Guide to Decorating Kids' Rooms

Decorating & Design

When decorating kids' rooms, safety has to be your top consideration when shopping for any element. Beyond that, you have a wealth of delightful choices in furnishing and decorating a room that's (almost) as special as your child.

First, plan for function -- the basic things your child will need to do in the room. Then, choose background treatments, furniture, fabrics, and accessories with decorating power to spare. A strong vision will keep your effort on track; a flexible approach will keep the effort creative, cost-effective, and fun for you and your child. In this article you'll find:

Safety Issues When Decorating Kids' Rooms­
Decorate a room for your child that not only looks good but won't be harmful to its occupant with the helpful tips on this page.

Comfort Issues When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Learn how to decorate a child's room that's both physically and psychologically comforting in this section.

How to Choose Paint Color When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Check out this page for descriptions of primary and secondary color schemes and so much more.

How to Choose Patterns When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Find out when a pattern, like stripes or flowers, is the best bet in your kid's room here.

Tips for Buying Cradles and Cribs
Sleep peacefully knowing you've purchased the best cradle or crib for baby, thanks to the tips on this page.

Tips for Buying a Kid's Bed
Learn what to look for when purchasing that first "big boy" or "big girl" bed in this section.

How to Choose Kids' Bedding
Check out this page for ideas on how to jazz up a child's room with the bedding you choose.

How to Choose Storage Furniture for Kids' Rooms
Learn how to manage the clutter in your kid's room with help from the tips on this page.

How to Choose Furniture for Kids' Rooms
Sort through the variety of furniture options for children's rooms by reading the suggestions in this section.

Wall Treatments for Kids' Rooms
Check out this page for great ideas on adding color and pattern to walls.

Painting Kids' Rooms
Find step-by-step instructions, painting tips, and more here.

Decorative Finishes for Kids' Rooms
From sponging to stippling, the variety of decorative finishes you'll learn about on this page is sure to wow you.

Wallpapering Kids' Rooms
Find out when wallpaper is the best choice for your kid's room and tips to help you hang it here.

How to Stencil Kids' Rooms
Find stenciling tips and ideas to give your child's room a personal touch in this section.

Flooring for Kids' Rooms
Whether hardwood or carpet, the flooring in your child's room can look its best thanks to the tips on this page.

Window Treatments for Kids' Rooms
Take the time to read this section to help you select window treatments that will best suit your child's room.

Accessories for Kids' Rooms
Check out this final section to learn how to keep clutter to a minimum while still giving your child a chance to decorate his or her surroundings.

In the first section, we'll address the most important aspect of decorating a child's room -- safety.

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If you're lucky enough to have an unlimited budget to spend on an ideal kid's room, feel free to create a fantasy environment from top to bottom. Regardless of how generous your budget may be, however, be sure to put safe, sturdy construction -- the surest test of quality -- at the top of your must-have list. Even theatrical set construction needs both a designer and a technical director who make sure the design is constructed for the actors' safety, so make sure your little star gets the same consideration.

One of the most difficult challenges a new parent faces is to anticipate all of the ways a child can get hurt. Kids and adults think differently, and what looks innocuous to you can be dangerous to them -- and in just a second or two. In many metropolitan areas, you can hire a company to come in and childproof your home, but you can also do the job yourself. Consult the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission for guidelines on crib bars, bunk beds, and many other children's products, or look for the commission's label of approval on products you buy. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association also certifies merchandise for safety and labels those that meet the industry's voluntary standards.

Beds and Cribs

Following are some of the basics for safe beds and cribs.

  • If your kids are set on bunk beds, be sure to keep children under seven off the top bunk and insist on safety rails and a safety ladder regardless of kids' ages.

  • Make sure bunk beds are sturdy. Check to ensure spacing of rails are too narrow for a child's head to get caught.

  • Choose bunk beds with guardrails on both sides of the top bunk so you can relocate the bed if needed. Make sure the top bunk's mattress is at least five inches below the edge of the guardrails.

  • Buy only cribs with slats/bars too close together for a baby's head to get caught. Slats must measure no more than two and one-eighth inches apart, and corner posts should be no more than one-sixteenth of an inch high (exception: canopy posts and other posts taller than 16 inches). Decorative cutouts on cribs and beds should be too small for any part of a child's body to get caught. You will need to add extra slats to make that charming antique crib (or most cribs made before 1990) safe.

  • Make sure latching mechanisms that let you lower a crib side are securely latched in the highest position unless you're lifting out the baby. Choose a crib with this mechanism out of baby's reach or one that needs ten pounds of pressure for release.

  • Buy the sturdiest crib you can afford. Your baby will do a lot of jumping and jouncing before he or she outgrows the crib.

Safety Issues When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Cute and cozy, this red-and-white room is just right for a little one. The crib is
far enough away from the miniblind cord, and the crib has locking sides
to prevent falls. Just be sure to take out the decorative pillows when it’s
naptime or bedtime. Designer: Lyn Peterson. Wallpaper: Motif Designs.

Changing Tables

These tips will help you choose a safe changing table:

  • Use a changing table with a low guardrail and a safety strap.

  • Keep diapering supplies and extra clothes in open storage at arm's reach of the changing table so you don't have to leave the child unattended on the table, even for a moment.

Electric and Heat

Safety tips for electric and heat apply throughout the house. Here are a few:

  • Keep electrical cords out of the way to keep kids from grabbing them or tripping on them, and rearrange furniture if necessary to eliminate extension cords.

  • Screen off any radiator or other heat source so children can't bump or fall into it.

  • Make sure all electrical outlets are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters, and block unused outlets with the simple plastic safety caps available at most hardware and grocery stores.


If you own a firearm, keep it unloaded and locked away, and store ammunition separately. Statistically, far more family members and neighbors' kids than intruders are hurt or killed by guns in the home.

Furniture and Accessories

Take heed of the following tips to ensure the furniture and accessories in your home are safe for children.

  • Bolt bookcases or wall unit pieces to a wall to keep heavy pieces from falling if a child climbs them.

  • Make sure toy chests have a closing mechanism that keeps them from slamming down on fingers. (If you're using an antique hope chest for toy storage, have a safety hinge retrofitted and remove the hinge on the front lock.)

  • You probably already know to avoid decorative accessories and accents with small parts that pose a choking hazard for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. If you want to use beads, ball fringe, or other small elements that can be detached (or yanked off), confine them to rooms small children will not use. If a room is shared between a preschooler and an older child, keep the potential problem items up high on a wall-mounted shelf or otherwise out of reach.

  • Position storage hooks -- and anything else with the potential to poke -- at a level that's either below or above your child's eyes.

Kitchens and Baths

Follow these tips to make your kitchen and bathroom safe:

  • If you're buying a cooktop or range, get one with controls on top or in back -- not down on the front where young kids can reach them.

  • Avoid sharp edges and corners anywhere children will have access. Round or oval tables throughout the house and rounded or bullnose kitchen and bath countertops provide safety without compromising adult style.

  • Install simple plastic kiddie locks on all cabinets kids can reach (including the ones they can reach by climbing on a chair and standing on the counter when you're in the next room). Be especially vigilant about locking cabinets holding cleaning supplies, medicines, matches, saws, knives, and other potentially dangerous kitchen and craft tools.

  • Station a mirror in the bath where small children can see themselves to reduce the temptation to climb up on the counter for a look.

  • Use only bath rugs with nonslip backings (or use a cut-to-fit nonslip pad available separately). If you're having new flooring installed, specify tile with a nonslip surface.

  • Have grab bars installed in the tub and near the toilet, and tell kids not to hang on towel bars or put weight on them. (Grab bars must be reinforced with a block spanning two wall studs, so plan for them if you are rehabbing or building new.)

  • Install antiscald devices on your bathroom faucets, especially in showers and bathtubs. Children's skin is much thinner than adults', and it can burn severely in just a few seconds.

Paints and Stains

Certain types of paints and stains can be harmful to children; use these tips to avoid them:

  • Choose low-VOC latex paints rather than oilbase paints for kids' rooms; they emit less fumes and are less toxic.

  • When it comes to finishing wood floors in kids' rooms, a waterbase urethane is less toxic and less flammable than polyurethane.

Smoke Alarms

Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home, and add a carbon monoxide detector near bedrooms if you use gas or oil heat or have an attached garage. Change batteries in your detectors on the same date every year, such as Thanksgiving, a birthday, or the autumn return to standard time.


Install safety gates to keep children away from stairs. If stair railings or landing balusters are more than five inches apart, install a mesh safety barrier.


