Children's decor grows up

Home: Furniture for kids is beginning to look like Mom and Dad's.

September 26, 1999|By Frances Ingraham Heins | Frances Ingraham Heins,Albany Times Union

Children's furnishings are growing up. Bedrooms are looking more sophisticated, with new lines of furnishings featuring upholstered chairs, coordinated linens and accessories.

These youthful rooms are like parts of a studio apartment with places to read, work and sleep. Because of computers and CD players, children are spending more time in their rooms. To that end, designers have created entertainment centers, workstations, comfortable upholstered chairs, plush pillows and attractive accessories to make the rooms as friendly as possible.

The trend was fueled by baby boomers now in their 50s, who became parents in their 30s, according to Cynthia Gray, spokeswoman for the Home Furnishings Council in Wilmington, Del.

"Their focus turned away from decorating their children's bedrooms with cute little duckies and bunnies. They want their children to have something that is special. They have the income to spend and desire the same quality for their children's rooms that they seek in their own bedrooms."

Decorating an attractive and tasteful room helps children learn about putting a room together, and fosters creativity and pride, Gray said. "Designing a room with your child when they are young helps them to understand parameters," she added. "It also builds on the nuclear family concept of a social unit consisting of parents and their children living under one roof sharing and creating everything to make their own wonderful nest."

The home furnishings market is reacting by emulating adult creature comforts.

In the past decade, the domestic retail sale of juvenile furnishings and accessories has increased by 400 percent, totaling more than $4 billion a year, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association in Morristown, N.J. The association added that sales are expected to increase 4.5 percent per year.

Expect to spend $150 to $3,000 or more per piece. If you are on a budget, add a piece at a time. Be sure to select styles that will grow with the child and look just as fresh from high school to college and possibly beyond, when there are grandchildren.

New catalogs listing the latest in children's furnishings include e.a. kids, Exposures Homes, Pottery Barn and IKEA.

Ethan Allen's e.a. kids line features a cottage-style bedroom set (starting at $299 for a night stand and $799 for a twin size bed) inspired by the rustic beauty of European cottage furniture, or Early American ($1,899 for an armoire) and French provincial styles (starting at $179 and $239 for a night table).

These latest designs are based on trends and a series of focus research groups made up of parents.

The pieces are made from sturdy maple. Select pieces, such as desktops, bookshelves and night stands, feature the laminate top finish called "tuff-a-nuff."

"Even though the furnishings are scaled down to child-size, they are very functional," said Jeanne Finning, a designer with Ethan Allen in Schenectady, N.Y. "The door chest, which comes in several styles and finishes, has four drawers, an adjustable shelf, which can hold sweaters to a CD player, and wiring holes for electronics."

She said one of the most versatile pieces is the armoire, which has a removable rod, adjustable shelves and three tray drawers. It can be used to store clothes or to house a television and other electronic equipment. Other scaled-down pieces with a grown-up look include the petite chaise ($499) that comes in a daisy print upholstery or ready to be covered with your choice of fabric; the wing chair ($429), which looks great in a Victorian-style room and comes with a slipcover for easy cleaning or redecorating; and club chairs ($699) with matching ottomans ($329).

Ethan Allen's collection for children features everything from mirrors ($249 to $449) to night stands and coordinated linens for the bed. To make shopping easier, all the furnishings are part of theme packages. If you are still in doubt, take advantage of their free design service.

Pottery Barn came out recently with its first catalog of furnishings for children.

"Based on market research, we saw a void and need to expand in this area of children's furnishings," said Laura Alber, senior vice president of Pottery Barn Catalog Division. "It used to be that only the children's room had children's stuff. Now their furnishings are incorporated into the rest of the house."

She said the catalog line has been so successful that the company is expanding into a Pottery Barn Kids store sometime next year.

Pottery Barn's scaled treasures for kids include an antiqued armoire ($899), an iron bed reminiscent of a Victorian heirloom ($399 for a twin or $499 for the full size) and a junior version of the Manhattan club chair ($699 leather, $499 twill) and ottoman ($299 leather, $199 twill).

Exposures Homes catalog offers a charming Newport night table hand-painted in French blue and white with one drawer and a bottom shelf ($95). One-of-a-kind designs include a 100 percent chenille upholstered chair with dust ruffle ($495) and companion ottoman ($195).

Catalog sales will always be a convenience, but as this trend continues to grow, stores will offer more opportunities to buy in person.

Susie Hilfiger, wife of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, recently took over a children's shop in Greenwich, Conn., where she has created an environment devoted to upscale children's furnishings, accessories and clothing.

Her shop is now called Best & Co., and her inventory is classic in design, combining antiques with custom-made furnishings.

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