Designing a Child's Room

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Thanks everyone for all the positive feedback on the posts about Little One's room.  Since everyone showed so much interest, I thought I would do a post on how to design a child's room. It is not always as straight forward as we would like it to be....and sometimes knowing where to start can be very frustrating.

I am not one of those Mama's who decides what kind of room my child should have.  I have always believed, as a Mama and a designer, that a child should be able to express themselves in the space they inhabit.  Parents have the entire house to express their personality and giving a child the freedom to make choices about their space bolsters their independence, strengthens their self esteem, and fills their soul!  It is one of the best things you can do as a parent to validate your children.  I'm gonna warn you, this is not a short one, but if you are interested in the thought process for starting a child's on!

When I start talking to the girls about decorating their rooms, I do not give them carte blanche, I provide parameters for them.  In other words, I have a plan.  Within those parameters/plan, they are able to do whatever they would like to.  I do this for clients children as well.  Convincing a parent though that their child should be able to do what they want in their own room can be a challenge sometimes.  But, kids often surprise you and put together something that is far more creative than the adults would ever have dreamt up themselves.

This completely depends which chapter of life your child is in.  If you never thought about this, it makes complete sense.  The room of a child follows the chapter of life they are in and so should the way the room feels and functions.  You wouldn't keep a teenager in a room designed for an infant....would you??  Well, maybe some of you have, but their room should reflect who they are, just as your home should reflect who you are.

Children's Chapters of Life:
  1. Infant/Toddler/Pre-schooler {birth - 3 or 4}   If you are smart as a parent, you will not go crazy with a theme for your infants room.  I am not one of those parents though and I don't think most of us are.  A lot of designers talk about creating rooms that transition with your child.  Well, good luck with that one!!  I haven't been able to do it with two children, and I'm a designer for Pete's sake!  I did, however, create a space that would be calm and soothing to Husband and I figured that if it was soothing to us it would be soothing to our babies.  So creating a space that is calm and soothing is number one on the list for a baby's room.
  2. Pre-schooler/Little person/Big kid {3 or 4 -10}  This phase is probably the longest chapter for children even though their interests may change a little, they are pretty consistent in what they like.  You need to choose a color or theme that will last them for many years and change out the accessories in the space. If you chose a soothing wall color for Chapter 1, then embellish the room with the interests of the child. I figure Little One will love her room until she's about 10. That's about the time Sissy got tired of her big girl room and wanted a pre-teen room.  
  3. Big kid/Pre/Early Teen {10 - 13/14}  This is an in between stage for kids.  They don't feel so little anymore, but are not ready to get rid of their toys and kid stuff.  If you are going to buy new furniture, select items that can transition with the child into adulthood; things that they would not be embarrassed to have in their own home one day.
  4. Teenager {14 - 18}  This is probably the hardest stage for parents, because teenagers want strange things sometimes....I will give an example of this later under "Paint".  Teenagers want their own space, they want a cave, and they want it to be all about them.  We have transitioned Sissy into this stage using the furniture we bought for her in Chapter 2 of her life.  I have had to add a desk and wall mounted shelves to her room because she started wanting to do homework in her room so she could have a "quiet" space.  We got a queen bed for her and updated her "look".  She picked her comforter, paint, some fabrics and I found the rest based on the colors she wanted.  She approved it all and we went to work.

Where to start?  A great starting place for a child's room is fabric.  In fact, I and many other designers start rooms with fabrics, using a great fabric as the basis to pull a space together.  So all of this makes sense, I will use Little One as an example for a Pre-schooler/Little person room for a girl.  Here is how I started...with my plan.

Plan for Little One's Room - Princess Theme Room
  • Furniture
  • Canopy bed
  • Chandelier
  • Great foundation fabric
  • Complementary fabrics
  • Trim
  • Comforter/quilt
  • Paint
  • Artwork
  • Accessories

I have included furniture on my list even though I did not need furniture for her room.  Some parents may choose to go from the infant/toddler room into the pre-schooler room and in doing so need to get a big kid bed and real furniture.  I have two thoughts on buying furniture for kids rooms.
  1. Buying furniture that matches the crib, boxes you into using it for the rest of your child's time in your home, or you get to sell it/donate it. And unless you choose something really timeless and in a scale that will work in many different environments, you are stuck.  That changing table in white painted with ribbons and bows or in dark mahogany that came with the hutch that doesn't come off, isn't going to look so great in your 10 year old's room.  Buying furniture that matches the crib is great if you can take yourself out of that "It's so cute, our baby will love it!" and put yourself into "How will our 16 year old like this dresser?"  This can be difficult for first time parents, but if you can realize that even your tastes will change over time then it can be a win-win for you and your child.  
  2. Buy multi-purpose pieces that can transition over time with your child.  Think out of the box. The dresser can be a dresser that gets changed into a changing table for your child while they need diapers changes for 18 months.  So, what I am saying is, just think through your purchase of furniture for your child....because they have different needs depending on the chapter of their life.  Don't buy stuff just for the here and now.  Make a list of the different uses and purposes those pieces you want to buy will serve for you and your family. 

