Q: I'm about to furnish and decorate a room for my two preteen boys. It's a fairly large space that I would like to have serve as a playroom and as a quiet place for reading, watching TV and relaxing with friends. Can you give me some suggestions for how to proceed?
A: Function should clearly be your foremost concern. And, from that perspective, I would suggest that the room be designed in such a way it will literally be able to grow along with your growing boys. That means using movable furniture, easily accessible storage units and adjustable-height shelving. Tough surfaces are also essential.
But a room like this should obviously not be somber either. Because it's a place for playing, The design ought to be fun as well. In fact, this is one of the few situations in which a so-called theme design might be appropriate rather than hokey.
If your two boys share a particular interest -- whether dinosaurs, music or space exploration -- the room could be partly based on that.theme. This may make for a special and personalized space. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you should try to re-create some aspect of Disneyland. While that could be fun, it might prove tiresome after a while. In general, it's safer to use an occasional piece here and there that's pegged to a certain theme.
The photograph shows an example of such a playful piece of furniture. But don't be misled -- this is one tough table. It was originally custom-designed for the display room of a major baseball company. The top surface, featuring a solid-red inlay and eased edge, is made of Surell, a highly durable material manufactured by the Formica Corporation. The table itself was fabricated and detailed by Plexability Ltd. of New York City.
Now let's return to the room's functional aspects. I recommend that quiet-time activities, such as reading, be physically separated from areas devoted to TV-watching and game-playing. Since the room is fairly large and because it has to accommodate two children, you might consider installing some visual barrier, such as a free-standing bookcase, to divide the space into distinct parts. The bookcase could have shelving on one side and possibly a tack or slate board on the other.
The room's colors should be bright and stimulating, but not produce contrasts so sharp that eye strain may result. I also suggest you install manually controlled lighting that will independently illuminate specific task areas such as desks and game tables.
Don't rely on overall lighting from one or two ceiling fixtures. It's neither necessary nor appropriate in such a setting.
Even though learning to share is a part of growing up, I would make sure that each child has his own separate storage and working areas. Being forced to share such personal spaces can result in a great deal of unpleasantness.
Q: We live in a gracious, spacious and very comfortable house built in the 1930s. The two bathrooms, however, have never been remodeled and look quite dingy. Not surprisingly, the fixtures and walls are white. Short of a total rehab, what can we do to spruce up these rooms?
A: New lighting, colors and textures are usually all that's required for a good camouflage operation, which is what you should perform. A typical bathroom "fluff-up" doesn't have to involve a huge expenditure of time and money.
This kind of cosmetic make-over might appeal to you since it won't eliminate all the charm and character of an old-fashioned space.
A chair rail and applied moldings can be added to the walls, while the surface area from the floor to the top of the chair rail could be painted in a way that produces a drag-type texture. This technique might be especially appropriate in your situation, since it was quite popular in the early part of the century. It will give the wall a look similar to that of wood paneling, or if brighter colors are used, the result will resemble a combed surface. In fact, combs are dragged across the wet paint to create this effect.
To brighten the room further, try painting the area above the chair rail a gloss white. A cheerfully colored cotton floral, would be a good choice for your shower curtain.
As for the floor, the treatment will depend on the surface material. For wood planking, I would recommend painting it white and then applying at least three coats of clean polyurethane to enhance and preserve the color and finish. Another possibility would be to install a two-color vinyl covering in a harlequin-like pattern. That will definitely add a bit of zip to the space. So will blue-and-white or dark green-and-white vinyl tiles.
A bathroom face lift also relies heavily on the proper use of fabrics. Besides providing yet another brightening touch, they help soften the room's overall look.
A decoratively framed mirror, flanked by brass sconce-like lighting fixtures, can make a pleasing and functional arrangement over the sink. Along with some good ceiling light, this may be all that's needed in the way of illumination in a standard-size bathroom.
Finish off the job with brass touches in the faucets, lighting fixtures, shower curtain pole and cabinetry hardware. That will introduce some sparkle to the room.