12 Tips for Decorating Kids’ Rooms

Got your heart set on building the dinosaur-shaped headboard of your dreams for your bookworm of a boy’s bed? Feel like a hip mama because you’re letting your 4-year-old pick which of 34 colors she wants her spendy maple bedroom furniture to be stained in? Oregon Home asked design mavens for pointers for decorating a kid’s room with style.

[1. Realize that there is a shelf life to nursery room décor.]

Your last three bedroom makeovers may have started with a slightly different shade of your signature periwinkle on the walls, but keep in mind that kids are ever-changing people who deserve to have décor upgrades every few years. “A lot of first-time parents do a really neat nursery for their first baby, but it’s not unusual to meet a new client and see some sort of wallpaper border with Teddy bears and alphabet letters left up and the child who is sleeping in the room is 7 years old,” says interior designer Heidi Semler, the mother of a 4 1/2-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, and the designer behind Heidi Semler Interior Design in Portland. “Or the new baby will be in the nursery and the older child will be in a bedroom with a toddler’s bed with one thin blanket on it and the walls in the room are shot and there’s a ratty dresser in the room. I know it can be difficult to spend a lot of energy on a child’s room, but it doesn’t take a terrible amount of effort to make a child’s room look well-loved. Even if that just means painting the room and getting a nice bed and puffing it up with fun bedding.”

[2. Outfit spaces with cubbies or bins that make it easy for kids to organize their stuff.]

Does your Great Room overflow with enough plastic toys to outfit a playroom in a daycare center? Is your daughter’s bedroom more dressing room—think clothes on the floor and shoes in a pile—than a peaceful place in which to wind down? “You have to help your kids keep clothes off of the floor and off of the bed,” says Suzanne Sibley, the co-owner of Little Urbanites in the Pearl District. “Buy organizing tools that will teach them that, after a reasonable amount of time, they need to put things back where they belong. I’m a big fan of cubbies and bins. Another cute thing you can do is get small inexpensive suitcases in colors or designs that match your décor, and leave two or three of them open on the floor. Put socks in the littlest one, pajamas in the middle one and clothing in the largest one. Kids can keep their clothing together, and they can learn how to dress themselves by picking and choosing outfits from their three little suitcases.”

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[3. If you’re a DIY-er who sweats the details, pair old-school shopping with online browsing.]

If you’re making your kids’ curtains or bedding to begin with, you’re already the kind of parent who likes things just so. Just remember that fabric on the Internet can look different from the fabric on a bolt, just as there may be slight variations of color from one bolt to another. “A lot of our customers want to save money so they shop for fabric online and fall in love with a material, but you don’t want to buy fabric online,” says Gina Cadenasso, the owner of the three-year-old Bolt fabric boutique in Northeast Portland. “A fabric’s color can look different online than what it really looks like. And you can’t feel something when you’re looking at a picture of it on your computer screen.” When it comes to buying 10 yards of ladybug-imprinted Japanese cotton—and three coordinating fabrics to go with it—head for your nearest fabric store.

[4. Expect a tween to lean toward sophisticated furnishings and fabrics in wacky combinations.]

Forget the hand-me-down blanket chest at the foot of a tween or teenager’s bed. “Even a tween wants her room to have a chaise lounge or an ottoman or, say, four oversized cubes done in different colors so that she can push them togther and make a big coffee table when her friends go over,” says Kate Nason., the creative force and designer behind Chairwear, a studio in Northeast Portland that fabricates such home couture details as slipcovers, bedding, curtains and Roman shades. “The tweens I’ve done bedrooms for have wanted wacky combinations like hanging a chandelier but having a shag rug beneath it. And they like a bohemian mix of fabrics—paisleys, silky fabrics, sarilike fabrics, a mix of velvets and beaded trims on lampshades. Little girls still like a lot of pink, but older girls like black and white plus one really fun, bright color such as lime-green or turquoise or a shocking pink thrown in.”

[5. Edit your child’s color choices when it comes to picking a wall color or furniture finishes.]

Involving your children in the remodeling or redecorating of their bedrooms or playroom doesn’t mean giving them free rein to paint their walls whichever color of the rainbow (think black or Barbie pink!) they want. “When you ask a small kid for his favorite color, he’ll look around until he sees something and then he’ll say, ‘Yellow!’” says Sibley, who learned this lesson 12 years ago when she had her first children’s furniture shop in Short Hills, N.J. “One client walked in with her 4-year-old and told her she could pick any one of the 36 available colors that she wanted her high-end maple furniture to be in. The 4-year-old decided to get the $4,000 worth of furniture in lime-green.”