Canopy Bed

Her inspiration was this....well... after the Ikea trip that I talked about in my post here.  

After she decided this was the canopy she wanted, I did a drawing so I knew how much fabric and trim I would need, which you can find here.  This is relatively easy to do, if you are not good at figuring yardage, your local fabric shop will have someone who can help you.


Fortunately I had a crystal chandelier laying around in my attic that I brought down and painted in a white satin, but I would have checked the thrift stores in my area if I hadn't had one available....especially since I painted it.  Lighting is important in a child's room and you need to make certain that you have different types of lighting.  Little One has the chandelier for overall lighting of the space.  A small lamp on her shelves for tuning on when we want a calm space, and a table lamp next to her bed for reading.

Great Foundation Fabric

Little One saw this Fairy fabric and had to have it.  It was love at first sight!  That has certainly happened to you at some point...strolling through a shop, your eyes wandering around and all of the just have to have it!  She ran over to it, grabbed the whole bolt and wouldn't let go of I knew in that was coming home.  That was a soul filling moment for her. 

I then had to find enough of it, so yardage requirements in hand, I asked JoAnn's to call the other stores to set aside the bolts they had available.  Don't be trapped into thinking you need a Home Dec fabric.  The fabrics we used for her room were simple cotton quilter's fabrics.  This fabric gave us lots of great colors to pull in and most cottons have a great hand and drape really well.  I don't think I spent more than $120 for all of the fabric for her room...and I needed about 35 yards of fabric, so not bad.

Establishing parameters for fabrics is pretty easy.  If your child wants red, for example, set parameters for the complementary fabrics and paint and give them several choices within those areas, making certain that there is a calming color somewhere.  I also set $$ parameters.  If I am spending $100 a yard on fabric for pillows,  (which would not happen for a small child) then the comforter/quilt/duvet and other items better be from Target or Home Goods or maybe even a garage sale.  Just remember, a great fabric can provide everything you need to be able to pull a room together.

Complementary Fabrics

Little One loved this dark purple glittery fabric. 

She had to have it and at first I thought maybe it would be too dark, but I figured if I used it as the backdrop for the bed on the inside of the canopy drape it would be fine.  Then we looked around for some other pretty fabrics that she liked that worked with her main foundation fabric.


Trim, in my opinion can make or break a room.  It offers that last little bit needed to make the space feel complete, like putting jewelry on to complete an outfit.  I use trim in every space I work on.  Sometimes it is subtle, a self-welt maybe, or sometimes it is something glitzy that jumps out at you, but I always use it.  You can see in the photo above, Little One wanted the pink sparkly pompom trim and since she couldn't decide between the purple with white polka-dot fabric or the white with purple polka-dot fabric, we got both.  One for pillow shams and one for the pretty gathered flange on the shams.  I then showed her this white large pompom fringe {below} to trim out her canopy drape.  She thought about it for a few minutes, while I waited with anticipation {she's not always easily convinced}.  She finally agreed!  Yeah, win for Mama!


I needed a comforter for her bed and initially was not going to do white...what with our dogs and Florida sand.  But....I looked at Target, because it is a frugalista's best friend, and found this comforter in a twin.

Simply Shabby Chic® Heirloom Comforter Set - White.Opens in a new window

I could have made it while I was making everything else, but since I could buy it for less than I could get all the supplies for...WHY??  Plus, she will be in a twin bed for awhile, so it will work with whatever we might do next in her room.

As far as the bed-skirt goes, I do not like store bought bed-skirts.  I have never seen one that really looks good when it is on the bed.  Usually you can see through them and they don't typically flange the deck {I will explain at a later date}, which enables you to see the deck of the skirt if it gets pulled a little one side or the other.  It is worth the money to get a custom skirt made or at the very least line a store bought bed skirt.

Let me get off my podium now and tell you why I decided to make Little One's skirt to match the drape and valance in her room.  Because it helped tie the bed into the overall look she wanted.  I considered making a white bed-skirt for about 30 seconds, but that would have offered no contrast and she would have gotten that really dirty for sure and it is not as easy to always strip the bed-skirt as it is to throw a comforter in the wash.

