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Got imagination?

Published on: June 01, 2007

Fun kids' rooms on a budget 

To put together a groovy personal space for your child, look not to your wallet but to your own inner child. Interior designers and parents agree: The most important components for creating great kids’ rooms are color, imagination and flexibility.

Use color to create peace

“When you’re talking budget, color is a huge statement,” says Seattle interior designer Stephanie Mehl. “There are lots of ways you can work with it, from simple colors to graffiti walls.” But keep in mind, color affects mood, she says. You might not want to use shocking orange if you’re looking for calm. 

Another Seattle interior designer, Amy Baker, offers a simple rule: Mute. “I recommend picking a color you love and taking four steps backward toward more muted. They’re bedrooms. You want them to be soothing,” she says. It’s also easier to change out smaller pieces in the room when you’ve got “dialed back” colors.

Lea Anne Burke of Snohomish dialed back — what else? — pink for her school-age daughters, Lora and Terra, who share a room. “I let them have a say in it. Initially they wanted a really bright pink, and I said no. We figured out they wanted a flower color. I found a few colors that weren’t garish and let them pick from those.” Burke landed on pale lilac, keeping the ceiling white to keep the peace, so to speak.

Or start a welcome riot

Some parents feel the opposite way, that wild colors provide an outlet for expression. Kristen Reitz-Green, mother of Keeley (5) and Jaden (4), lives on Vashon Island, where she recently launched a furniture-painting business after retiring as a classical musician.

“It started when I bought an antique table at a yard sale,” Reitz-Green says. “I sanded it down and painted this crazy checkerboard on it. Then I started painting this and that — vines, cat prints. My imagination just went crazy.” Pretty soon the artist was installing lime-green carpet and painting walls persimmon. Reitz-Green credits her exuberant color taste to Mexican art. She says it inspires her kids’ own artistic sense. And paint and carpet fit well into the family’s “musician’s budget,” she says.


In addition to color, consider these relatively inexpensive options:

• Window treatments: Baker recommends a double layer. First a blind, “for maximum flexibility with the amount of light you let in.” Then drapes.
• Storage: “Kids have a lot of stuff,” Baker remarks. They need bookcases, closets with open storage or bins, and/or hanging baskets.
• Cork board: “Somewhere the child can stick photos, concert tickets, things they collect. Create a space where they can rotate their things,” suggests Baker.
• Alternative lighting: Consider a fun, alternative form of lighting, such as a string of lights.
• Murals
• Wall patterns: Remember wallpaper?

For accessorizing, the sky’s the limit. “You can do whatever you like and whatever your budget can afford,” says Baker. If you’re a bargain hunter, all the better. “Eclectism is something kids respond to really well,” she says. Whether that means shopping on craigslist or at thrift stores and yard sales, local deals can go a long way in decorating affordably.

Derrick Burke, Lea Anne’s husband, says secondhand kids’ items play a big role in their decorating, because they’re often a great value. “They’re used for such short periods in most cases, they’re in fine shape.”

Build a sensible foundation

A woodworker, Burke not only shops for bargains but builds furniture and toys from scratch, and buys some things new. Long-term usage is a priority. “The twin beds I built for [the girls] are ‘California twin,’ which means they’re as long as queen-size beds,” he says. “I built them that way intentionally so the girls can grow into them all the way through high school. Some things you only want to buy once.”

A one-time purchase recommended by Amy Baker is inexpensive white sheets and blankets. Then spring for quilts, duvet covers, and pillow cases your child can help choose.

Stephanie Mehl suggests investing in a sturdy chest of drawers, “painting it a great high-gloss color, and then accessorizing over time with wall paper or carpet — working with it as the kid grows. And you can change the paint color over time.”

Openness to change is important, the designer says. “A kid’s room should be a reflection of who they are, as much as it can be. That’s what makes it special for them. Their input is ideal — especially as they get older. Their needs, taste and size change. So besides imagination, you need to be flexible. “And frankly,” Mehl chuckles, “You can’t take it too seriously.”

Natasha Petroff is a Snohomish-based mother and stepmother (three kids total), writer and editor.


• The Budget Decorator:
• Designing Fun Kids’ Rooms:
New Kidspace Idea Book, by Wendy Jordan, The Taunton Press

Retail (recommended by Amy Baker):
Crate and Barrel
Great Jones Home
Design Within Reach
Fireworks Gallery

Interior Design:
• MixDesign (Stephanie Mehl), 206-605-5257
Amy Baker Interior Design, Inc.

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