Follow these suggestions to secure your windows:

  • For second-story windows, install window guards instead of relying on screens or storm windows. If your windows are double hung, simple devices can be put in place to keep the window from opening more than a few inches while still allowing for easy operation by an adult in case of fire.

  • Secure window blind cords up high, and keep other dangling items away from where a child can reach them.

There's no way you can completely childproof any environment, so do yourself and your kids a favor and teach them that "no" means "no." They'll comply to win your approval years before they understand safety issues.

Now let's move onto making your child's room comfortable for the little guy or gal. You'll find tips on the next page.

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Physical comfort in your child's room comes down to a few commonsense elements. The shortlist is a bed with a good-quality, supportive mattress (you'll go through at least two mattresses before he or she heads for college); enough storage drawers and ones that move easily; round pegs at the right height for hanging clothes; adequate lighting for tasks; and a good-size work surface plus supportive chair. If you don't have a home security system, make sure bedroom windows have high-quality locks and, if you like a little fresh air, window guards that let windows open no more than five inches.

Psychological comfort is just as important, so plan that in from the start. Starting at the most elemental level, nights can feel endless to a child who's ill or even just one with a healthy imagination. An extra bed in the room will be more comfortable for everyone when you're on the parental night shift, and a rocking chair can save your back as well as soothe a fretful youngster. If a conventional twin bed won't work well, consider a futon-type couch, a daybed with a pullout trundle bed, or an armchair that converts to a twin sleeper.

Comfort Issues When Decorating Kids' Rooms
A chair that glides or rocks recalls the prenatal rocking
motion that means safety at its most elemental level.
Upholstered arms and a footrest give a weary parent a chance
to relax, too. Designer: Karen Cashman, Perspectives.

A night-light is important, but you and your child may prefer a conventional lamp with a dim (15-watt) bulb or a dimmer switch instead of the usual tiny plug-ins. (In any case, be sure the shade isn't too close to the bulb.) Of all the bedroom accessories, your child will find a treasured blanket or a special stuffed animal a bedtime must: This is one item you shouldn't feel in a rush to remove. For kids over age five, a small unbreakable flashlight may also help them feel in control and comforted. Night fears come and go as children's brains develop; most outgrow them as preadolescents if not before.

Security in early years has lifetime benefits, and while nothing can take the place of a comforting adult, a room designed to make a child feel more secure can make a difference.

In the next section, you'll learn how to use color to its full advantage in your child's room.

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Everything you need to know about decorating with color you didn't learn in kindergarten! However, the job of choosing and using colors can be fun and even easy. It's worthwhile, too, because color is the most emotional and compelling element in any setting.

To understand color basics and "what goes with what" most reliably, picture a circle cut into 12 sections like in a pie. Colors are arranged around this circle in the order of a rainbow: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, and red-violet.

Some of the approaches interior designers use to cook up color schemes are easy to do with a color wheel. (Find one at craft and art stores or make your own.) A complementary scheme pairs two colors opposite each other on the color wheel; for example, orange and blue or red-orange and blue-green. A split complementary uses two colors on each side of a color's complement; for example, orange plus blue-green and blue-violet.

Even easier, use an analogous scheme of three colors that are side by side on the color wheel. Blue-violet, blue, and blue-green make a wonderfully cool, restful setting, while yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green are energetic and cheerful.

Remember, you can extend any color with the neutrals: white, beige, brown, gray, and black. A favorite color that may seem overwhelming on its own is very manageable when surrounded by neutrals. Red, white, and black; orange, beige, and brown; and purple, white, and gray are three proven examples.

Color Wheel
A color wheel can help you and your child choose a color scheme,
whether it’s a traditional primary grouping or something a bit
more adventurous, such as orange, blue-violet, and white or black.

It's much easier to see your options when you use a color wheel, but if you can't find one at your local craft store, use colored pencils or paint chips to try out various combinations until you get one your child likes. However, if you find this too complex to fuss with, don't worry. Look at printed fabrics or wallcoverings at your local store for well-designed color schemes already available. You don't have to buy the fabric or paper, just pick up the color scheme.

Be sure to use the colors in the same proportion as you see them on the fabric or wallpaper. In general, the most livable schemes use a light or cool color in the largest amount, a medium color in the next largest amount, and the brightest, most intense or dark color in the smallest amount (as an accent). Avoid visual chaos by keeping the basic scheme to two or three colors, and add variety by using shades and tints of these colors plus neutrals. When you get all the clothes, souvenirs, toys, and other paraphernalia of the typical child (or two) in that room, things will be plenty colorful!

Winning the Primaries

Red, blue, and yellow are the three primary colors because they can't be created by mixing other colors. You can stop right here for some kids and use these three colors, or any two of them, with foolproof success. White, black, or wood-tone furniture all count as neutral colors that don't compete with your main hues. And, after all, what's more classic than red, white, and blue (great with Early American, French country, or modern furnishings) or more refreshing than blue, yellow, and white (perfect with Swedish country, contemporary, and beach cottage styles). To lighten up the primary colors to baby blue, pink, and pale lemon, just add white.

How to Choose Paint Color When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Red, blue, and yellow, the primary colors from which all other hues are made,
give a young, cheerful, straight-forward feeling that’s just right for a young
boy’s room. White plus natural wood tones make a soothing background for
these vivid flag colors. Manufacturer: Village, A Brand of FSC Wallcoverings.

Success with Secondary Colors

In between the primary colors are the three secondary colors made from mixing two primary colors together. Orange (mix of red and yellow), green (yellow plus blue), and purple or violet (blue plus red), expand your choices. While it's possible to use true blue and Kelly green or red and orange together, you may want to start out with a less demanding combination. Here are a few popular choices you might offer for your kids' approval:

  • Green and yellow -- fresh as a sunny meadow. Add orange accents for punch.
  • Red, yellow, and green -- cheerful as a circus or a field of tulips. Lighten the red to pink for a fun flower garden scheme of pink, green, and yellow. Even simpler, use just pink and green.
  • Orange and blue -- a favorite of boys. Add white to the orange for a soft, peachy tint that appeals to girls, too.

How to Choose Paint Color When Decorating Kids' Rooms
Green and violet, two secondary colors, look pretty with
yellow and blue, two primary colors. Together, they create
a summer garden feeling that is fun and frisky
as well as feminine. Retailer: JCPMedia L.P.

While orange appeals immediately and green is soothing and popular, you may find purple a bit somber for very young children -- unless, of course, it comes packaged as a friendly dinosaur. To put purple in the picture more easily, try one of these:

  • Regal purple and cheerful golden yellow -- ideal for a knightly setting.
  • Lilac (purple plus white) and spring green -- a scheme that's both chic and as charming as a garden.
  • Purple and pink -- a little girl's favorite.
  • Lilac, yellow, and green -- sprightly as springtime.

Tickle Them with Tertiary Colors

Tertiary (third-level) colors are made from mixing two secondary colors or a primary and a secondary color. The six tertiary colors -- red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet -- give you the full range of color-scheming options. Lighten them with white for watercolor effects, or use them with black or gray for drama that will captivate a hard-to-please teen. Here are a few combinations to consider:

  • Yellow-green (also known as lime), purple (or lilac), and black
  • Blue-green (aqua, turquoise, teal), red-orange (coral), and yellow-orange plus white or black
  • Red, blue-violet, and gray
  • Blue-violet, red-violet, and yellow-green
  • Orange, blue-violet (or periwinkle), and white or black

How to Choose Paint Color When Decorating Kids' Rooms
This split complementary color scheme blends yellow and
yellow-green, two analogous colors, then contrasts them with
violet, yellow’s complement. Backed up by lots of pristine white,
the result is fresh, cool, and springlike. Manufacturer: Waverly.

Working with Kids' Color Preferences

You want to indulge your child's color preferences, but you cringe at the thought of midnight black or construction orange all over the walls. You don't have to go to those extremes to create a room your child will love. The secret is diluting the over-the-top color, either literally with white paint or visually by surrounding it with more temperate tones.

Young children often adore bright red and orange; girls in particular may crave hot pink and bright orchid purple. Let them enjoy these happy hues in a way that doesn't overwhelm the room by using one or more cooling strategies.

Try adding white or beige to orange to make this lively hue more versatile. Boys and girls alike will feel at home with warm terra-cotta and melon hues; for more interest, add a bit of yellow or red to create sunflower or coral. These sunset tones work well with Wild West motifs and many other decorating themes. Easily coordinating colors include blues, greens, yellows, rust red, and warm neutral colors such as cream, tan, and brown. Peach plus lilac or periwinkle makes a pretty, chic look.

