How to Design Kids’ Rooms for Generations to Come

Susanna Salk discusses ways to design a space made to last.
Cute Kids Room Ideas

Photograph by Stacey Bewkes

Excerpt from Dream Rooms for Children by Susanna Salk (Rizzoli New York, 2021). 

My original book, Room for Children: Stylish Spaces for Sleep and Play, was born from the realization that we as a culture were starting to embrace the philosophy— not to mention the aesthetics—that children’s areas deserved to be places that didn’t stagnate in the stage where the children were at that very moment.

Basic primary colors and fairy tale and super hero characters were ceding to sophisticated patterns and unique color hues and vintage furniture with dashes of whimsy. Children were being given more of a center stage in their little worlds at home and those worlds in turn, were aesthetically on par with the adult spaces in the rest of the house.

Almost ten years later, as I compile some of my favorite spaces for children again, I see we have moved the boundaries even farther without losing our sense of fun and practicality. I see kids’ rooms that identify a child as a whole child, not necessarily only by gender.

Sophisticated Kids Room Design

Photograph by Jean Randazzo

I see workspaces that cohabitate cleverly within play spaces, thanks to open minds and open planning. I see that children have had an even greater hand in their creation and I see parents telling designers how important it is to them that their newborn’s space adapt to their baby’s eventual growth, both physically and emotionally. I see dining room furniture placed below framed children’s drawings and I see rocking chairs placed alongside blue chip modern art.

There aren’t just two brands or colors for cribs, there are hundreds. I see bunk beds worthy of luxury cruise ships. But the most repeated word by both designers and parents when describing their intent at fashioning these spaces is “timeless.” Parents want spaces that can adapt and accommodate whatever the future may bring. Because when it comes to our children, we may give them timeouts but in the end, there is never enough time with them before they leave.

Stuffed Animals In Kids Room Design

Photograph by Douglas Friedman

The phrase “empty nest” implies that when one’s grown children leave the home, the home is then empty. But I believe that a home is as alive as we the parents who still live in it. For you never stop being a parent. You want your children’s rooms to be able to welcome them when they come home and remind them that you are there to give them their space, but also to give them shelter.

While researching images for this book, I came across a bedroom in a Brooklyn apartment for two young siblings: At the far end of the wall was a smoky mural of trees and clouds. It gave a dramatic destination to the small space. Cassandra Warner, its designer, as well as parent to two children (not to mention photographer of the space) kindly gave me the online resource for the digital wallpaper—another wonderful newer invention for parents and finicky kids!—and it suddenly made me want it for my son Winston’s room.

When I called Winston to ask what he thought, he was rushing between college classes on the West Coast but told me to send a picture. I sent a follow-up text of both the Brooklyn room and a swatch from the wallpaper’s website. In seconds, he replied: “Go for it!” Within days, my husband and I were rolling out the sticky printed sheets to create the virtual forest within the real Connecticut one just outside those walls. Stepping back to view it from the threshold, the pastoral effect was as compelling as in the picture: It made you want to enter and then linger. And isn’t that what we long for our children to do after their adventures when they come home?

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Dream Rooms for Children.
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