By Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Dora the Explorer can undergo all the makeovers she wants — that Dora comforter is still getting chucked faster than last year’s gym shoes when Hannah Montana comes calling.
And therein lies the quandary for parents trying to decorate their kids’ rooms in a way that’s both whimsical and practical: Do you give in to the relentless onslaught of characters, themes and eye-catching colors your child covets? (It is her room, after all.) Or do you insist on decor with a little more longevity and panache? (Child’s translation: boooor-ing.)
Surely Spider-Man and style can peacefully co-exist. Here we turn to three experts in search of some middle ground.
Themes are for birthday parties. “If your kid is into trains, a lot of parents will buy the train wallpaper border, train bedding, train models to put on a shelf and so on,” says Serena Dugan, co-founder and creative director for Serena & Lily children’s bedding line (serenaandlily.com). “But chances are your child is going to be on to something new soon, so you no longer love the room and the child’s over it too. A little goes a long way.”
A little, in this case, can take the form of a single pillowcase, desk accessories, stickers on a bulletin board, even a throw pillow. Anything that you won’t mind parting with in short order because it didn’t cost much and replacing it doesn’t require an overhaul of the room.
“My son was so into Batman when he was little,” says Michelle Williams, founder of Michelle Williams Interiors (mwilliamsinteriors.com). “I got him one big pillow for the top of his bed. He thought it was terrific and I didn’t feel bad when he was done with it.”
Teach art appreciation. A fun way to sneak childlike accents into a room is through framed “artwork.” For toddlers, this might mean framing flashcards, colorful greeting cards or their own masterpieces. For slightly older kids, this is a great spot for their favorite characters to find a home.
“If they’re into Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, buy a poster and frame it,” suggests Williams. “Now it’s elevated from a cheapo fad to ‘Wow, look at this! It’s art!’ And when they get older, take the poster out and replace it with something else.”
Williams framed some classic Barbie prints from Z Gallerie for her daughter’s room. “Young at heart, but sophisticated at the same time,” she says.
She also suggests hanging art lower on the walls. “By hanging a piece of art low over a bean bag chair, you are creating an ‘area,’ ” she says.
Choose sophisticated pieces. “I don’t believe in pandering to children,” says Williams. “My son has a leather sofa in his room that came out of a different room in our house. His friends have been known to sleep on that sofa, and it’s ageless. He could be 25 and still using it — not that I want him in my house when he’s 25 …”
For accent lighting, she suggests a chandelier or crystal lamp (with a young, fun lampshade). And her piece de resistance? The desk chair.
“I love a Philippe Starck Louis Ghost Chair or an Eames tulip chair with a simple IKEA or Room and Board desk,” she says. “The look is young and fun, but it can work at 6 or 12 or 18.”
Find furniture with legs. “Adaptability, quality and neutral color palette,” Dugan emphasizes. She’s a fan of white furnishings, which go with anything and work as well in a nursery as a preteen room. “Invest in quality pieces that will grow with your child,” Dugan says. “An armoire that can convert to a child’s wardrobe when their needs change, for example.”
Sam Scarborough, stylist and author of “Cool Spaces for Kids,” (Hamlyn Books, $19.99), says bunk beds grow up with your children. “It’s great fun for a 6-year-old — they love climbing up and down the ladder — and a good sleepover option for older kids,” Scarborough says. “It’s also a space saver; the bottom bed can be removed to make space for a homework area.”
Paint is your friend. It’s relatively cheap and easily changed. “Choose a neutral color scheme on the walls, with a feature wall in a different color that can be changed as the child grows,” suggests Scarborough.
And paint doesn’t have to be limited to the walls. “You can always paint canvas wall panels with just one color,” says Dugan. “If pink is what she’s into, pick four quarts of fuchsia paint in a range and paint each panel a different shade. Hang them in a grid, and you’ve satisfied her need with minimum investment and maximum impact.”
Williams warns against painting elaborate murals on the walls, however. “Eventually they won’t like it, it will date the room, and you’ll feel bad painting over it because you remember what you paid for it,” she says.
And what color bedding and curtains go with an ever-changing palette of wall colors? “Denim goes with everything, is hardy and washes extremely well — the more it’s washed the better it looks — and also hides spills well,” says Scarborough. “Denim works in both boys’ and girls’ rooms, just add splashes of pink, or blues and red checks for the boys.”