To keep classic red from being too much of a good thing, use it as an accent throughout the room, and find a predominantly red bed ensemble to make the bed the center of attention. Popular color schemes are red, white, and royal blue; red, pale gray, and violet; red, yellow, and turquoise; red, white, and green (lime is fresh, hunter is classic); or red, white, and pink. Let white and cool colors (blue, green, violet) dominate, and keep the hot colors (red, yellow, pink) as accents since they'll just naturally grab more attention.

Bright pink and purple are so popular with young girls that it's easy to find ensembles and accents that pair these two. To keep them from overwhelming the room, choose a pale pink, lilac, or periwinkle tint for walls, and cool the look further with lots of white and light green. (Lime is fresh; mint is timeless.) If your girl likes a vintage look, it's easy to find elements in old rose, lavender, ivory, and celadon or sage green.

How to Choose Paint Color When Decorating Kids' Rooms
A glacial scheme of gray and white would look too cold, but not when you add
strategic hits of warm orange and natural green. Repeat a color in at least three
places around the room for visual balance. Retailer: Gautier USA, Inc.

Many preteens and teens crave dark colors, but somber hues tend to overwhelm an average-size room and can be hard to paint over later. (They don't do a lot for the depression a lot of teens feel now and then either.) You can keep deep-tone drama without the dreariness, however. If your teen likes black, paint the walls ice blue, light acid green, or another hip, light tint, and furnish the room with black lacquer or black metal furniture, available in many styles and price points. Bed linen ensembles featuring prints in black plus neon hues are easy to come by and deliver drama aplenty.

The same principle applies to deep tones of purple or any other dark or intensely vivid color that might be overwhelming to live with. A young man who likes the drama of purple might find light gray walls and gunmetal gray furniture a cool background for the regal color, while a young lady might enjoy a scheme using lilac or lime plus white, accented by full-strength purple accessories.

Try to keep the backgrounds and large furniture pieces simple and classic for long-term comfort. Accessories, from accent pillows to bulletin boards and picture frames, can be changed as often as youngster's tastes do. If your daughter's taste has changed from pastel pink to fire engine red, do both of you a favor and drop doting family members a hint before her birthday or the holidays. Accessory items make perfect gifts and will let her change more often or make more of a statement, economically.

By the time your children have a more-than-sporadic interest in decorating their rooms, they're ready to start grasping the idea of buying what furthers the look not just what catches their eye. Impulsive shoppers as well as those who vacillate endlessly (you may have both in one household) will find it easier and more fun to purchase things that "go with" a turquoise ocean-inspired theme or a green-and-brown Wild West theme. Vacation trips, birthdays, and other special events all offer opportunities to help kids create environments that reflect their interests and dreams.

Sometimes a pattern, such as stripes, plaid, or florals, dominates a child's room. Learn how to work with patterns on the next page.

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If you're looking for a pattern to energize your child's room, you don't have to look very far. Stripes (circus, racing, or candy) are always popular, and not just with kids. You can find a striped fabric or wallcovering in just about any colors you like, or paint a scheme on walls yourself. Keep in mind that horizontal stripes tend to make walls look wider: For a room that resembles a bowling alley, visually widen the narrow end walls with horizontal stripes. Use vertical stripes to visually raise the typical eight-foot ceiling. Don't have too much contrast; yellow and black stripes, for instance, will tend to visually "vibrate" in a stressful way.

Plaid is another timeless favorite that looks handsome in jewel tones (ruby, emerald, sapphire, etc.). It can also look pretty but sporty in hot pastel tints. Plaid's squared-off shapes give it a tailored look, but the blending of color tones can add warmth and interest to any decor. Plaid's simpler cousin, checks, shares a lot of the same charm. Color makes all the difference: Imagine pretty pink-and-white gingham checks in a countrified nursery or no-nonsense navy-and-ivory checks in a collegiate room.

How to Choose Patterns When Decorating Kids' rooms
Florals are timeless feminine favorites, but today’s girl may not like the
nostalgic approach. The antidote: contemporary freehand florals mixed with
stripes or checks, all done up in fresh paintbox colors. Manufacturer: PJ Kids.

Flower prints don't have the unisex versatility of geometric stripes, plaids, and checks, but in a girl's room, you can combine geometric patterns and freeform florals for prettiness with punch. If you want botanical motifs in a boy's room, consider geometric, stylized Arts and Crafts-style florals or simple greenery, from ivy borders to palm tree murals.

Wallcovering borders and stencils expand your choice of appealing pattern motifs. Today's laser-cut borders feature a great array of sport, animal, fairy-tale, and cartoon motifs. In most cases, coordinating wallcoverings and easy-care fabrics are also available. If you're not sure your child's current enthusiasm will last, paint the walls and use just the easily strippable wallcovering border from a popular set.

Thanks to today's aggressive marketing of line extensions, it's easy to find themed accessories from many TV shows and movies marketed to kids. Look at your child's favorite next time with an eye to determining the color and pattern schemes. They're usually very pronounced for easy recognition by mini consumers. For example, Disney's The Lion King used African basket-inspired zigzag patterns in gold, rust, and black; the essence of 101 Dalmatians was conveyed with black-and-white polka dots plus a bit of red for emphasis; and The Little Mermaid is swirling waves of aqua with accents of coral.

How to Choose Patterns When Decorating Kids' Rooms
A jungle theme fits naturally with the climbing fun of
bunk beds in this charming room with appeal for boys
and girls alike. Rounded posts are attractive as well as
safe for active young explorers. Manufacturer: Waverly.

You get the idea. Once you have the main colors and patterns figured out, you can create the impression your child craves in a way that won't be dated in three months. After all, the patterns of animal skins, shells, flowers, leaves, and other natural elements have been captivating people since long before modern media were around.

Now it's time to start examining how to select kids' furniture. We'll start with cradles on the next page.

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For the first several years, a baby sleeps a lot of the time, so a cozy, comfortable, and safe bed is just as important for these little ones as for older kids and adults. Many parents skip bassinets or cradles because babies outgrow them in just a few months, after which they're unsafe. If you must have a cradle, choose one with the highest sides possible, and make sure the rocking motion is slight so baby can't fall out. A model that lets you lock the cradle into a nonswinging position is ideal. If you like a bassinet, make sure it has a stable base to avoid tipping over.

While they won't stay in a crib for more than a few years, you'll want to buy one that's sturdy, with smooth, snag-free surfaces and safely rounded corners. You'll also want to be sure the crib's slats or bars are close enough together to prevent the baby from getting his or her head caught. Many old cribs have bars too far apart, so if you're using an heirloom hand-me-down, be sure to retrofit it with extra bars.

If the crib's sides can be raised and lowered, be sure the locking mechanism that keeps the side up works well, and remind everyone to use it faithfully. (Babies don't always tell you when they're ready to make a grab for support in an attempt to stand up, and you don't want the crib side to let them down.)

See the next section for tips on choosing a bed when your child grows up and out of that crib.

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When your child is ready to leave the crib, usually around age two, you can invest in an interim toddler bed that's low to the ground, but you don't need to. A simple bed frame or even a mattress and box spring set directly on the floor will do the job nicely for the couple of years it's needed.

When your child is up and running, a sturdy bed and a good-quality mattress and box spring will give a growing body the support it needs to rest comfortably -- and will also survive the occasional "monkeys jumping on the bed." Experts advise replacing mattresses at least every ten years, so if you have to choose between a supportive new mattress/box spring and a new bed frame, choose the former. You can always repaint or refinish the frame, but even the old board in the bed trick will not really improve a less-than-supportive mattress.

Good mattresses and box springs are always on sale somewhere, so plan ahead to get the best price on this essential. Always use a box spring with the mattress; the box spring supports the mattress so it can support your little dreamer. (For health reasons, don't use hand-me-down mattresses, and think twice about taking other upholstered pieces. However, old quilts, linens, and other fabric items that can be washed are fine.)

When you go mattress shopping, take your youngster along so he or she can "test rest" several mattresses in the price range you've selected. While innerspring mattresses are generally the most supportive and popular at all price points, you may be interested in foam, air, or even flotation (once known as waterbed) options. If you are considering foam, make sure it's supportive enough, and plan to use a coordinating electric heater with any flotation system. If you're considering an innerspring mattress, remember that "firm" doesn't have to feel hard thanks to today's pillow-top cushioning. Every body is different, so let your child try out several choices. A mattress used every day for a decade should be one your child will find comfortable from the start.