The shop owner and interior designer says that parents need to be the Deciders of the two or three color choices that children get to select from. “If you give kids too many color choices, they become overwhelmed,” she says. “Just say, ‘Guess what? We’re painting your room! Which of these three colors do you want?’ That way, it’s exciting for them—and you won’t fall on the floor after a room is freshly painted in a color that doesn’t go with the palette you have in your home.”

[6. Don’t over-theme big-ticket purchases in a child’s room to his or her current interests.]

If your heart’s set on finding a woodworker to make your son that dinosaur-shaped headboard that your husband always wanted as a boy, it may be time to stop and spank your inner brontosaurus lover. “Parents often want their kids to be miniature versions of themselves, but children are their own people,” says Sibley. “A child’s room is not your room. It should be an environment in which a child feels as if it is his or hers. When your 2- or 3-year-old is ready to leave his nursery behind, that’s the time to say, ‘Let’s welcome the little child emerging from our baby!’ Besides, if you have a Raggedy Ann and Andy-themed nursery, you’re probably sick of it anyway!”

Semler agrees. She’s alway steered away from both babylike décor in her kids’ rooms and rooms with a theme that calls for everything to match. “Kids grow so fast,” she says. “By 7, most boys are no longer interested in little trains; they’re already into sports and ‘boy’ stuff.”

[7. Don’t put lux touches where you don’t need them.]

Don’t break the bank on sheets that will see a lot of wear and tear. “I don’t spend money on 400-thread-count sheets for kids because, well, things happen,” says Semler. “I just bought some cute Tommy Hilfiger sheets with hula girls on them for $18 for a twin set. He also does some with pink-and-white stripes with a green pelican on them. Kids like bright-colored sheets that you can mix and match.”

[8. Don’t feel as if a child’s room must accommodate every one of his activities.]

Do you want your child’s room to feel more like the last stop before Sleepyville? Like a miniature Great Room in which lots of different activities could take place? “I try to keep my kids’ bedrooms for sleeping and peaceful, relaxing time,” says Semler. “They have a designated place to do homework in, but it isn’t where they go to sleep. When they want to play, we go in the playroom and we play, but when it’s bedtime, I don’t want all their toys distracting them. When we go to bed, we enjoy the peacefulness of their cozy rooms.”

[9. Select finishes that infuse a space with fun!]

Don’t feel as if you have to make a kid’s room a sophistication station. Sometimes a feel-good or zippy print for, say, bedding is more to a child’s liking. “Polka dots are so much fun,” says Nason. “I’ve got some fabric in the shop where the dots are big dots embroidered onto the material, then the dots are outlined in a different color from the dots. Polka dots are everywhere.”

[10. Don’t turn into a momzilla when you start decorating your first nursery.]

Lean into finishing off a nursery over time. “Catalogs make first-time moms think that when they open the door to their baby’s nursery, they should see a nursery that looks like the ones they see in catalogs and that not one thing should need to be added or done in the future,” says Sibley. “I find that sad because a nursery should grow as your child does. It should incorporate gifts you receive and things that mean something to you. I try to stop my clients from thinking that the day they buy their nursery furniture, they need to have their color on the walls and the right lighting in the room and the right books on the shelves. That makes it too overwhelming. Finish off the nursery over time. Don’t corner yourself into thinking that the day your baby comes home, the nursery is set in stone.”

[11. Relinquish control with the little stuff.]

If your child wants crazy color in his room—think screaming yellow or you’re-living-inside-a-grape purple—put the youza hues in the accessories that are easy to change out. “You don’t want to control everything,” says Sibley. “Put color in little things like pillows, storage bins, little trash pails or a lampshade. That way, you may not like the item, but you can live with it.”

[12. Make sure there’s enough light in the room to read a book by.]

Who hasn’t gone to a motel room with the idea of catching up on a short stack of The New Yorker only to find that the reading lamp on your side of the bed is too low to read a magazine by? Make sure that your child’s room has good task and mood lighting. “Have a little place where your kids can sit and look at a book with mommy and daddy—if they’re young—or read on their own if they’re older,” says Sibley. “A good table lamp, an overhead lamp and a nightlamp is good, too.”