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How to Design Children's Rooms

Transforming Furniture for Children's Rooms

A threadbare ottoman gathering dust in your attic. A beat-up trunk full of old clothes in the corner of your garage. A little-used china cabinet in your dining room. Indeed, some of the best furniture and accessory finds for children's rooms are already right in your own home! By thinking creatively, many traditional furnishings you have on hand or those found in a garage sale or secondhand store can be transformed into spectacular pieces for kids. Read this clever list of possibilities for inspiration, and you'll soon be embarking on an all-out treasure hunt!

Mirror, Mirror

Old window sashes and iron grates can become interesting mirrors for children's rooms. To refurbish, keep any glass intact. Clean frames, and paint as desired (don't worry about painting over glass). When dry, take frame to a glass shop to have glass panes removed and mirrors installed. Also ask to have a hanger attached to the back, especially if the frame is metal. If the frame is wood, you can install your own hanger by attaching eye screws securely and evenly on each side on the back of the frame. Thread picture wire through the screws, and secure to form a hanger.

Light up Your Life

An inexpensive lamp converter kit from a home supply store can turn anything from wood newel posts to plastic piggy banks into unique bedside lamps. For the lamp base, choose items 12 inches high or taller to ensure proper lighting. (Items with a hollow center are easy to work with.) Follow manufacturer's instructions to install the lamp. Then top the lamp with a store-bought shade, or customize your own by purchasing a plain shade and decorating it with coordinating trims (buttons, pom-poms, rickrack, fringe, etc.).

Treasure Trove

Turn an army trunk or a steamer trunk into an oversize toy box. For an adventurous look, leave the trunk's shabby chic appearance intact, especially if the paint or paper has worn to a muted patina or if old travel stickers and name tags are visible. If the outside is papered, remove any loose paper, and apply a heavy coat of white glue to prevent future peeling. For wood exteriors, simply sand smooth, paint the chest as desired, then add your own designs to the outside.

An old army trunk makes a great toy box.
An old army trunk makes a practical and unique toy box.

For safety, be sure to reinforce or replace hinges and remove the hinge on the front lock that fastens the trunk shut. Clean out the inside of the trunk, removing any fabric lining, and paint it a dark color to disguise crayon marks and scuffs. To keep little fingers from being smashed by the lid, you might want to make a wood wedge for each side. Cut 2 small pieces of wood trim, each about 1 inch long and the same width as the top edge of the trunk. Glue 1 side of a Velcro hook and loop fastener to the bottom of each wood piece and the other side of the fastener to the top edge of the trunk on both sides, about 3 inches from the trunk's back edge.

Cheery Chairs

Wood chairs have a variety of uses in a child's room. Tiny chairs can be hung on walls and used as display shelves. Or, stash a slatback dining room chair in a walk-in closet or a bathroom for a childsize valet. A large chair with a decorative back can sit beside a bed, doing double duty as a bookshelf or catchall.

The best chairs for such uses are sturdy, with pop-out seats. If the chair creaks or wiggles at the joints, reinforce with wood glue. Strip and sand old paint, then coat with at least 2 layers of paint. Finish as desired. To recover pop-out seats, remove old fabric, then replace batting and staple it to the underside of the chair seat to secure. Cover with vinyl, canvas, or another fabric by wrapping sides and corners to underside of chair seat; staple in place.

Outrageous Ottomans

An oversize ottoman is just the right size for a child. If you're lucky enough to have 2 matching ottomans, use them side by side at the foot of a bed or on either side as bedside tables. Ottomans can also be used as valets or stools for small vanities and tables.

Most ottomans are upholstered, and if yours has extensive tufting and trim, you may want to hire a professional to reupholster it. If the decoration is minimal, you can reupholster it yourself by carefully removing old fabric and using the pieces as a pattern for new fabric. Sew as needed to create the cover, then tack, sew, or glue your new fabric in place. Finish with contrasting, fun trims. If your ottoman has wooden legs, refinish and paint them first before reupholstering.

Creative Cupboards

Dark, oversize armoires and china cabinets can be transformed into functional storage space for a child's room. The first thing to do is completely strip or sand the piece of furniture, remove all hardware, and repair any loose hinges or other damaged areas. Reinforce inside shelving, and reglue the drawer joints if needed to strengthen. Paint the inside and outside of the cabinet in bright, cheerful colors. Or, use a contrasting color scheme to match the room's decor, and add interesting elements such as wallpaper cutouts, painted checkerboard borders, full-length stripes, and other decorative finishes to make the piece lively and fun.

If the piece has glass doors, you can remove the glass and stretch chicken wire across the opening on the inside, nailing small wood trim over the wire's sharp ends. Another option is to mount gathered curtains made from fabric used elsewhere in the room on tension rods on the inside of the doors. Remove shelves as needed to create functional storage space for computer monitors, baskets of toys, or books.

How to Design Children's Rooms
If you don’t want a glass-door cabinet in a young child’s room, replace
the glass with gathered fabric or chicken wire for a charming country look.
Designer: Maria Myers. Manufacturer: Chic Shack.

Hob Knobs

Antique doorknobs can be turned into darling bed finials, tie backs for drapery, or even hooks for hanging towels. Even better, the knobs don't have to match. Clean all knobs before use. If they are rusty or chipped, you can paint them with oilbase paint. Let dry, then adhere small paper cutouts to centers of knobs with clear-drying craft glue. Finish with a clear protective varnish.

For hooks, evenly space knobs along the center of a painted piece of pine shelving cut to desired length and width. Fasten the board to a bathroom or bedroom wall. Use the same technique for creating drapery tiebacks, but use a small square piece of wood and only one knob for each tieback. For bed finials, simply attach a knob to the top of each finial, drilling a hole if needed and securing with wood glue.

In addition to transforming furniture, you can return old pieces to their original use by restoring their appearance. Learn all about refinishing furniture on the next page.

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