When your child is about five years old and demanding a "big kid's bed," you'll have a wealth of choices to work with. Most kids adore bunk beds, and they do save space if the room is shared, but make sure you can keep little ones off the top bunk. Also be sure bunk beds have guardrails and that mattresses are five inches or more below these guardrails; even big kids can roll out of bed while asleep. A safety ladder is another must-have. Bunk beds have undergone rigorous legislation in recent years, so look for those labeled as being in compliance with safety laws and industry standards. Many kids decide, as they enter their teens, that they're too old for bunk beds, so it's also wise to choose bunks that can be uncoupled and used as twin beds.

If bunk beds aren't your child's style but you're short on space, consider a loft bed. These feature elevated beds with a play area underneath or a desk and other storage. Some offer a second twin bed that installs under the loft. Loft beds work best in bedrooms with ceilings of more than eight feet.

Another space saver is a low-profile trundle bed, available in styles from contemporary to traditional. One twin bed unit pulls out from underneath another to accommodate a sleepover guest. Some trundles are freestanding units on casters that are stowed under the primary bed and easily roll out when an extra bed is needed. Other styles sit on frames attached to the primary bed; these also roll out from under the bed. Choose a trundle that moves smoothly and easily and is one your child can handle alone, and be sure corners on the lower bed's frame aren't sharp.

Tips for Buying a Kids' Bed
Inspired by classic Swedish built-in beds and colored in romantic ice pink
and celery, this fairy-tale room is sophisticated and timeless as well as pretty.
The real beauty is the multitude of built-in under-the-bed drawers that eliminate
the need for a bulky dresser. Designer: Jeanne Benner, Benner Interiors.

Similar to a trundle bed, a captain's bed is a twin bed with a number of storage drawers beneath, all on the same frame. Some beds have both a second trundle bed and built-in drawers. A captain's bed that is authentically styled has high sides to keep the sleeper from "going overboard."

Canopy beds are a traditional style that, in twin sizes, are marketed mostly to girls. The beds' tall posts support a framework that can support a fabric covering. Some come with drawers or a trundle below. A variant with some of a canopy bed's drama but that may appeal to both boys and girls is a bed with tall pencil posts but no canopy.

A twin-size bed is adequate, but, if the bedroom is spacious enough to accommodate it, consider using a full-size bed (also called a double). Once the standard for couples, the full/double bed has been replaced in most master bedrooms by a queen- or king-size model. Following this trend toward "supersizing," an older child may be more comfortable in a double bed than in a twin.

Now that you've got the lowdown on bed options, take a look at the next section for tips on selecting bedding.

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Bedding is one way you can create a big, trendy statement in a child's room without breaking the bank. Even a twin bed takes up a good amount of the space in a typical bedroom, so you don't have to do much more than replace bed linens to give the room a whole new look.

Novelty "bed in a bag" ensembles include a comforter, bed skirt, and pillow shams as well as sheets and pillowcases. Some designs are also offered in matching or coordinating throw pillows, window curtains, and table rounds (the tablecloths used to drape small, round tables used as nightstands). Usually economical, these ensembles come decorated with popular cartoon and movie characters almost before a movie hits the video stores. If your child is wild for a particular character or show, you'll be an instant hero if you come home with one of these.

If you prefer something a bit more subtle, tame the latest cartoon- or movie-theme novelty sheets and pillowcases with a comforter, shams, bed skirt, and window treatments in solid colors that coordinate with the sheet's colors. When the bed is opened at night, the favorite scheme is a fun surprise. The catch here is to make sure your child likes the colors used in the novelty print as well as the characters depicted.

If you'd rather stick to bedding with more staying power, choose a whimsical print designed to delight youngsters beyond the next holiday movie release. Tropical fish, lizards, cats, stripes, flowers, gingham checks, and scores of other colorful choices abound, many with solid color comforters and other coordinates.

Whatever you and your child choose, don't let a novelty print overwhelm the whole room. Merchandising photos aside, it's distinctly possible to have too much of even a good thing. Focus the eye-catching print on one or two areas, and use solid colors or simple patterns on the rest of the room. Keep in mind that kids' belongings will always increase the visual clutter quotient -- a lot -- so keep backgrounds on the calmer side.

Finding enough storage room for toys, books, and more in a child's room is always a challenge. See the next section for tips.

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When it comes to storing the multitude of things kids accumulate, "easier" usually translates into "neater." Especially when they're younger, open compartments -- and lots of them -- suit many kids better than closed drawers, cupboards, and closets.

If getting your kids to hang up clothes and equipment is next to impossible, skip hard-to-handle hangers in favor of old-fashioned hooks or pegs. One easy way to create a structure for flexible storage is to mount a four-inch-wide molding at chair-rail level around the perimeter of the room. Paint it a color that coordinates with the room's decor, and mount rounded wooden pegs (painted in a contrasting color) at 18-inch intervals. Even inside a closet, install as many hooks or pegs as space allows. In a child's bath, you may want to use more hooks and fewer towel bars. If the bathroom is well-ventilated, towels should dry quickly enough.

The bed itself may yield opportunities for savvy storage. Storage headboards come ready-made, or you can fashion one from small wooden cubicles by linking them together and mounting them a few inches above head level. Under-the-bed storage is great, since kids tend to shove things under there anyway. A captain's bed with built-in drawers in the base of the bed makes a handsome, integrated solution, but you can also buy separate storage drawers on casters to fit under any bed. Depending on how much clearance you have, lightweight plastic storage totes may be a perfectly good solution. If you have access to carpentry skills, build an alcove bed with a shipshape berth on top and storage drawers below.

Stock kitchen cabinets, two-drawer file cabinets, an artist's tabouret (the small rolling carts with lots of little swing-out trays), and a wealth of other nontraditional units make great casual storage in kids' bedrooms and playrooms. Cabinets in wood have a warm look, but metal ones can work just as well in a modern setting. Use appliance paint or other durable enamel to paint metal pieces to match the walls, or choose a cheery color to fit the decorating scheme. A pair of two-drawer file cabinets with a sturdy board on top makes a simple work surface big enough for kids to share. To hide bulky toys or general mess, cover a round table of any size with a floor-length tablecloth, and stash items underneath when necessary. (Other toys can be stashed on top, but don't use a clothed table for a lamp or anything else breakable, as kids often pull on them.)

If you can shave three to five feet or so from one end of a room, set it off with a sheet-turned-curtain suspended from a ceiling-hung rod and turn it into an extra closet for a clothes-loving teen. For easy-access floor storage that's good looking, too, employ canvas-and-wood hampers, wicker hampers, and woven baskets of all kinds. They are just as practical as plastic bins and work much better with a traditional or rustic decorating scheme. A toy chest can make a fine storage bench for younger children, but make sure it has a safety hinge and the front lock has been removed.

Let's take a look at choosing other types of furniture for your child's room, such as desks and nightstands, on the next page.

Storage Solutions

Inherent treasure hunters, children covet each new find with enthusiasm and wonder. In children's rooms, however, assorted collections often vie for the same space as socks, books, and shirts. To stretch storage and display space in the bedroom, try these handy suggestions.

  • Clip hair bows on a ribbon hanger. To make your own, fold the end of a 11/2-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon (about 36 inches long) over the bottom of a wire hanger. Staple in place. Clip hair bows to ribbon, and hang in closet.

  • Toys, art supplies, or seasonal clothes can be conveniently stored under the bed and hidden by a dust ruffle. Purchase plastic bins, or cut large, heavy cardboard boxes down to size. Spray paint them in colors to match the room's decor.

  • Stack neatly folded blankets and quilts atop armoires.

  • Install rows of wooden pegs at heights reachable by little arms. These are great for hats, coats, necklaces, and other items that benefit from hanging.

  • Group videos, CDs, games, doll clothes, and blocks in sturdy baskets that fit on shelves and inside armoires. These baskets hide clutter yet provide easy storage for hard-to-stash items. Likewise, large wicker baskets are ideal for catching balls and sports equipment. Note: If you use matching baskets or bins, the clutter looks neater and more organized.

  • Stretch fishnet over a corner to catch stuffed animals and dolls.

  • Decorative molding doubles as picture displays. Have a piece of molding and a piece of quarter round cut to desired length. Tack quarter round to top edge of molding to form a lip. Paint as desired. When molding is hung on wall, quarter round will keep picture frames from slipping.

  • Need extra space for books or stuffed animals? Mount a bracketed shelf on the top of a windowsill.

  • Freestanding coatracks are catchalls for coats, school bags, and robes.

