Suite Dreams: Design a Child's Playground

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If a kid is excited about his bedroom or playroom, the more likely he is to choose home as his location of choice when it comes to recreation. If the room’s design emphasizes a child’s interest, such as music, it might cultivate that interest and encourage him to practice piano or guitar. And if the child has had a hand in the design, it gives him a sense of ownership.

“They see themselves as individuals and gain a feeling of independence,” says Lauren Jacobsen, principal at Lauren Jacobsen Design, Studio City, Calif.

Rooms with More Than a View

With all the potential benefits, it should come as no surprise that parents are going further than ever with children’s room décor. There’s a playroom in California made to resemble a 1950s diner, complete with black-and-white checkered floor, jukebox and soda fountain. There’s a bedroom in Florida that harkens to the days of King Arthur, with a suit of armor and a recessed bed built into a faux stone castle wall (with parapet).

And there’s a playhouse in New Mexico

commissioned by Pat and Ed Webb of Albuquerque for their grandchildren that’s reminiscent of a summer cottage. The building features three 5-by-5 rooms that stair-step up and plenty of windows. A bridge over a small man-made river connects the playhouse to a pergola. The Webbs saved for 10 years to build the playhouse.

One would think the more extravagant the children’s space, the steeper the costs. But that thought is not necessarily true. Businesses like Environmental Graphics Inc., Hopkins, Minn., and Artistic Sensations, St. Louis, are helping parents decorate without taking out a second mortgage. Environmental Graphics sells pre-sized murals (of the solar system, horses running across the plains, etc.) at home stores for about $150. Its Murals Your Way division offers 5,000 ready-to-use wallpaper murals in almost any size starting at 4-by-6 feet ($7.95 per square foot) and custom murals based on a photo or even a kids drawing ($8.95 per square foot) through its Web site.

Artistic Sensations has bedding, furniture and accessories designed especially for kids at non-extravagant prices.

“People want to differentiate their space and make it stand out from someone else’s,” says Kim Gellman, owner of Artistic Sensations. And while lightweight concrete “castle” walls can do so, so can “little touches,” she says. “You can add accents, like wall letters, a small chair or an inexpensive rug for under $100.”

The child’s room is less about dollars spent and more about reflecting the person who will occupy it, after all. Sarah Barnard, owner, Sarah Barnard Design in Santa Monica, Calif., completed a project in Palos Verde, Calif., for a family with Japanese and Hawaiian heritages.

“We wanted to incorporate a Pan-Asian hula theme making sure to capture the flavor of their heritage with the whimsy of a little girl surfing in Hawaii,” says Barnard.

She used rattan and sea grass materials, a shag green “grass” bed skirt and multi-colored floral pendant light fixtures. A mural of surfing children in Hawaii covers one wall.

“We took care to characterize the facial features to look somewhat like the child that the room was designed for so she could imagine she was surfing,” Barnard says.

Room to Grow

One of the benefits of these room designs is its expected longevity. A common error in children’s room design is not taking into account the rapidly evolving tastes of kids. Wrapping a room around a particular cartoon character or TV show usually means redesigning in a couple years, designers say.

“You don’t want themes imbedded too deep into the spaces because they can change,” says Steve Appolloni, owner of Appolloni Designs, Albuquerque, N.M. Appolloni and Lora Vassar, owner of Albuguergue-based ARCH Design, designed the Webb’s playhouse and worked on a lineup of similar modular, themed playhouses that provide the impact of a custom model at a lower cost. “The space planning is more critical than the theme,” says Appolloni. “When you look at a design for a kid’s space, always anticipate them growing out of it and how it can be used afterwards.”

Anticipating that growth is exactly what Jacobsen did for a recent bedroom design for a “tween” girl – tweens being notoriously tough to plan for because they are in the throes of that shift to teen tastes and behaviors. The answer for her client was not so much a theme but a room suited to older tastes.

The room is a vibrant citrus color scheme – lime green, yellow, pink and pomegranate used throughout, including a bold, bright patterned chair, headboard and valances.

“Obviously color is huge. Kids love color. And a child’s room is an area where you can use color you may not put in the rest of house,” says Jacobsen.

The space will not likely suffer from the fickle tastes of a 7-year-old girl who likes horses one day and fairies the next.

“The room is designed to have a forward-age lifespan. It needed to be able to grow along with the child into her teenage years,” Jacobsen says.

Childrens’ rooms aren’t about extreme makeover, like putting a sandbox in a bedroom because the kid likes the beach, but creating a space a child can call his or her own. In that sense, kids’ rooms are a lot like those of adults.

“You go out into the world every day and get beat up by traffic or jobs or whatever, and when you come home, you want something special and personalized for you. That’s your special retreat,” says Barnard. “Parents are willing to take extra steps to make a special place for themselves so why wouldn’t they want to extend that to their children?”


Image courtesy of Murals Your Way

Color chameleon: Bright, sassy colors and bold, graphic patterns lend themselves to the enduring lifespan of a growing child’s room.