If your child has a bed with drawers  or a trundle you don't need a skirt.  My recommendation most of the time is to use a contrasting fabric for the skirt to create more interest.  Oh and don't buy those boxed sets where everything comes just looks like you bought a boxed set.  Take a little more time and look for pieces that complement each other without being matchy-matchy.  If you do find a bed skirt for a good price, buy some lining fabric and take it to your local dry cleaner/tailor and for a fraction they can add lining to your store bought skirt.


It might seem strange to you that I put paint way down the list, but paint is not always the most important thing.  I have chosen paint first in many and here, but that has usually been because I don't have a great fabric, a neutral space is required, or a client loves a certain color or feel.  In the case of Little One's room, she wanted purple and she picked the purple before we looked for fabrics....the exact shade of purple she wanted....from three different decks to be exact, all the same hue and tone....I was amazed.  I was not convinced we would do purple so I told her we would wait until after we picked the fabrics, but being true to herself, she's a purple girl....always has been!  So, we went with the purple paints she had chosen.  I decided to paint the crown in a deep purple for contrast, and it made her room more interesting.

Benjamin Moore/Beach Plum /Aura Eggshell - image via

Benjamin Moore/Wild Orchid/Aura Semi-gloss - image via

If you don't know by now, I only use Benjamin Moore paints.  No, they haven't paid me to say that, I have just had the best luck with them in my own home and many, many clients homes over the past 20 years.  I also love their new Lo-VOC Aura, Ben, and Advance and the No-VOC Natura paint.  The Aura paint is a great choice for walls and trim, the Advance paint is a waterborne interior alkyd paint and is excellent for cabinets, furniture, and trim as well....I used it on my bar stools...can I just say L.O.V.E!!

Selecting paint is one of those parameters I talked about.  Here is that example I was talking about under the chapter of "Teenagers":  I had a client years ago, whose 13 year old son wanted a black and red room.  Black walls with red splattered on them....boys?  Needless to say, his Mom was not thrilled.  What we decided to do though, within parameters, was paint three walls a pewter gray, one wall an accent red.  I designed twin headboards made out of crosshatched aluminum {the stuff truck bed tool boxes are made out of} and framed them with black moulding, I then designed a desk to fit between them with a frame made from square 1" steel tubing which was powder-coated and the top and shelves out of 1" thick glass, the dresser was a heavy duty gray and black tool chest from the home improvement store, and we finished everything off with a red area rug, gray roman shades and black panels.  The room looked great, Mom didn't have to look at black walls everyday and the son was thrilled to have a "guys" room that all of his friends thought was cool.  In fact, he just got married and is going to be a Dad and will probably be moving his desk into his new home!  The only regret I have is I didn't take photos of it...not even snapshots.


Okay, I'm not one to spend a lot on artwork if I know that it isn't going to be around forever.  When Little One was an infant, Sissy and I painted nursery rhymes to frame for her room.  They of course don't work in a big girl princess room.  You may have read the other day, here, that I am going to be framing a set of fairy prints from Cicely Mary Barker for her room.  I recommend either sticking with the theme, or look for things your child is interested in.

A client and I recently decided to frame a life size poster of a baseball player her son follows.  It also happened to have a growth chart on it, so we had it dry mounted with no glass so she can chart her son's growth over the many years to come.  If it is something you will hang on to, spend some money on it.  If not, then choose a frame that you can change out the images over the years to come.  Have your child paint or draw some things too.  I have framed and decorated my home with a lot of the paintings and drawings my girls have done.  It makes my house a home filled with their spirit and they love it when people ask them about the different pieces of art.  Another simple way to fill their soul!


You know what I am talking about....all the pillows, blankets, pretty stuff, knick knacks, trophies, pictures, collectibles....  Find a place for them, and not the whole room.  Dedicate one location for those things and then edit, and edit again, and again.  Pack up their mementos after awhile and keep out only the things that are important at that time.

I'll have to edit books and babies and things as Little One gets older, but she has the things out that she loves and they are all in one place..well a couple of things she just adores are on her dresser, you get my point.  The baskets under her dresser and the drawer in her shelves hold toys, but as she gets older she can put other things in them.

Pillows and blankets should complement the decor.  Little One chose colors that were in her inspiration fabric and we found a great pillow from Home Goods that offered a pop of color we had not used yet, green.  Yes, that is my phone laying on the did I not see that?

Now that I have said ALL of that, I know it's a lot, but don't get overwhelmed.  Put together a plan and set parameters and take it one step at a time.  I helped Little One with her room knowing we would be re-doing it at some point in the future...sooner than later, but, knowing it would feed her soul to be able to be in a space she loves is so worth it to me.  I'll do it again and again, and probably one more time after that too!  And anytime she asks for my help in her own home probably!!  What's a Mama to do?

Have a great day!

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