Space may be the last real luxury, but in many parts of the world, even parents don't have the luxury of a private bedroom. In most individual-oriented Western cultures, however, private spaces are considered important even for youngsters.
In the United States, open-plan homes that blend family rooms with kitchens exist side by side with master bedroom suites and dedicated children's wings. The pull between togetherness and privacy is constant -- and perfectly natural. While a bedroom of one's own may be the American ideal, many children find a shared room less lonely, and they contentedly share bedrooms as long as their own turf within the room is clearly marked. Ingenious furniture designs, such as the clever loft bed with drawers and desk space below or the trundle bed with a pull-out bed for guests, can make just about any size space workable.
If generous square footage isn't essential in a child's room, what is? Natural light from at least one fair-size window, for one thing. Sunlight aids the absorption of vitamin D and can alleviate the winter-borne depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It also makes any room look and feel larger and airier. You can multiply the effect of windows with strategically placed mirrors, but make sure they are unbreakable or wait until children are old enough not to whack mirrors during play.
For shared rooms, try to provide equal access to the window (but be certain to outfit it with safety bars to make sure no one can fall or climb out; screens don't count). Avoid heavy, elaborate window treatments that attract dust and can tempt youngsters into potentially dangerous hanging stunts. Instead, you may want to choose simple, washable curtains or shades (be sure to keep cords on halyards or cleats high out of reach). Room-darkening shades, the kind found in hotel rooms, may be helpful for reluctant nappers.
Obviously, another essential is the door and safe access to it. Kids need to be able to easily find and reach the bedroom door, even half-asleep, in case of an emergency or just for midnight trips to the bathroom. Make sure furniture does not obstruct the doorway, and be militant about having kids keep a clutter-free path from the bed to the door. (Even if they're nimble enough to keep from falling, you may not be!) A night-light is important for safety as well as for psychological comfort, and many are available with tiny shades depicting everything from a protective angel to the latest cartoon character.
If your child's room is located near stairs, especially a dramatic open staircase, be sure that railings are high enough to protect the big kids from falling over and that vertical rails are close enough to prevent small ones from slipping through. Safety isn't at the top of the mind with most children, so it needs to be with you.
Closet doors that swing open waste space in a small bedroom. Sliding closet doors on tracks don't take up as much floor space, but they can be heavy and hard for youngsters to move. In either case, you may want to replace these types of doors with pocket doors if the budget allows. Or simpler yet, use a pair of drapery-length curtains on a tension rod instead of traditional closet doors. You can make washable cotton-polyester blend curtains easily and affordably from twin-size sheets, with the added bonus of coordinating the curtains with your child's bed linens. A closet that kids can easily use is one that they are more likely to use -- instead of the floor.
Clutter may be a matter of opinion, but general cleanliness is important to children's health because their immune systems are not as robust or well-developed as most adults'. Plan on easy-to-clean hard surfaces and fully washable -- not just spot-cleanable -- soft surfaces throughout the room.
If your child has allergies, his or her pediatrician or an allergist can advise you on specific ways to reduce allergens in your child's room and elsewhere in your home. In general, avoid lots of knickknacks, aptly dubbed "dust catchers," unless the items are truly dear to your child. As children grow up, they often accumulate more and more items they find meaningful, so make friends with a little empty space, simplify cleanup, and be sure to leave plenty of room for tomorrow's treasures.
In the next section, you'll learn about the many ways fabric can play a major part in the design of a child's room.
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