Designing Children’s Spaces

Designer Jess Cooney explores the central problem of designing kids' spaces: how to design both for now and for when they grow older.

Designing for children’s spaces is a unique and fun part of my job. It requires a different skill set from designing a kitchen or bathroom.  It’s something I love to do. It’s always a great challenge to design for a child right now while also designing for that same child in the future, so the child can comfortably grow into the space.  It feels somehow like we are attempting to predict the future by designing for an 8-year-old who will one day be 15 or 16 and may want something completely different then.

How do we think about things that are in trend? There’s always the fear that children will quickly grow out of things they love now. How soon will that happen?  Also, what are timeless pieces we can put into their space that will always remain a treasured item?

A little girl’s room with a vintage style, brass bed frame and vintage rug. Coral light fixture adds a pop to the space. Photo: Ingalls Photography

The way to address trends is to keep them on the surface of things. Throw pillows, wallpaper, bedding are all great items that allow you to be a little more daring and also to give children some creative freedom. Another great way to give kids some freedom is with decals. There are some really fun decals out there for kids’ walls. Allowing them to choose a theme for an applied decal and even to put the decals up themselves are great ways to liven up a space and to give kids some ability to control the look of their own space.  These can easily be removed down the road.

A teenager’s room that doubles as a guest suite for weekend guests uses neutral wood tones and a pop of color in the bedding to keep it versatile. Photo: Emily Gilbert Photography

There are certain pieces that anchor the space. A great bed. A good desk. Storage for books, clothing, trophies, electronics etc.   A great leather chair in a young boy’s space can be something that he can take with him later to his own home and cherish. A vintage rug to anchor a space is always a way to keep the feel of the space timeless.  Or an iron bed frame to anchor a space and give it a timeless effect. All of these items can make you feel confident to spend a bit more on a few pieces that will take your children through adolescence.

A basement play area with custom art table and storage for supplies. Wall decals can be removed in a few years to change the whole look. Photo: Emily Gilbert Photography

Paint colors can be tricky. I will often work with children to let them pick their paint color while their mom or dad stands over me with eyebrows arched.  Usually a kid goes straight for the most neon orange, green, pink or red tone they can find in the deck and point clearly to it: That one!   I tell parents not to worry because we can tone this color down before we apply it to the wall. And, by repacking a color in that same family, we can deliver the impact the child wants and also calm the parent’s nerves a bit!

Clean white cabinets with punches of color in the accessories, which can be changed out as the children grow. Photo: Emily Gilbert Photography

Storage is a big item for a kid’s space.  Finding the right balance of open storage and closed storage is key.  Also, I have found over the years that finding ways for “quick clean ups” is imperative.  Baskets and bins are a godsend for scooping up those Legos and small items and putting them out of sight until the next time they are dumped on the floor.

A boy’s bedroom with metal bed frames and durable hemp fabric backing on the wall. The layered bedding ensures durability and longevity in the space. Photo: Ingalls Photography

Overall, the key to designing a great children’s space is to find a balance between designing for their needs/wants now and anticipating their needs in the future.  This, balanced with great storage, will teach them to have a place for everything. Even if it doesn’t quite make it to that spot all of the time!

A child’s all-white bathroom gets a punch of color with wallpaper that can be removed down the road to completely reinvent the look. Photo: Ingalls Photography