Adrian Wise spent weeks designing and decorating her daughter’s room after the family moved from Michigan to Florida last year. She wanted to create a cheerful, fun space to help Emillie, now 12, settle into life in a new state. She bought a multicolored, hand-knotted rug, a blue nightstand and a colorful swivel chair. For the bed, she chose a teal comforter, striped sheets and bright throw pillows.
Ms. Wise thought it was a fantastic child’s room. There was only one problem. Emillie hated it.
“She kept saying, ‘It’s too much, it’s stressing me out,’” said Ms. Wise, 48, who is renovating the four-bedroom, mid-century-style house on Davis Islands in Tampa that she bought with her husband, Brad, 54, a general manager for several car dealerships. “She literally begged us to take these elements out.”
Over several months, Emillie methodically removed most of the color from the room, replacing the braided rug with a white shag one. She swapped the teal comforter for white, and replaced the bright pillows with muted ones. She covered the windows with sheer white curtains and hung wicker baskets full of artificial succulents behind her bed. Ms. Wise was surprised by her daughter’s vision and determination to create such a serene space for herself. “It’s very boho,” she said. “It’s just fabulous.”
Children often have strong opinions about their bedrooms, asking to paint the walls bold colors or begging for décor to match their latest superhero obsession. A child’s bedroom is often a magical arena, a corner of the home that is all their own — so why not cover it in fairies? Many requests are doable. It doesn’t take all that much energy to buy a spaceship comforter and stick a few solar-system decals on the walls.
But not all requests are so tame, or easily accomplished. What happens when a child begs for a deep, saturated color that would be difficult to paint over should their tastes change? And is it always wise to indulge a theme that your child will likely outgrow in a few years? Children are fickle — that love affair with pirates may be all consuming right now, but the whimsical seafaring wallpaper will still be there after the phase has ended.
“Children are not sophisticated enough to think beyond the here and now,” said Michelle Gerson, a Manhattan interior designer who frequently designs children’s bedrooms for clients. “That’s why kids make so many mistakes in life.”
Rather than indulge the latest whim, Ms. Gerson recommended playing off it. Take the passion for pirates and find a great set of pirate sheets, or wallpaper the ceiling with a subtle nautical pattern — but you don’t have to dedicate the entire room to the theme.
Other whims can also be toned down. “Every single kid always wants a swing in their room. How realistic is a swing in a bedroom?” Ms. Gerson said. “We try to talk them into a cooler chair.”
Ms. Wise didn’t consult her daughter very much on the bedroom redesign, largely because she was focused on renovating an entire house. By the time the work on Emillie’s room was done, she had transformed from an elementary school-aged child who just wanted a space to play into an opinionated adolescent who wanted a retreat where she could hang out with her friends. Even the custom-built shelves that Ms. Wise had installed in the closet no longer made sense because Emillie had outgrown her toys and playthings.
The miscommunication came at a cost. Ms. Wise estimated she had spent a few thousand dollars on décor that lasted less than a year, including a $700 braided rug that is now rolled up and leaning against a wall in another room. Emillie’s aluminum-framed bed may be the next casualty. She wants a pallet bed instead, and told her mother recently that she was willing to spend $200 she received as a birthday gift to hire a handyman to build one for her. Ms. Wise has been reluctant to indulge this latest request. “Resources are not infinite,” she said.
To avoid making a mistake like Ms. Wise’s, interior designers recommend involving children in the process — to a point. Tammy Connor, an interior designer in Charleston, S.C., suggested giving children free rein of a Pinterest board where they could play around with colors and styles they liked. Rather than balk at a picture of a plum-colored room that a child has found, a parent could suggest ways to incorporate the color in a more subtle way.
“It’s important that you hear what they want and somehow implement it,” Ms. Connor said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean that all the walls and curtains are purple.”
When designing a room for a child old enough and interested enough to have an opinion, Ms. Connor suggested coming up with three schemes and letting the child pick one. Celebrate a child’s interests tastefully so that as they grow, the décor can grow with them. Ms. Connor pointed to her 9-year-old son, who loves baseball. Rather than cover the room with cheap sports paraphernalia, she hung a baseball bat engraved with his name that she got on a trip to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.
“It’s important to live with things that have some value, and I don’t necessarily mean monetary value,” Ms. Connor said. A chest that was yours as a child, for example, may not jibe with a child’s tastes of the moment, but it has a deeper value.
Or, you could look at your child’s bedroom as a blank canvas.
Two years ago, when Madeline Windham moved into a four-bedroom house with her husband and three sons in Houston, Texas, her middle son, Wyatt Davis, now 7, wasted no time planning out his room. While his brothers showed no interest in the aesthetics of their bedrooms, willingly accepting whatever their mother chose, Wyatt took pictures of the space and made collages for how he wanted his space to look. He wanted cherry wood furniture and, of course, a “Star Wars” theme. Ms. Windham, 28, who works in occupational medical testing, was impressed with the results. “He set up cozy spots,” she said. “He’s made himself a reading nook in the corner.”
When Ms. Windham was a child she shared a bedroom, and so never had the opportunity to make the space her own. In Wyatt’s room, she sees a place where her son can get creative. “It just makes him so much prouder of his surroundings,” she said.
Of course, when he outgrows the “Star Wars” stage, he’ll need a do over. But Ms. Windham isn’t concerned: “If you give him the ability to express himself like that, it does wonderful things.”