Q: Our 6-year-old son is ready for a room of his own. We want to make it a cheerful place, different from the other rooms in the home. But we also don't want it to look overly designed or too cute like so many of the kids' rooms seen in decorating magazines. What do you suggest?
A: I've got to confess to feeling a bit discouraged whenever people say they don't want a room to look "overly designed." The whole point of my profession is to arrange interior spaces in a distinctive and pleasing manner. A well-designed room, by definition, will immediately appear different from one that is not.
My hope is that you're really saying that you don't want your son's room to look trite, glitzy or foolish. If so, I can readily sympathize with your concerns.
But you need have little fear about making a child's room look like it's been cut out of some decorating magazine. Those immaculate settings have almost always been artificially created for the sake of the photographer. In real life, a child's bedroom won't remain meticulously arranged for very long.
As a first step, I advise that you pay careful attention to your son's needs and preferences. Think about how best to respond to his decorative sense which, by age 6, is becoming fairly well developed. I'd start by asking him what colors he does not like, on the theory that it's generally easier to exclude than to choose.
If the room is fairly small, try to keep colors and patterns to a minimum. For the wall covering, it's usually safe to select among stripes, checks and plaids.
In the photo is a space where blue pin stripes on a white background are combined with a border of bold stars. The symbolism may be rather obvious, but the clever spacing of the patterns prevents the design from being too heavyhanded. Both the basic wall covering, called "Madison," and the coordinated "My Country Border" are part of a new children's collection from Motif Designs.
One of the primary assets of this space is that it works for either a small child or a young teen-ager. Most of the furniture is made of scrubbed pine, with some painted pieces. The wood plank floor has been pickled in an off-white. Rounding out the background, the pillow shams and duvet cover are done in a small check cotton.
This type of surrounding is simple enough to allow pictures and posters to be hung without producing any clashes. Draperies and curtains aren't necessary in this setting; window blinds will do fine.
Shelves, on the other hand, are essential for your son's books and toys. I wouldn't install a lot of them, however, since shelves seem to encourage accumulation of junk. A large cabinet might be a most sensible addition, along with a few bookshelves.
Don't overlook the importance of lighting -- both as a design element and as a practical feature. A good general-purpose light attached to the ceiling is almost mandatory. And I would also include a couple of reading lamps, preferably attached to the walls. Free-standing lamps can be a real nuisance -- and potentially dangerous -- in a child's room.