  • Make an art portfolio by folding a piece of poster board in half and stapling along 2 sides. Collect your child's artwork inside, sliding portfolio behind a dresser or chest when not in use. At the end of the school year, you'll have all the artwork together so you can sort through and keep the best.

  • Clean out aluminum cans in various sizes; tape or file any sharp edges and remove labels. Place on a windowsill or desk to collect pencils, markers -- even combs and hairbrushes.

  • In closets, bookcases or wood cubbies stacked against an empty wall or pushed underneath hanging clothes make good storage for shoes, sweaters, and books.

  • Make a display rack by tacking or hot gluing clothespins or metal clamps to a painted yardstick. Affix yardstick to wall, and use to display family photos and artwork. Another clever option is to stretch heavy string or wire across a wall. Use painted clothespins to hang art and photos on the string or wire.

  • Catch dirty clothes by making laundry bags out of pillowcases. Just run heavy rope through the hem of a pillowcase, then hang bag in a closet. You may want to use different pillowcases so clothes can be sorted for laundering.

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Choosing furniture for a kids' room can be overwhelming because of the myriad options available these days. Follow the suggestions outlined here to help you narrow down your choices.

Changing Tables

A changing table is a must for babies and toddlers. Safety is the prime concern: Choose a changing table that is sturdily constructed and has a safety strap, smoothly rounded corners, and at least a low guardrail to prevent little wrigglers from falling. (Even though you'd never leave a child on a changing table unattended for even a moment, all but the youngest infants have a disconcerting way of moving suddenly, and balance is a foreign concept to them.)

Choose a model with one or two lower shelves; it will add to the unit's stability and provide convenient open storage for diapers and baby clothes. Even after he or she is toilet trained, the last child in the household may be willing to use the changing table as display/storage for stuffed animals and other large toys. Some families use a chest of drawers or dresser topped with a waterproof pad as a changing table, but drawers are less convenient than shelves, and the lack of a guardrail can be risky. If you do want to use a conventional dresser as a changing table, retrofit it with simple molding rails available at your local home center or hardware store, and make sure they're smoothly finished.

Toyland, Toyland

The bigger kids get, the smaller their toys become. Blocks and craft beads in particular seem to slip underfoot with irritating regularity. To keep small toys out of the reach of preschool siblings, stash them in clear plastic shoe boxes on higher shelves. They'll add to the room's colorful ambience and make it easy for kids to find what they want. If a bunch of tiny toys relates to a larger set, such as a model train set or a dollhouse, provide easy-access storage near the main piece. The easier you can make it to put things back where they belong, the fewer struggles you'll have (and the fewer sharp little Barbie shoes or Legos you'll step on at 2 A.M.).

When children start grade school, they'll appreciate furniture and systems that help them avoid losing homework, sports equipment, and personal treasures. Until then, teach children to stash "like with like" by providing as many open or clear-covered boxes, bins, and baskets as they have types of toys. (It's possible to make this task into a sorting game, but you'll have to stay hands-on for longer than you'd like for best results.) Whether you're a Martha Stewart stand-in or very relaxed about clutter, you'll want to enforce the safety aspects of orderliness. At a minimum, even young ones can be taught to keep walkways clear of toys so no one trips, and older children can learn to keep their small toys out of small siblings' reach.

Catalogs and storage specialty stores offer inventive, good-looking solutions of all kinds these days, so make a field trip out of shopping for them with your child. You may not get "buy in" overnight, but he or she will feel part of the process, and that's a start.


Once your child is out of the crib or toddler bed, a nightstand of some kind will come in handy to set down a plastic water glass and a bedtime storybook. Rounded corners are preferable, and an extra shelf or drawer is useful, too. If you have a small two-shelf bookcase, small chest, or even a two-drawer file cabinet, you may want to affix a round or oval top made of wood or solid surfacing material. For small children -- and big ones who love pillow fights -- the nightstand is no place for a table lamp. Choose a wall-mounted lamp instead, and keep the nightstand for unbreakable treasures.


These days, homework is a mix of computer and handwritten projects, a situation that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Computer desks with drop-down keyboard trays are available in every size and style, so you'll have no problem fitting today's technology into any space and any decorating scheme. Even if you prefer to keep children's computers in safe sight in the family room or home office, you'll want to provide a writing desk of some sort in your child's room.

Younger children will be happy with a table and chair at the right height, and even bigger kids often prefer doing homework at the kitchen or family room table. However, there's nothing like a "real" desk to signal your seriousness about homework, and a desk also makes it easier for kids to keep track of paperwork and reference materials.

How to Choose Furniture for Kids' Rooms
When it comes to study time, your youngster may appreciate
the hypermodern look of metals, lunar laminates,
and a few special touches like the translucent green
drawer pulls shown on this unit. Retailer: Gautier USA, Inc.

For a space-saving desk that's at home in the most traditional settings, computer armoires are attractive and popular solutions for bedroom or family room use. Upper shelves display reference books, and lower drawers store paper and computer components in style. Look for pieces with wire-management holes in the back; holes ringed with smooth brass grommets keep the wood and wires from becoming worn.

For low-tech solutions, consider a classic writing desk available in simple Shaker style or with 18th-century-inspired cabriole (curved) legs. A secretary desk, another classic with no relation to the administrative job, features a slender profile, lower drawers, and a drop-down work surface that can stash messy projects fast. Add a hutch on top, either with open shelves or glass-front cabinet doors, for extra display and storage.

The easiest desk solution may be a sturdy, generously sized tabletop secured atop a pair of low two-drawer file cabinets. Extra file cabinets in wood or colorful contemporary metal can also help your student store paperwork in style. For older kids, shop the office furniture sources as well as conventional furniture stores. Office specialty dealers offer a wealth of pieces that will work as hard as your student and last as long as you need them to.

Repetitive stress injuries can have their start in childhood, so whatever arrangement you come up with, don't try to make do with a laptop on a conventional-height work surface for more than an hour at a time. Extended computer work requires a lower work surface, an ergonomic wrist rest, and an office chair with a supportive back and adjustable height. Whether you've got a bookworm or a wiggly worm, it will be easier for your student to concentrate with furniture that makes the grade.

Put a Little Light on the Subject

Even youngsters can suffer eyestrain from inadequate lighting, so don't make do with just a ceiling fixture. Use that to cast ambient general lighting around the room, and supplement with carefully planned task lighting near the bedside and desk. If you do allow electronic screens in the bedroom, position lights so they don't shine on the screen, causing glare, and don't let kids watch TV or use the computer in an otherwise dark room. Situate a shaded 60-watt light along the same plane as the screen to soften harsh contrasts. Don't use halogen lamps in children's rooms; they're very bright but also dangerously hot.

Using a wall treatment in your child's room can be an inexpensive way to create a lot of interest. Learn more on the next page.

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Paint is the cheapest decorating tool available, and once you've moved or covered the furniture and prepped the walls, it's also the easiest and quickest. You can give plain walls more interest with all kinds of surface treatments, including ragging, stippling, sponge painting, stenciling, and more. Painted treatments are easy to keep looking new, provided you use eggshell, semigloss, gloss, or glaze finishes. Just as important, they are easy to change when your child's tastes evolve.

Sponging is one specialty treatment that's easy enough for a grade-schooler to help with under adult direction. Stenciling can be a bit tricky, but even a child can work with simple rubber stamps to create a stencillike effect. Whatever treatment you select, be sure to experiment with it on sample boards ahead of time to be sure you like the combination of colors and the overall effect.

Trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) mural painting can open up vistas or bring a fairy tale to life, but unlike most other faux finishes, it does require real artistic talent. This painting technique is painstaking work, so you may be tempted to keep it even after your child's appreciation has waned. If you really love the idea of trompe l'oeil, keep in mind that a generic nature setting will have a longer life than one depicting the three bears. Murals available on wallcovering rolls are easier to achieve than trompe l'oeil, but they, too, may outstay their welcome as children grow, so be sure to buy a strippable version.

Wall Treatments for Kids' Rooms
Just about any little girl would love a pink ruffled bedroom, but it’s
the trompe l’oeil garden mural that makes the space special.
Designer: Betty J. Weir, A Design Shoppe. Artist: Sandy Phelan.

Wallcoverings may be a smart solution to damaged walls you don't want to fix. Stylish themes and color schemes are available these days in easy-care versions that quiet qualms about using them in kids' rooms. You'll want "strippable" products, of course; anyone who's ever scraped vintage paper knows what a labor-intensive chore that can be. For most kids' rooms (family rooms, baths, and kitchens, too), choose washable wallcovering. For younger or very rambunctious kids, you will want wallcovering labeled "scrubbable." Wallcoverings are more work and costlier than paint, however, so be sure your youngster is pleased before you make a purchase.

