Decorating Kids' Rooms: From Cradle to Teen Crib

Here are some easy and affordable ways to decorate kids' rooms and keep them growing with your child.

Room to Grow - Newborn to Age 2
You want your baby's room to be as unique and as beautiful as your child. Can you do this without spending a fortune?

Absolutely, the right furniture choices for your baby's nursery can grow with your child until he or she leaves home for college. Many of today's cribs can convert into a twin bed and changing tables can be transformed into hutches.

One place you can't afford to skimp, however, is on safety. Borrowing a crib from your sister or purchasing one at a consignment store is fine, as long as it meets current safety standards. Make sure that the slats or posts are no more than 2-3/8 inches apart. If the crib is painted, make sure there is no lead paint (even under the new paint).

In the baby's room, be sure that shelves and bookcases are secured to the wall and that a climbing toddler won't be able pull them over. Avoid floor lamps. Your baby will be cruising around the room in just a few months and these lamps are easily toppled.

Here are the basics you'll need for your baby's room:

  • Bassinet or cradle (for the first month or two)
  • Crib
  • Changing table (with pad and safety strap)
  • Bureau or shelves for clothing
  • Diaper pail
  • Hamper (Babies change outfits so frequently; keeping their laundry load separate saves sorting time later.)
  • A monitor (You'll have more freedom knowing that you can hear your child whimper even if you are in the farthest corner of the house.)

A somewhat less vital but nice to have item is a rocker or glider (for those fussy moments). If possible, consider borrowing items such as walkers, jumpers and infant bath tubs, since your child will only use them for a short time. You'll save money and, in six months, you won't have an attic full of outgrown equipment.

Decorating Decisions
Babies are babies for a very short time. The wallpaper with the duckies will seem too babyish when your 3-year-old is into dinosaurs or ballet. Frankly, babies don't care how their rooms are decorated. The duckies and bunnies are for the grown-ups.

With that in mind, paint the walls a neutral color. This will provide a palette that can change as your child grows, and you won't have to repaint the room every few years. Go ahead and splurge on a removable wallpaper border with duckies. It can be easily replaced with dinosaurs in a couple of years. Likewise, plain-colored curtains can be dressed up with a thematic valance or tiebacks. Comforters and artwork can also be easily changed to reflect your child's current passion or age.

  • Paint - Paint is relatively inexpensive and can provide one of the biggest decorating bangs for the buck. Plus, if you don't like it, you can always paint over it. Since every parent's biggest hope is a good night's sleep, steer away from a neon-hued nursery that might over-stimulate your baby. Instead, embrace a gentler palette. Stick with neutrals that won't look too infantile in two or three years. Try painting the nursery walls a soft dove grey, and choose a buttery yellow for the trim. Take that flea market rocking chair, bookcases and bureau and paint them sky blue. You could even add some stenciling or hand-painted touches. Coordinated colors is a fast and inexpensive way to pull together a room and give it instant appeal and charm.
  • Floors - Babies are messy. They throw up; they wear diapers; they have accidents. Wall-to-wall carpeting, while nice to walk on, isn't as practical, allergy-inhibiting or easy to clean as a wood floor with easy-care area rugs. Use rubber backing to be sure that carpets don't slide.
  • Windows - Floor-length curtains can and will be pulled down by a crawler, and shades with long cords are a safety risk. The most practical window treatment for a baby's room are sill-length curtains (lined so that they block the light) or valances and pull-down shades.

Room for Imagination - Ages 3 to 8
At this age, children have definite ideas about how they want their room to look. Now is the time to hang pink tulle netting around the bed of a young princess or to invest in an inflatable T-Rex. No matter what the theme, make sure that it's child-friendly and easy to maintain.

Nothing in a child's room should be untouchable. Toys and games should be accessible and organized in bins, baskets or tubs. Keep clothes where children can pick out their own outfits every day and then put them away at night. Plenty of hooks, low hangers and easy-to-open drawers help keep a room neat and foster a sense of independence.

To give yourself some decorating flexibility, choose colors for the walls and curtains that can stay the same even if you child's interest in the rainforest or horses wanes. Carry out themes with posters, pillows and bed linens.

Room to Express Myself - 'Tween & Teen Years
"My room is too babyish!" your 9-year-old wails. It's time for another transformation and, this time, your child will be the decorator. Ask what he or she wants: what colors will work and what ideas from magazines or friends' houses could be adapted to his or her own space.

One family gave their child jars of leftover paint from other house projects and let her create a mural on one of her bedroom walls. The rainbow she painted became the focal point and the theme for her new decor.

This is an age where kids want to customize their rooms. They enjoy putting their mattresses directly on the floor, designing a seating area for entertaining friends and having plenty of space to display photos of their favorite stars, trophies, books and collections.

This is also the time when your child should have a place in his room, where he can spread out schoolwork and study uninterrupted. Include your child in planning the room and he might even take enough interest in it to keep it clean!

Sharing a Room
Siblings who share a room still need their own space. Decide on colors together. If one child wants orange and the other wants green, find complimentary shades of those colors - like sage and peach.

Let each child decorate his or her own bed areas with throw pillows, display shelving and artwork that reflects personal interests. Creative furniture arranging can also give a feeling of separate spaces to a room that is shared.

Hey, That's Neat!
Keeping your child's room neat and organized can help make playtime more fun and teach a lifetime of good habits. Here are a few ways to conquer clutter in your child's room:

  • Take clothes that don't fit out of circulation. Everything in a child's bureau and closet should be an item the child wears regularly. If the child hasn't worn something in six months, donate it to charity, toss it in the rag bag or pass it on to another child.
  • Keep toys in easy-to-reach containers. Use plastic bins, wicker baskets or wooden chests to sort toys so that kids can find what they want and put it back all by themselves.
  • Hang it up. Use hooks for pajamas, jackets, baseball mitts and a laundry bag.
  • Keep it simple. Make beds neat with a simple comforter instead of a bedspread and blankets. Hang a decorative curtain to hide messy shelving and provide plenty of space for displaying arts and crafts, collections and other kid stuff.
  • Rescue old drawers from a discarded bureau. Put them on rolling casters and use them for handy under-the-bed storage.
  • Rotate the toys in your child's room. Take away things that aren't regularly played with and reintroduce them in a few months. Most kids have so many toys that they won't even notice when things are gone and they'll have a new appreciation when they are rediscovered.

©, used with permission.

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