates sleeping in her room. Whenever we put her to sleep there, she wakes up and walks down the hall to the master bedroom to sleep in the "big bed". We've gotten to the point where most of the time, we don't even bother putting her down in her room. It's like, I spent a whole weekend painting, we dropped over a thousand dollars at Pottery Barn Kids, it's objectively an incredible kid's room, and it doesn't matter. She doesn't care.

So that's my other advice, which incorporates the no-theme advice: Just... don't care as much. Like, don't *not* care, but just don't view this project as an expression of how much you love your kids. Paint the walls a fun but rather neutral color, get some sturdy furniture, do something fun to make it "their" room, but stay within reason.

Another anecdote: My family vacations with my in-laws on Sanibel Island, Florida. My wife, my daughter, and I have all been several times, and we have those souvenir mini-license plates that say "Sanibel Island" and our names, hung over the doors to our respective bedrooms. My son, who was born in late 2019, didn't get to go last year because of Covid and just went for the first time this month. It was very important to my daughter that we get him a "rectangle" because his room isn't really his room unless he has one over his door. Big impact for 75 cents.

The final thing I'd suggest is to buy bookcases and fill them with books. Aside from the bed/crib, the bookcases are the most prominent pieces of furniture in each one's room, and it's paid off. Their daycare teachers are constantly telling us how they both spend free time hanging out with books. My daughter, who's four, barely reads because she memorizes so much text that she doesn't have to read anything more than two or three times. When we saw my in-laws just now, she impressed her grandfather by reciting, from memory, the entire text of The Cat in The Hat. Who knows how it'll play out as they get older, but there's a ton of science showing how good it is for academic development to be around books when they're young.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:45 AM on March 26, 2021 [11 favorites]

Let you children put their own imprint on their own spaces, bit by bit, as time passes. Leave space for this.
posted by amtho at 10:21 AM on March 26, 2021 [9 favorites]

My brother and I had lots of cork wall when we were kids, and could redecorate at will, which was great. Come to think of it my office now has as many cork boards as I can fit, though now they’re sheets of homosote with fabric stapled around them - that would work for kids and be less 1970s than sheet cork.

Giving your kids agency rather than a fully designed environment seems good to me, so I wouldn’t look at design sites, because agency doesn’t show. Oh, the other thing my brother and I got were worktables that my parents adjusted for height as we grew. Art, study, making, just sitting up feeling like grownups.
posted by clew at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

Bedding is a nice place to reflect their current interests/age ie. Paw patrol, , and can be changed over time without a lot of work and passed down to younger kids in your social or family circle.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I painted my older daughter's room 3 times in 3 years. I don't mind painting, but yeah count me in as make it as neutral as possible because kids change what they like often.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:21 AM on March 26, 2021

limit the theme stuff to inexpensive, easily replaced items: sheet and pillowcase sets; wall decor; that sort of thing.

Re colors, just remember that anything painted on a large surface (a wall) will appear 10x as bright as it did on a paint chip. If you're thinking of painting the walls a color, paint yourself a nice BIG square of it on the wall first to see how it looks in the light. If you have any very heavy furniture in there, or stuff that gets bolted to the wall, then consider doing the bright color just on an accent wall that doesn't have those things against it, so it'll be easy to change if they get tired of it.

Re storage, yes, storage is a big issue BUT with an important caveat: the deeper and more "out of the way" the storage, the less useful it is. Kids will throw their crap in there and never excavate it. Shallow wall shelving so you can see what's being held onto is a much better way to go. You can always put bins on the shelves.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:10 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

All the advice above is good. Don't do themes. With white beds and dressers I would accessorize with stuff with colors, or some natural wood tones as well, working especially with things that can be removed/changed, like sheets. The older one potentially can have some input, within reason.

Yes, to storage, bookcase, some kind of bulletin board, work tables/desks. Depending on what is on the floor already you can fiddle around with that. We spent a lot of time playing on the uncarpeted floor, and we had, over time, various area rugs and surfaces to play on, as well as very low tables to set up and leave our in progress games and projects, as well as floor pillows, beanbag chairs, etc., etc.. We had bins for storage, but I also remember open baskets with handles where various stuffed animals and such rotated in and out of.

Don't forget the ceiling. You could have some hooks to hang entertaining stuff (out of reach), where things could change over time. There are also stick on florescent stars and such.