If you're not sure about using wallcovering throughout your child's room, use wallpaper borders as an easy and colorful alternative. Choose your border first, however, and then find a paint that matches one of the dominant colors in the border. You'll find it infinitely easier than trying to find a border that matches a paint choice. (This advice also applies to selecting wallcoverings before you select your trim paint, broadloom carpeting, etc.)

Wall Treatments for Kids' Rooms
Whimsically buggy wallpaper gets an extra wacky touch from
a supersize mural that includes a growth chart on one side.
Manufacturer: Blonder Wallcoverings.

For real textural interest, you may want to embellish the room with beadboard paneling below the chair-rail level. Beadboard is especially appealing in a cottage- or cabin-inspired room. Wood trim millwork available at home centers can also be used to add depth and charm; lightweight, paintable resin versions are available, too.

Don't overlook the ceiling as another major surface to decorate. While too much detail or intense colors will overwhelm the typical room, children will delight in a cloud-filled blue sky overhead and find nighttime comfort in stick-on glow-in-the-dark stars.

Whatever wall treatment you are contemplating, if your house is old, be careful of leadbase paint, especially in a child's room. Painting over leadbase paint is usually considered safer than scraping it off, but be sure to consult your local public health office for specific recommendations for your situation.

Now that you know about the various wall treatments you can use in your child's room, it's time to learn about one of the most common -- paint -- on the next page.

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Painting is a simple, effective, and affordable way to refresh a room. You don't have to be an expert to achieve a professional finish, but it's best if you follow their advice: Taking time to prepare correctly for the job will help make the actual painting process smooth, flawless, and trouble-free.

To paint your child's room:

What You'll Need
Have these materials and tools on hand before tackling any paint job:

  • Caulk
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood-filling or drywall compound
  • Clean, damp cloths
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Masking tape
  • 2-inch-wide blue painter's tape
  • Plastic knife
  • Paintbrushes: flat, angular, trim
  • Paint (1 gallon for every 350 square feet)
  • Small plastic paint tray
  • Paint roller and roller cover 

  1. The easiest room to paint is an empty one. If possible, move everything out of the room,
    including window treatments, and remove hardware such as outlets and switch plates.

  2. Repair wall surfaces as needed by filling holes with caulk and smoothing any rough spots with sandpaper. Patch holes with wood-filling or drywall compound;
    let dry.

  3. Wipe surfaces clean with damp cloth. Tape plastic sheeting to floor to protect from spatters, drips, and spills.

  4. Use blue painter's tape to cover trims such as window frames and baseboards. Run the blade of a plastic knife over edges of the tape to set edge and prevent paint from leaking underneath.

  5. Use a flat brush for painting woodwork, cabinets, and rough-textured surfaces. This brush is also used to cut in, or paint around, the corners, the edges of walls, and the ceiling; a brush spreads paint efficiently and gives you more control than a roller. Cutting in also makes it easier to roll paint onto a wall, since you only have to roll large, flat areas instead of worrying about hard-to-reach places. Use an angular sash brush to paint window sashes; use a trim brush or flat brush for cutting in. When painting with a brush, pour a small amount of paint, about 1/2 inch, into a small plastic paint tray. Load brush by dipping bristles about 1/3 of the way down into paint. Lightly pat against inside of tray to remove excess. To paint, use long even strokes, always painting from bottom of wall up. Apply enough pressure to flex bristles and distribute paint. Always keep a wet edge on the surface you're painting so paint will dry evenly.

  6. Rollers spread paint quickly and easily. This makes them the preferred tool for painting large, flat spaces. However, rollers use more paint and are not as effective as brushes at covering irregular surfaces. To load a paint roller, fill tray with about 1/2 inch of paint, and dip roller into paint. Lift and run roller over tray ridges or a screen to work paint into nap. The roller should be full but not dripping. Work in small sections, loading roller as needed and rolling up and down until entire surface is covered. As with a brush, it is important to keep a wet edge when rolling paint.

Painting Ceilings

Always paint ceilings first. Use a trim brush to paint around the edges of the ceiling. Immediately continue by rolling the remainder of the ceiling with a 9-inch-wide roller. For convenience, attach an extension to roller handle so you can paint from the floor.

Painting Walls, Windows, and Doors

After ceiling dries, use a flat brush and a 9-inch-wide roller to paint walls. Cut in walls at ceiling line, corners, and baseboards, and roll remaining portion of wall with paint, always keeping a wet edge.

For windows, try to start painting early in the day so windows will be dry enough to close at night. Remove hardware, then paint woodwork with an angular sash brush.

For doors, remove hardware and, if possible, remove door. Lay flat, and paint with a flat brush.

Painting Trim

Paint standard-width moldings with a trim brush, narrow moldings with a sash brush, and wide moldings with a flat brush. Use a paint shield to pull carpet nap away from baseboards or to protect ceiling and corners. Paint top edge of molding first. The paint should cover any caulk.

Professional Painting Tips

Follow these tips for a professional-looking paint job every time:

  • To keep paint from drying out while you take a break, place the paint roller in the tray and slide the entire tray into a plastic garbage bag; seal. Slide brushes into plastic bags and seal.

  • Always follow the grain when painting. Paint horizontally with horizontal sections and vertically with vertical sections.

  • Do not paint with a brush that is still wet from cleaning.

  • Complete a paint job within 2 weeks. This contributes to adhesion between coats.

  • If bristles come off the brush, remove them from the painted surface with tweezers or by touching them with your wet brush -- they should cling to it. Then wipe the brush with a clean cloth to remove stray bristles.

  • Use painter's tape to prevent paint from bleeding under the tape edge. This tape has a unique microbarrier edge that prevents such seepage, and it won't leave a sticky residue or remove the undersurface when pulled up.

  • Use a stenciling brush to work paint into deeply carved woodwork.

  • Your painting equipment will last longer if you clean up and properly care for brushes and other tools. Clean brushes by swishing in a mixture of warm water and clothes softener. The softener helps paint slide off the brush bristles.

  • Store paint in airtight containers. Turn paint can upside down and set on a shelf so the pigments settle at the "bottom." When you use the paint again, turn the can right side up and stir.

  • Most paint products are considered hazardous and, as such, should be properly disposed of at an authorized household hazardous waste disposal site. Never pour paint down the drain, onto the ground, or into the trash.

  • Wipe empty cans out with newspaper and discard both. Hang solvent-soaked rags outdoors to dry, then launder them. Never store solvent-soaked materials indoors as they can release harmful fumes and catch fire.

Learn about the many decorative finishes you can create with paint in the next section.

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A child's room is the perfect place to let one's personality shine through. An effective way to do this is with decorative finishes. Once you've settled on a design, use the following finishes on ordinary furniture -- even walls and doors -- to add oomph to any decor.

Brush Pattern

With a dry paintbrush, dab texture paint onto the wall. Use a quick, short, patting motion, varying the direction of the brush to create ridges and patterns.


To colorwash, apply a thin, transparent coat of waterbase paint to surface. Use broad, arcing strokes to spread paint. When dry, add additional layers until color achieves an intense depth with subtle variations in tone.


When achieved with traditional wood stain colors, crackling gives furniture an aged effect. Use pastels or bright primary paint colors, however, and the effect is totally contemporary.

Most paint stores sell kits with everything you need for a crackle finish. If you want to work with colors you have at home, basecoat surface with paint, and let dry. Using a fitch or small paintbrush, apply a coat of oilbase crackling varnish over entire surface. When varnish is almost dry but still tacky to the touch, apply another coat of the varnish. The crackling effect will appear as the varnish dries. If desired, use a hair dryer to speed up the process. When all coats of varnish are dry, rub a tinted glaze or coat of paint onto surface with a soft, clean rag. The glaze or paint will lodge into the cracks and accentuate the crackling effect.


Like stenciling, decoupage is an easy way to add interesting motifs to ordinary furniture. Anything from wallpaper to photographs to magazines can be used for decoupaging, and you can apply one specific image or overlap images to cover the entire surface of the furniture.

Basecoat piece of furniture or other surface; let dry. For specific designs, cut out images to be used. For an overall finish, trim papers as desired. Apply decoupage medium or a mixture of 1 part white glue and 1 part water to back of image. Press onto furniture. Brush mixture over top of image to seal. Continue adding desired images or papers, overlapping as needed. Always brush medium over top of image to seal. Let dry. When design is complete, apply a coat of nonyellowing waterbase varnish to entire surface.


