Kids seem to outgrow their bedrooms every few years. Clutter accumulates; tastes change. Older children suddenly need a desk to organize school work; motifs that were cute for a toddler don't work for a kindergartner.
Here are three do-it-yourself stories about making over kids' rooms under different circumstances: one for a 4-year-old in a roomy, rural Victorian, another for tween and teen brothers in a city apartment, and a third for two sisters in a suburban Colonial.
Building in flexibility
Our 4-year-old has averaged a new obsession about once every six months — outer space, construction vehicles, pirates, knights and now trains. So, when it came time to update his room — mostly unmodified since we transformed a spare room into a gender-neutral yellow nursery — we were reluctant to embrace any particular theme.
Blue is his color of choice, so painting the walls was an easy call. We paid a premium for fume-free paint ($45 a gallon) but it was worth it, as our son was able to "help" with the job. (Imagine! Drawing on the wall and NOT getting yelled at!)
New furniture was a must, as his clothing had long outgrown the changing table repurposed as a dresser, and the twin mattress sans headboard looked a little too frat pad. We got deals on a natural birch bed and dresser set, with the bonus that the bed was high enough to allow for storage beneath it.
Our son's large, bright room is "L" shaped, so we decided to visually divide it into zones. The sleeping zone is the top of the "L," with his bed, storage bins on either side for stuffed "critters," and a wall light mounted over the headboard for reading. At the footboard, we put a kid-size table and chairs for Lego projects.
The corner of the "L" is home to his deep but frustratingly narrow closet, as well as his dresser. With dresser and under-the-bed storage, we no longer needed the closet as much, so we got hanging fabric storage cubes from Ikea for out-of-season stuff (and room to grow).
The other branch of the "L" became a reading zone. From Ikea we got a bargain on a huge, nearly floor-to-ceiling shelving unit, perfect for taming his massive book collection.
Next to it, we placed an easy chair and ottoman, which four years ago had been a nursing chair. Inexpensive dye changed the slipcover from now-faded yellow to coordinating green.
Decorations we kept simple. We used some of his favorite items (stuffed animals, books, ceramic banks, etc.) to adorn free shelf space. For the walls, we went with three framed prints with a cartoonish knights and dragon theme. This is the only decorative nod to one of his current fascinations, making it easy to swap out when the next one hits.
Our total cost was about $1,000, thanks in part to repurposing of stuff we already had (mattress, chair, table), and my wife's crafty skills. She dyed the chair slipcover she had made four years ago, sewed new curtains for the windows and closet door, and made a quilt with a color-wheel pattern that she convinced our son looked like "King Arthur's Roundtable."
We also got bargains online. The prints were affordable on etsy.com, and we used a coupon to get a discount on the frames. On Craigslist, we found two small wall shelves for next to the bed. They were the same Pottery Barn shelves we'd liked in the catalog, but for $10 instead of $100. Sure, they were pink, but $3 for a can of blue spray paint made them a great find.
Now we had a room that our son not only loves, but that will grow with him and his ever-changing interests.
— J.M. Hirsch
Making the most of tiny bedrooms
My two boys, 11 and 16, had outgrown their tiny bedrooms in our New York City apartment. They needed a new look and more storage space.
My sister told me that "everything starts with the bedspread." So first thing, I ordered a cool blue comforter set with accent stripes from Nautica for the teenager, and for his little brother, bedding with a "wolves in winter" motif.
The downside of buying bedding online is that you can't feel the fabric. The wolf design turned out to be uncomfortably scratchy. I later found many complaints from parents online about elaborately patterned children's bedding feeling rough to the touch. One Web site recommended washing in hot water with fabric softener and baking soda but no detergent. After four washes, the bedding was fine.
Next, storage. Our closets are tiny; I have no carpentry skills and didn't want to pay for a fancy redesign.
The Container Store had a terrific solution: inexpensive mesh stacking shelves. They were easy to assemble and small enough to fit into our foot-deep closets. The shelves are designed for shoes but look great holding neatly folded sweaters and jeans. I crammed four shelves in each closet. "Awesome!" was my 11-year-old's response.
A friend helped us attach rows of brass coat hooks to each closet door so the kids could easily hang up sweatshirts and jackets.
The teenager got a new mattress to replace one that was old and sagging. But instead of a box spring, we bought a captain's bed, which greatly expanded storage space. My younger son already has a captain's bed; between that and the new closet shelves, he no longer needed his dresser, which had a broken drawer. And without the dresser, he now has room for a desk.
The older boy scavenged a desk from a friend who was discarding one. An aunt bought him a desk chair from Staples as a gift and he assembled it himself.
Both boys also got rid of old clothes, toys and other knickknacks. Still to come: paint jobs and maybe window blinds to replace the shower curtains — yes, shower curtains! — hanging there now.
—Beth J. Harpaz
Rooms to last through tweendom
When a stack of catalogs came pouring into our suburban mailbox and my 8-year-old reached for PB Teen, Pottery Barn's newish venue to reach the one demographic not covered by its other businesses, I knew what was coming.
She made her (strong) case for redecorating by telling me her room looked like a little girl's room. It did. Pretty much everything was baby pink with a heart motif.
I agreed it was time for an update. I insisted her princess-worthy, four-poster double bed was staying. She had gone from a crib to an adult bed because I thought there was value to buying furniture that would last longer than a little girl's fickle taste.
She would need a desk for her increasing load of homework and supplies. I would again insist on a decent piece of wood furniture that would have a long life. This turned out to be harder than I thought; apparently there are two categories of desk, sturdy and expensive or cheap and flimsy.
Eventually I turned to a seemingly unlikely choice, JC Penney's Web site, on the recommendation of a friend who bought nursery furniture there. It had the mid-price range I wanted: $350 and no shipping if I picked it up at the mall.
My 5-year-old wasn't going to stand by while her sister's room got a makeover. Her room, she pointed out, was full of hand-me-downs, including the sunshine-themed sheets and quilt that came with the lovely wicker sleigh trundle bed a friend gave us when she was moving. Nothing besides the paint hastily applied two years ago really reflected my daughter and her very pink personality. (Surely there would be a way to switch some of her sister's stuff into her room, right?)
Bedding was the first purchase, since its colors and patterns would set the tone for the room. We made a rule: no characters or too-trendy patterns, particularly cheetah print, that surely they'd tire of. This stuff had to last until the next stage of tweendom.
We discovered the clearance section of The Company Kids Web site and the girls went to town. My older daughter ended up with a geometric theme — nevermind that the base color is pink — and the younger went with butterflies and flowers.
There were complementary rugs and curtains, plus furry hot-pink decorative pillows.
They were pleased with all of this, but it still wasn't quite the drastic change they were hoping for.
The game-changer turned out to be wall decals. For about $15 per package, there is a whole world out there of decals that are easy to handle, easy to move and, best yet, leave no trace once they're removed.
There were several dozen stickers in each of the packets and we all had a ball slapping psychedelic on the older girl's walls, while the younger one's room was transformed into a garden scene.
And in two years — or, possibly, two months — when they decide they have to have blue or purple, rainbows or stars, we'll be able to "redecorate" again for less than $50.
— Samantha Critchell
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