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Home > Popular Stories > > Three things you don’t want to do (and three you do) when decorating a kid’s room

Three things you don’t want to do (and three you do) when decorating a kid’s room

I’ve decorated a lot of kids’ rooms lately, and it’s trendy for parents to freely include their kids in all decisions, whether it’s the color of the walls or the pile thickness of the carpet. The problem with this approach is that most parents want their kids’ rooms to look the way they want, not the way the kids want. So involving a 6- to 16-year-old in the process is a ruse that often leads to someone (usually the kid) being dissatisfied. To have the decorating process go smoothly and end up with both parent and kid happy, you, the parent, need to control the process: Give your kids a taste of self-expression and, at the same time, teach them important life lessons. Here are a few decorating do’s and don’ts that, if followed, should earn you and your kid an A+ in decorating.

Do use Pinterest and other online tools

The first thing I do when I start working on a kid’s room is to ask the boy or girl to create a Pinterest board with images of rooms, colors, patterns and anything else that might be informative of his or her style. A quick Google Images search of “kids’ rooms” reaps more pictures than one could ever sift through, so it’s best to edit the results using the suggested terms that pop up in the navigation bar (specifying color, style, etc.). For younger kids, parents should either surf the Internet with them or put together a list of acceptable sites for them to visit.

For help in narrowing down a color scheme, try PPG’s Voice of Color game ( Users contemplate a series of questions (image and word preferences) that, once answered, prescribe a personalized color palette. Some of the nine questions might need to be translated for younger kids, but the quick and fun game gives you a starting point to discuss color options.

Some of the most fun my young clients have had is on Furnish Up (, a free, easy-to-navigate program that lets you select, place and rearrange furniture in a virtual room. Just enter your room dimensions, add windows and doors, then “shop” from a library of currently available items from stores such as Ikea, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Blu Dot. Although the selection of pieces is limited (and there is no furniture just for kids), you can find generic-enough items that can act as stand-ins. The exercise gives you and your child a good idea of what can fit in the room and what the general floor plan will be.

Do establish a budget

Once you and your child have settled on a general design direction for the room and have a list of needed items, you need to create a budget. I like to make a spreadsheet with all items listed, where they are from and how much they cost. I am clear even with young kids that there is a limit to what their parents can afford. I recently had a design discussion with a sophisticated 10-year-old boy over a light fixture; the one he liked (Poul Henningsen’s iconic Artichoke Lamp, available at Design Within Reach) was more than $9,000. Once he grasped that the fixture cost three times the overall budget for the room, he quickly accepted my suggested replacement: Ikea’s PS 2014 Pendant Lamp for $129.

  • Don’t give into fads

Pokemon might be enjoying a renaissance, but I would never allow kids to decorate their rooms based on the creature or trend du jour. Instead, let your kids express their current obsession in small ways: a poster, lampshade or pillow.

Don’t offer too many choices

Always present kids with edited design choices. This might sound counter to my previous suggestion to surf the entire Web for inspiration, but the trick, once a direction is agreed upon, is to present to your child no more than three options (two is even better!) of fabrics, furniture pieces, colors and rugs. By doing this, you control the outcome, yet your child feels as though he or she is the one making the final decisions.

  • Don’t force your habits on your kids

All too often I hear parents insist that their child’s room have a certain piece of furniture or particular type of furniture arrangement – declarations that usually center on the parents’ habits, not the kid’s. This is especially true of study spaces; parents typically want their kids to have proper workspaces with ergonomic seating and appropriate task lighting, items that are not useful if you have a kid who likes to work on his or her bed. (Both of my kids work exclusively on their beds, so neither one has a desk.)

• Do layer

No matter the chosen design direction, I always layer lots of pillows in kids’ rooms. Young kids use them to make forts, and big kids use them to lounge around, especially when friends are visiting. I also like to layer rugs, particularly if the room has wall-to-wall carpeting. A fun flokati or colorful striped rug layered on top of wall-to-wall carpeting not only makes sitting on the floor more comfortable but also protects the carpet from spills and stains.


By Elizabeth Mayhew  a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”


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