When used with some paint colors, such as pink or green, dragging can simulate wood grain. To drag a surface, basecoat it, and let dry. Pour a small amount of paint into tray. Dip a dry, wide, stiff brush into paint. Dab onto paper to remove excess, then brush in 1 continuous stroke over surface. Continue adding strokes to entire surface, using even pressure and replenishing paint as necessary for even finish.


Ragging also creates color contrast and texture, but the result is less consistent than sponging. To achieve the look, apply a basecoat (usually the lighter paint color) to surface; let dry. Dip a lint-free rag, scrunched-up paper sack, or plastic bag into a contrasting emulsion paint. Dab to remove excess, then press randomly over surface. Use light, even pressure, and replenish paint as necessary for even finish. For different effects, vary the amount of paint on the rag, the amount of pressure applied, and the direction in which you hold your hand. Change rag as it becomes saturated with paint.


Quick and easy to apply, sponging is one of the most popular types of finishes. Expect an even finish, or if you choose 2 or 3 contrasting colors, you'll get a speckled pattern. To sponge a surface, basecoat wall or furniture with lightest paint color; let dry. Dip a damp natural sponge into paint, dab on paper to remove excess, and lightly press over surface. Use even pressure and replenish paint as necessary for an even finish. Change sponge as it becomes saturated with paint.


Stippling is a simple way to add texture to a flat surface. To stipple, apply a basecoat to wall or furniture. Let dry. Pour a small amount of paint into paint tray. Use a 11/4-inch-nap roller cover or a texture roller cover. Roll it through paint in smooth strokes similar to those used to lay off paint. To produce an even, overall pattern like that of a sprayed textured ceiling, work slowly to avoid overlapping, and apply consistent pressure from 1 side to the other. Vary the pressure and direction of your strokes to make a random pattern.

Swirl Pattern

Use a whisk broom or wallpaper brush to sweep semicircular loops across the surface. Overlap the loops as you go.

Trowel Pattern

Apply textured paint to surface, and let it become almost dry. Then trowel over the paint to knock off the peaks and partially smooth out the texture.

Wallpaper is great way to add color and interest to your child's room. Find helpful wallpapering tips on the next page.

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Since its creation, wallpaper has been an invaluable way to add patterns, architectural features, and details to an otherwise ordinary room. Modern children's rooms are no exception. Indeed, with the variety of styles and colors on the market, wallpapering is one of the easiest ways to create a specific decorating scheme in a room. A bonus for children's rooms: Wallpaper is durable and can be quickly cleaned, making it easy to remove smudgy hand prints and impromptu drawings!

What You'll Need
Gather these materials and tools before you get started:

  • Prepasted wallpaper
  • Pencil
  • Plumbline and chalk
  • Ruler
  • Water
  • Wallpaper brush
  • Broad knife
  • Utility knife

To wallpaper your child's room:

  1. Remove outlet covers, switch plates, and other protrusions from the walls.

  2. Next, identify the room's focal
    point. This is usually directly
    across from the door or in the center of the wall you see upon entering the bedroom.

  3. Center roll of wallpaper over focal point, and mark wall on both sides of the wallpaper to determine placement. Snap a plumb line where the right edge of the wallpaper will be placed.

  4. From the plumb line and working from both sides of the piece marked at the focal point, measure and mark wallpaper placement on both sides of each strip around to the dead corner, which is the most inconspicuous corner in the room. This corner usually falls near the door.

  5. Measure and cut several sheets of wallpaper. Roll each sheet with the pattern on the outside. This will help take the twist out of the paper.

  6. Place a rolled sheet of wallpaper into lukewarm water, and let it soak according to manufacturer's instructions.

  7. Remove wallpaper from water and "book" the strip. To do this, fold 1 end of the strip toward the middle of the sheet, pasted sides together, so that the folded part is a manageable size. Do not crease the fold. Now continue to accordion fold the strip, pulling up from where the first end left off. Continue folding until the sheet is a manageable size.

    "Booking" a wallpaper strip

  8. Working from the top of the wall and centered over the marked focal point, unfold the top portion of the booked wallpaper. Align the right edge of the sheet with the plumb line, and press the paper to the wall, leaving a 2-inch margin of paper at the top and positioning the key element in the wallpaper design as desired.

  9. Smooth the sheet with a wallpaper brush, and crease the 2-inch margin at the top of the wall so that the margin flaps over onto the ceiling. Continue to position the remaining portion of the wallpaper sheet. Crease at the bottom of the wall so that the 2-inch margin overlaps the baseboard.

  10. Using a utility knife, trim paper at the top and bottom of the wall. For a smooth cut, use the broad knife as a guide and avoid lifting the knife blade as you cut.

  11. After hanging several sheets, wash the walls and baseboards with a clean, wet cloth to remove any wallpaper paste.

Wallpapering Around Obstacles

Make sure electricity is turned off. Wallpaper over holes in the wall left by outlets and light switches, then cut along the sides of the outlet or light switch. Lift the paper slightly, and trim along the top and bottom portion of the outlet or light switch box.

Covering Switch and Outlet Plates

Match wallpaper to the design on the wall around the opening, then cut a piece for the outlet or switch plate, 1 inch larger on all sides. Use adhesive spray on the outside of the plate and cover with the wallpaper, wrapping sides around to the back. Cut an X in the center of outlet and switch holes to all 4 corners, then fold wallpaper to underside of plate.

Wallpapering Tips

The following tips will help your wallpapering job go more smoothly:

  • Always remove existing wallpaper before hanging new wallpaper. Rent a steamer or buy a chemical peeler, or hire a professional.

  • Start in a basic room with flat, open areas and few doors and windows or in a room where a mistake won't be apparent.

  • Two installers are better than one. Successful installation relies on an assembly-line method, with 1 person cutting and prepping the paper and the other person hanging the paper. Working together in this method contributes to efficiency and success.

  • To prevent mold and fungus from growing underneath the wallpaper, choose a wallpaper paste that contains fungicides.

  • Use yellow chalk to snap plumb lines. Blue chalk can bleed through the wallpaper.

  • Wrap wallpaper around outside corners to prevent having an edge that can tear or lift at the corner. Cut wallpaper along inside corners to avoid puckering.

  • Never overlap wallpaper.

  • Most bubbles disappear as the wallpaper dries. For any remaining bubbles, make a V-cut in the center of the bubble. Lift the flap and moisten, then smooth in place.

  • A stripe or random-match pattern is the easiest pattern for beginners to hang. The next choice is a straight-across match, where half the pattern is at the edge of 1 sheet and the other half is directly across from it on the next sheet.

Stenciling is a fun way to give your child's room a personal touch. Find stenciling tips on the next page.

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Incorporate flora, fauna -- even cartoon characters -- into a decor by stenciling designs onto furniture and walls. Stencils were created as an alternative to more expensive wallpaper, but their popularity has grown so that today stenciling is often a preferred technique.

Prep Time

Use either oilbase or waterbase paint, but either should be a creamy consistency -- not so thick as to clog the brush but not thin enough to run behind the stencil. Matte and satin finishes look best. Also consider specialty stencil crayons that work much like paints.

Stencil brushes have short, stiff bristles and come in a variety of sizes. You will need several brushes, one for each color used. This keeps colors from becoming muddy and also speeds things up because you won't have to clean your brush between colors.

Match the size of the brush to the size of the area to be painted: The brush should be about half the size of the area to be painted. If the whole stencil will be 1 color, a bigger brush is fine because it will allow you to work more quickly. You may want to experiment with other applicators, such as sponges or spray paint, to get different looks.

Applying Paint

There are 2 basic techniques you can use with a stencil brush. Each gives a slightly different look, and you might find one easier to do than the others.

  • Stippling: Hold brush perpendicular to surface, and tap up and down with brush to apply color. The effect is that of lots of little dots created by the bristles. With stippling, the stencil is less likely to move around so you're less likely to get paint under the edges.

  • Swirling: This technique is generally used with stencil crèmes, not acrylic paints. To create a smooth finish, hold brush perpendicular to surface, letting it rest just on the surface. Swirl brush in small circles to color in area. Don't push paint under edges of stencil. With swirling, there will be some buildup of paint around the edges.

Adding Shading

When working with just 1 color, start on outside edges of opening and work toward center. This creates a shadowed edge and highlighted center, adding depth without additional colors. Darken the color by applying more pressure to brush, not more paint.

When using more than 1 color, start with the lightest color first to fill in space and create highlight. Then use darker color worked from outside edge into center. You can also dry-brush a darker color to create a shadow effect on the very edges.

