Parents may be well-meaning, but a room is a child's sanctuary.
By CAMILLA A. HERRERA
A child's room is like no other room in the house.
"It integrates everything that is important to them: games, friends, sports, e-mail, music, books, movies and, when they have time, homework," says Debbie Travis, designer and host of "Facelift," a remodeling and decorating show on Home & amp; Garden Television. "Whatever their interests are is what they like their room to show. It is a kid's world, and their room is their world."
As such, the child's room stands in contrast to other rooms, each with a defined role in the daily activities of family members but frequently decorated with a complementary vision of harmony, theme and color.
Once children reach middle school, their rooms also act as a private haven, says Rita Troshynski, an interior decorator and design consultant for Siperstein's Paint and Decorating Center in Stamford, Conn. "Some parents are not always aware that this is their hang-out."
Some parents might say they are, in fact, aware, saying their decorative decisions, particularly when updating a child's room, are based on a goal to make the room the sanctuary it is meant to be. They might say they frequently use their child's hobbies and favorite colors as thematic starting points.
Valid point, designers say. But they point out that parents often paint a picture of a room that matches the rest of the house and rarely get input from the child whose room is about to change.
"Their input is key," says Susan Salzman, owner and designer of Little Folk Art, a Los Angeles furniture design firm with a retail outlet in New York City. "Hear the child, because it is their space and they live in it. If they are involved, it creates pride of ownership, and kids take care of their things more if they feel they have a say in it."
Parents might cringe. Rare is the case in which a child will choose a tonal paint color or antique finishes. But the alternative, a room in which a child does not feel at home, no matter how beautifully appointed, is a situation best avoided.
"I have a friend who redid her son's room while he went away to camp," says Travis, also author of several design books, including "Kid's Rooms: More Than 80 Innovative Projects from Cradle to College" (Clarkson Potter, $19.95). "She did these beautiful plaids on the walls and he hates the dark colors. He hates his room."
Parents shouldn't worry so much, designers say, if a child's ideas seem far out. But once the question is asked, parents should be prepared for calls for bright colors.
"Boys and girls like color, lots of different colors from floor to ceiling," says Travis. "They like patterns, prints and swirls. They like brightness. They want the room to reflect their interests and styles."
Troshynski, who leads "Being Me in My Space," an annual decorating seminar for teens, sees differences in what girls and boys like. "Girls like red and purple and hot pink," she says. "The boys are equally sophisticated, painting navy-blue, oranges, deep shades of brown, lime-green, aqua, all quite grown-up. They may keep these colors until they go to college."
Thoughts of bright walls need not concern.
"I tell parents that the best thing on the market today are the primers," says Travis. "When the child moves out, a coat of primer will take care of the walls."
In the meantime, just close the door, jokes Troshynski, adding, "Seriously, you'd be surprised at the child that emerges. Kids are now saying, 'This is what I want in my room.' And their ideas are amazing.
"I had a father who wanted a [N.Y.] Yankees room, all navy and white. His 15-year-old son also loves the Yankees but he wanted something else. He came up with very sophisticated ideas around a collection of antique maps. His parents were amazed."
Not surprisingly, children get ideas from the same sources as their parents. "There are loads of TV shows and magazines with great ideas for kids," Travis said. "You can go to the paint store together and look at paint chips and he'll tell you what excites him."
And if the project is done together, redecorating can be fun. "Make it an event," adds Travis. "One weekend, clear the room. The next weekend, paint together."
The projects don't need to be expensive, partly because what is perfect for an 11-year-old will be dated three years later.
"There's always a solution," says Travis. "If they want something expensive, there is another version. It is doubtful that a child will ask for thread count. Show them fun catalogs, like Ikea. Go to yard sales and look for things that can be reinvented."
Suggestions are abundant. Metallic and high-gloss paints can be used on furniture and storage cases, says Travis. Fabric, paper, wood trim, cork, feathering and moldings provide more options.
"Younger children tend to have fluffy toys they are not playing with anymore but are not ready to get rid of them," Travis said. "Create high shelves. These are a good way of putting these toys where they can see them but they are not taking up real estate."
Drawer knobs and pulls, lamp shades, bedding, pillows, shades can also change a room's look easily and inexpensively, says Salzman.
"You can make something lounge-like by adding bean bags, piled on top of each other," says Travis. "Or put a mattress on the floor with a cover and loads of pillows.
"Another thing that is cool is carpet tile. Since it comes in different colors, you can create a design on the floor. And if there is an awful spill, you can replace the tiles."
For parents who worry about lack of creativity, "Rubbish," says Travis. "Kids make you creative. No child says, 'I'm not creative.' Follow their lead.
"For the person who says, 'I can't paint,' of course you can. The same person used to say they couldn't cook, but they learned as soon as they got married. It's about opening your mind. The material is out there."
There is no such thing as a bad idea, says Salzman.
"It's just a matter of what you want to do to achieve that idea," she says.