Children’s rooms used to be oh-so-sweet and cute, girlish or boyish, a circus of colour. But contemporary designs for infants and children steer away from kitsch and cliché and often hew to gender-neutral palettes.
Now, the best rooms for babies and children are subdued, serene spaces that are also playful and whimsical – and timeless enough to grow along with their inhabitants.
We spoke to five interior designers and stylists who create textured, joyful, calming spaces where children and their parents want to cozy up. They say the best children’s rooms balance ample display space for visual interest with plenty of storage to eliminate clutter. They include hooks to help children learn to hang up their clothes, and baskets, bins, and under-the-bed solutions in which to stow toys. And they always include a comfy spot or two – a daybed, an armchair or a “cushion corner” on the floor for snuggling up with a book, a stuffed animal and a blanket.
While some clients want rooms that are distinctly masculine or feminine, others request gender-neutral rooms that will serve more than one baby over the years.
Winter Daisy Studio, Vancouver
Melissa Barling is a stylist and mother of three whose firm specializes in interiors for children. She says texture – in everything from fabrics and lighting to wallcoverings – gives children’s rooms coziness and brings spaces to life.
To that end, rugs are essential. She uses natural fibres such as cotton or wool. One of her favourite rugs is a hand-knotted wool boho shag rug in white and dark grey – the perfect surface for reading, playing or crawling.
Blankets, especially those with nubby or chunky knits, are great for cozy times, too. Barling drapes them over cribs and chairs and rolls them up in baskets.
In a recent project, she kept the space monochrome black and off-white, but infused it with the warmth of natural wood furniture and accessories, and injected whimsy with inexpensive black star decals that can later be peeled off.
“The space is set up to be a dreamy place to sleep, but also a perfect place to play,” Barling says.
Croma Design, Toronto
Henry says a good-looking children’s room is a space that gives children the freedom to play, flex their imaginations or read a book. But it’s also where parents enjoy spending time. “The furniture might be for baby, but the decor is meant to be enjoyable for parents,” she says.
How to design a children’s room that won’t become dated as the child grows? “The best way is to choose a simple palette: white, or soft colours to create an inviting and calm space. This allows for a little toy clutter to be left out without causing a lot of visual mess,” Henry says. “A neutral decor allows toys, books and children’s artwork to accentuate the space. Later, those pieces can easily be swapped out for other accents that are in keeping with the age of the children.”
Alana Firestone and Jordy Fagan,
Collective Studio, Toronto
“We are trying to do away with the stereotypical cheesiness of the themed nursery,” says Jordy Fagan.
She and Firestone mix vintage and modern design to bring depth and warmth to children’s rooms. Steering away from children’s furniture stores, they prefer to shop at such places as EQ3, CB2 and Restoration Hardware. That way, they say, the pieces are less likely to become dated as the children grow.
They applied their design talents in their own children’s rooms.
Fagan, the mother of 16-month-old twins – a boy and a girl – hung a forest mural on the wall behind the cribs. It gives the nursery a neutral, woodsy theme that reminds her and her husband of their trips to the Pacific Northwest. “The foggy forest mural provided a feeling of calm in the early days of having twins when the nights were long,” says Fagan.
The cribs are black, she adds, but the “vintage look of their spindles gives the masculine feeling of black cribs a feminine and dainty look that works well in a nursery shared by a boy and a girl.”
In her house, Firestone gave her children’s rooms more feminine and masculine personalities. In her four-year-old daughter’s room, the focal point is a mural of an oversized flower, painted like an abstract watercolour. “I wanted it to be feminine and timeless as my daughter grows,” Firestone explains.
When her daughter outgrew her crib, the designer replaced it with a sophisticated cane day bed which has become a popular spot for hanging out with friends and reading and playing. She added a bargain-priced wall-to-wall rug, so it won’t hurt too much if it gets ruined, and then she hung a plant to add height and fun to the decor.
In Firestone’s two-year-old son’s room, the two-toned walls are painted three-quarters high in mustard yellow. A quirky painting of an oversized green pickle by artist Erin Rothstein is hung behind the dresser.
On another wall, a five-foot-square wooden pegboard will one day hold her son’s trophies and artworks.
On the floor, there’s an overdyed rug that camouflages wear and tear and stains. (Firestone and Fagan spend a lot of time looking for fabrics and other materials that are durable and stain-resistant enough to survive life in a child’s room.)
Meghan Carter Design, Toronto
Don’t let children pick their own paint colours, Meghan Carter warns. Though she loves to create rooms that jive with a child’s interests, she counsels clients to keep the dominant hues subdued – in wall colours, bedding and furniture. “Children love saturated, bright colours and if you let them have their say, you end up with bubble gum pink or Easter egg purple – colours that are not very pleasant to live with,” she says. “We take those favourite colours and tone them way down into much more subdued hues that are more sophisticated. Then we bring in fun sheets and toss pillows and accessories.”
In one recent project, Carter installed deep-blue wallpaper with constellations for a little boy fascinated with astronomy. But it’s a sophisticated Ralph Lauren wallpaper that isn’t childlike. To continue the far-away travel theme, blue bedside dressers with brass hardware evoke vintage steamer trunks.
“Children’s rooms should be fun,” Carter says. “But they don’t have to be themey.” •
Winter Daisy Studio
Meghan Carter Design