Let's Paint!

While stenciling is not difficult, it does require knowledge of a few basic techniques. Take the time to practice before painting on the real surface. This is also the time to test the colors you've chosen and to experiment with shading. Once you're confident in your growing skills, move on to your project.

What You'll Need
Gather these tools before you begin a stenciling project:

  • Stencil design
  • Chalk
  • Plumb line or yardstick
  • Masking tape or painter's tape
  • Stencil paints
  • Stencil brush or small sponge
  • Clean, damp cloth

To stencil your child's room:

  1. Mark position of stencil design on wall with chalk. Use plumb line or yardstick to make sure stencil is level and centered as desired.

  2. Using stencil as a template, make registration marks by positioning stencil on wall and marking each corner placement with chalk.

  3. To apply more than 1 color, use masking or painter's tape to cover all the areas you don't want to paint first.

  4. Use masking tape to secure stencil to surface. Align corners with registration marks.

  5. Using as little paint as possible, dip stencil brush or sponge into paint, and stipple or swirl paint onto surface, working from middle of stencil to the outside. Be careful not to use too much paint, as it may seep underneath stencil.

  6. When paint is dry, remove stencil and wipe away excess paint from stencil pattern with a clean, damp cloth. Continue by repositioning and stenciling designs in same color before stenciling additional colors of the design.

Making Your Own Stencils

Sometimes you just can't find the stencil you want. Now what? Almost any kind of clear plastic will make a good stencil because it won't absorb paint and you can see through it to trace a design. Another option, though not as durable as plastic, is cardstock and poster board. Trace design on plastic or cardstock, then cut it out with a sharp craft knife. Try to cut in one continuous line; the piece should just fall out when you're done. Test out your stencil to see how closely it creates the image you want. When you're satisfied, start stenciling!

In the next section, we'll discuss various flooring options for kids' rooms.

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Stain-resistant low-pile broadloom carpeting is great for kids' rooms and family rooms. It's warm, cushions the inevitable bumps, and helps muffle noise. Hard-surface flooring (wood, ceramic tile, vinyl tile, etc.) is a sensible alternative that's easy to keep clean and offers a great surface for racing mini cars and rolling out modeling clay. You may want to combine both in one room to create two separate zones for different activities. A more common alternative is to warm up a wood or tile floor with an area rug or two, but be sure to use nonskid pads beneath rugs -- even large ones. Avoid scratchy, hard-to-clean sisal in favor of nylon, olefin, wool, or cotton. You'll want to have rugs and carpeting cleaned annually for health's sake, but to hide soil and stains between cleanings, choose midtone shades rather than very light or very dark ones, or pick multicolor patterned designs. Self-stick carpet squares are easy to install and very practical; buy enough initially so you can replace any squares that become damaged.

Wood is the most versatile choice for whole-house use, but vinyl, cork, or even rubber tiles also take some of the "hard" out of hard-surface flooring. Ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone tiles are beautiful but are also very hard, and tumbles are a part of life for kids. If you use one of these, you'll want to be sure to add a generously sized area rug to play areas and around the bed.

Painting and Refinishing Wood Floors

Like most other surfaces, wood floors must first be properly cleaned and repaired for a successful finish. The easiest way to do this is to hire a professional refinisher. If you decide to take on the project yourself, it is essential that you rent an industrial floor sander.

Prep Time

To begin, remove everything from the room, and open windows to keep air circulating. Using a rough grade of sandpaper on the industrial floor sander, begin sanding the floor in a diagonal direction. Work back and forth, covering as much of the room as possible. When the entire floor has been covered, switch to a finer grade of sandpaper and work up and down the boards, following the wood grain. Finish around the edges of the room with a belt sander, again following the grain if possible. Vacuum the room, and wipe down the floors and walls with a clean, damp rag to remove dust.


There are several ways to finish a wood floor. The most common way is to stain the wood. This works well if the floor is not damaged, allowing the wood grain to shine through. Working from one side of the room to the other, apply wood stain in the desired color to the floor with a cloth. Follow manufacturer's instructions, keeping amount of stain even as you work across the room.

For a light finish, consider bleaching the boards. Follow manufacturer's instructions for best results. Using a commercial 2-part bleach (available at home supply stores), apply the first part of the bleach to the entire floor. This usually darkens the wood slightly. Apply the second part of the bleach. To neutralize the bleach, wash it off after 2 coats. Lightly sand floor with industrial floor sander to even out raised grains of wood.

For damaged floors or to add color to a room, paint the floors just as you would a wall. Choose oilbase paints for a hard film; this type of paint also covers damaged surfaces well. Latex paint has a resilient finish and allows the surface to breathe. It works well in damp climates.


The final step in refinishing or painting a wood floor is to seal the finish. Nonyellowing polyurethane is probably the easiest sealer to work with, and it is available in both oilbase and waterbase finishes. Following manufacturer's instructions, apply the first coat, and let dry completely. Follow with 2 more coats for a hard, durable finish. If needed, sand between coats, wiping away dust with a clean, damp cloth.

There are many factors that go into choosing window treatments for a child's room. Learn about them in the next section.

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A child's room is no place for swooping draperies or dangling cords, but you do want to provide for light control so children can nap during the day and have privacy at night. Wood shutters are charming and substantial; those that cover only the bottom half of the window protect privacy but let in light, so you'll want to add roller shades or Roman shades on top. Gathered Roman shades, handsome even in simple canvas, look wonderful in a circus stripe. Pleated shades come in a variety of tints and patterns; bottom-mount versions can be pulled up from the sill to let in light but protect privacy.

Window Treatments for Kids' Rooms
Kids’ rooms can do without heavy window treatments. You can soften the look
and enhance the room’s scheme using motifs, fabrics, and colors from
the rest of the room. Designer: Angela Rowe, INTERIORS by Decorating Den.

Bamboo roller shades are available in colors as well as natural and dramatic tortoiseshell (gold and dark brown) hues, but even the simplest white cloth or vinyl roller shades can be ornamented with a variety of decorative treatments. A roller shade on top with simple café-length curtains below is perhaps the easiest and most economical solution; cotton-poly blend curtains are widely available in a great range of colors and patterns and are very easy to care for.

In our final section, we'll discuss the myriad accessories out there for kids' rooms.

Measuring Windows for Blinds and Curtains

When fitting a window with blinds or curtains, it's critical to get the correct measurements. So, before purchasing any window treatments, make a copy of the window shown here, measure your window accordingly, then write down the measurements along the corresponding arrows. Take this handy chart with you when shopping for curtains and blinds or when meeting with a decorator or seamstress.

Measuring Windows for Blinds and Curtains

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Adorable accessories of every kind imaginable are widely available for children's rooms. If you're starting from scratch, remember what may look like cozy clutter in a magazine picture can become total chaos when you add the multitudes of stuffed animals, blocks, and dolls that proliferate throughout real kids' rooms. Try to keep it simple, and let your kids (and doting relatives) fill in the gaps.

Bypassing the bulk of impulse items out there doesn't mean skipping delightful decorating opportunities. While kids may enjoy finding fun accessories and choosing fabrics and paint colors, most aren't really interested in decorating for its own sake. So instead of accumulating dust catchers, look for clothing hooks, mirrors, mouse pads, pillows, pencil cups, and scores of other practical items to fit your color scheme or fantasy theme. If your child has a hobby or passion, encourage family members to give gifts that relate.

When you're on vacation, try to steer older kids clear of the usual souvenirs in favor of picture frames and other accessories they will enjoy longer. One exception may be if your child has a collection. He or she will already be exercising some self-editing by looking for collectibles rather than impulse items. In this case, help show off a precious collection with a display case (for older kids) or simple shelving mounted around the perimeter of the room. If the collectibles are also playthings, display them where your child can easily reach them-and put them back.

As you can see, plenty of planning, hard work, and creativity goes into decorating a kids' room -- one that is safe, practical, and pleasing to all. By following the tips offered in this article, you'll be well on your way!


Mary Wynn Ryan
is the author of numerous interior design books, including The Ultimate Kitchen, The Ultimate Bath, Cottage Style, Fresh Country Style, and Garden Style. She has written about home furnishings and interior design for various magazines and served as Midwest editor of Design Times magazine.

Heidi Tyline King is an accomplished writer and editor. She has written extensively about America's arts, culture, history, nature-based attractions, and decorating projects, including All About Paint and Wallpaper, Beautiful Wedding Crafts, Pelican Guide to the Florida Panhandle, The Unofficial Guide to the Southeast with Kids, and others.

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