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HELP KIDS TURN ROOMS INTO COZY COCOONS

Reed Allmendinger is 11. He sleeps on the top of a tall maple bunk bed passed down by his father, Glen. Reed's sister Emay is 9. She sleeps in a twin bed, painted a pale turquoise and garlanded with pink roses "from her Aunt Emay's Fragonard period," says the children's mother, Edie Twining. Sometimes Reed will sleep in Emay's other twin bed. Sometimes Emay sleeps in his lower bunk. Sometimes the door between the children's rooms slams and "they're not speaking," says their mother. Emay is a nester, says her mother. Emay has so many pillows that Emay can hardly make her bed, and a Noah's ark of stuffed animals, whose placement in bed only Emay and the animals understand. Both children are at what another mother calls "the museum stage." Display space for treasures is vitally important.

Certainly more important than a desk. Between the ages of 6 and 11, most children do schoolwork in or near the kitchen.Much of this will be familiar to former children, the adults who are now involved in decorating and furnishing rooms for their kids. As living spaces, kids' rooms have their own aesthetic, code of manners, rituals, smells, noises. Kids' rooms can also be a wilderness area. The mother who once lavished ruffles on infant cribs, now says, "I'm not going to make their beds and they won't, so it's sleeping bags."

Emotional charge

But lots of parents get a big bang out of doing a child's room over. They pore over the Laura Ashley Home catalogs. They check out the bunk beds at This End Up and scout used furniture at tag sales. They come home with paint chips and stencil kits. They debate whether to have curtains or blinds. Out comes the sewing machine. Up goes the wallpaper, or perhaps a photo mural. They thank their lucky stars they married the right person: A handy spouse is good to have around the house. There's an emotional charge in decorating, especially when childhood memories come flooding back.

"My mother is always changing rooms around," says Edie Twining. "I get it from her and Emay gets it from me." The three generations share a decided artistic bent, Edie and Emay painting watercolors together as Edie and her mother did. The fanciful painted furniture that Edie Twining designs and makes for sale, often with Emay's help, is tried out at home in West Roxbury, Mass. Trouble is, the kids don't want to give it up.

Revelations

And because bedrooms are so personal - both womb and turf - children reveal themselves in ways that perplex and amuse their parents. Only a yellowy-green paint would do for Ben Dubler, 7, of Newton, Mass., and never mind that his older sister calls the color "slime" and his mother finds it "queasy."

Kate Russell is 8. She likes rap and wears work boots to third grade in Marblehead, Mass. "She wants so desperately to be a teenager," says her mother, Betsy. Kate plays with her Barbies. She loves her stable of toy horses. She loves ballet. "She likes feminine-y things," says her mother. That means Laura Ashley, which is both grown-up and growing girl. That Kate liked "The Secret Garden," which some people think is the film version of Laura Ashley, is no surprise. Kate and Laura Ashley go way back, to the time when she used to model toddler clothes with her aunt, who worked for the company.

Tests of diplomacy

When it comes to decorating a kid's room, parents must be master diplomatists with a touch of the dictator. "My son Tucker, who's 4, has never seen anything he doesn't like," says Deborah Fross of Concord, Mass. "So I don't let him choose so much as give him veto power." Ellen Thibault of Hingham had to deal with territorial rights to a family heirloom. "It was a bedroom suite, but my husband and I didn't like the double bed so we put the whole suite in our daughter's room. Her older brother thought he should have the big bed because he's older. The boys share a room with a bunk bed. Sometimes you get lucky. I've got one son who actually prefers the lower bunk."

This mother draws the line at sleeping bags. "I do bottom sheets and quilts." But not curtains. "I have blinds in their rooms, and this is in Hingham where it's very colonial and all the kids' rooms I see on house tours have not just curtains but `window treatments' and stenciling on the walls."

Changing fashions

Children's rooms are as subject to fashion and personal taste as any other part of the house. Disney characters have never lost their appeal. Ever since the 1950s, the bright crayon colors of Marimekko have pleased kids while proclaiming their parents' appreciation of modern design. A sensation when introduced to America in the 1970s, the English country look of Laura Ashley ached with nostalgia, and her line of clothing soon led to home furnishings. Parents and grandparents flocked to endow the nursery with pretty posies or Beatrix Potter's sweet animals. As never before, home decorating centers are targeting juvenile interests. What kids see on the screen is showing up in wall treatments. Take the wallpaper department at Norman's of Swampscott, Mass. The repertory has gone light-years beyond nursery papers with ABC's and storybook characters, says Beth Hoffman, who's in charge of the department. Her son David, who turns 9 in April, is about to exchange the cheerful Marimekko wallpaper of his babyhood for a space theme. Call it NASA goes New Age: Planets and other celestial events glow in the dark.

Photo murals

Photo murals are just that, says Hoffman. Photographs enlarged and printed on photo paper, they usually come in eight panels, which will cover wall space 8 feet 3 inches by 13 feet 8 inches; the cost is $90 and you use wallpaper paste to put it up, says Hoffman. (Thinner than wallpaper, photo murals tend to wrinkle and are tricky to install, several parents report.) But the panoramic and 3-D effect can be staggering: snowcapped mountains, Caribbean beaches, hot air balloons, even a golf course. The ballpark mural puts you in left field with a fine view of pitcher and batter and fans beyond.