(P.S., as a former kid, I can tell you I outgrew and regretted the predominance of pink in my bedroom way before my parents could afford to change things.)
posted by gudrun at 12:34 PM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

All the above advice is great. We got a lot of mileage out of wall decals! Easy to put on and not too hard to take off, and they allowed the kids to have some personalization according to their current interests.
posted by DTMFA at 12:39 PM on March 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, and lights! Christmas lights etc can be super fun for kids to have in their rooms. Now that ours are older they both have strips of LED lights that just stick onto the wall (ours are at the top of the wall by the ceiling), that they can change to different colors. They love them.
posted by DTMFA at 12:41 PM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Wall decals are removable and awesome. I started with Beatrix potter stickers in a proper border when my twins were babies, than we progressed through construction vehicles, curious George, paw patrol, alphabets, lego and minecraft. It’s now a weird mishmash of all of the above, and the kids move them around themselves. They love it, and each pack was around $20 on Amazon.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 1:25 PM on March 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

oh by the way: if your kids love stuffed animals, do yourself a favor and get one or two of these. Put them over a bed where they can easily be accessed. Make sure the hooks they attach to are screwed into beams. Life savers.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I forgot to suggest searching your local marketplace or Craigslist for crate & barrel kids (I think it’s called crate & kids now?), land of nod, pottery barn kids, etc. I’ve found great deals on stuff I would never pay full price for that way and I suspect it’s from parents who did splurge on nice kids stuff and then their kids outgrew it. Stuff like rainbow fringe pottery barn teen curtains for $10, a great land of nod rug for $40, etc. If you find a great deal on it, I find it both makes the decision making easier and makes it easier to replace if it gets worn out or they out grow it. And ps, the Star Wars line at PB kids is really cool! I currently have a marketplace search saved for it for my kids.
posted by areaperson at 2:17 PM on March 26, 2021

The thing I loved most in my childhood bedroom was having shelf space to decorate as I liked. The pink and blue flower wallpaper my mom let me choose when I was 7? not so much. So, agreeing with everyone, lots of storage and display space, fairly neutral backgrounds for that. There's lots of great, inexpensive decor ideas on Epbot. They have been doing a lot of free room makeovers for people that need home help, lots of great inspiration there.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:14 PM on March 26, 2021

When my kids were little and short, I got them a lot of storage that was at their height, as well as large expensive toy boxes. But they got taller so quickly! And now there's wasted space above those low storage units. So I'd say to learn from my mistake and don't be reluctant to purchase storage that they will grow into (and anchor it of course). You can fill any low shelves or drawers with toys, and the higher shelves can remain empty or hold seldom-used items like extra pillows. As they grow, they will use the upper shelves.

The thing I think I did right was to build - or rather to Ikea-hack - a little wardrobe for my younger daughter, rather than hanging clothes in her closet, so she could reach them all herself.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:38 PM on March 26, 2021

The 2 year old needs a cozy space, a well-lighted place for play and whatever environment looks and feels enriching. A 6 year old can make choices about a theme or a cool thing they want. They might choose something you hate, but they will like it more because they chose it. I think kids' rooms are legally required to have glow in the dark stars on the ceiling; this is as it should be.

My son had a view that included a factory (B&M Beans, Portland, ME) chimney, and it made the strongest impact; go figure. Plant a tree outside their windows; leaves make great daydreaming sources, but, really, so do clouds.
posted by theora55 at 5:19 PM on March 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the input! I appreciate it so much!
posted by rglass at 7:53 PM on March 26, 2021

Best answer: My kids (now 10 and 7) still share a room and the one piece of furniture that I should have bought earlier was a small loveseat so that we can all sit together while I read books to them at bedtime. We used to use a beanbag and it was okay for 2 toddlers but as they grew into lanky elementary schoolers It was suboptimal at best. So I just got a cheap loveseat from Wayfair and it has been perfect.

Your kids don't share a room so having space for three probably isn't so important, but having seating for all relevant participants to sit and snuggle together has been awesome.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:02 PM on March 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: oh, if you have room, definitely pop a comfy loveseat in there. I moved an old couch into my kids' room a while back and it was a HUGE hit, and encouraged a lot of reading. If there's only room for a cushy chair, that's still good.

I've never seen anyone actually sit in a beanbag for longer than the few moments it takes to realize how uncomfortable is is, even small kids.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:55 AM on March 27, 2021

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