Why kids should have a say in decorating their rooms

Letting children help decorate their rooms can lead to some surprisingly practical solutions, designers say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 4:46am

Little kids have big ideas on just about everything these days, including the look of their rooms.

Parents and their offspring don't always agree on what constitutes a great child's bedroom, and the youngster themselves may have a vastly different view as the teenage years approach. The trick is to create a room everyone can live with, which can accommodate all the accoutrements of childhood and adapt to maturing tastes and needs, without a major makeover.

Interior designer Peggy Bels encourages giving your child a say, and if this unleashes a yen for, say, lolly pink, she offers a compromise. "I'd begin with a soft base colour in a palette of grey to create a soothing, contemporary environment, then make it girly by accenting with fuchsia colour on accessories and curtain borders," she said.

The kid's touch can come through a child-like lighting effect, such as a novelty mushroom or rabbit lamp, or draping a canopy over the bed to create a snug, secure feeling, Bels said. "I also like to use vintage pieces like an old school desk and chair, or a mini designer chair from Bertoia or Eames. The mix of all gives personality to the room."

Kids' rooms in Hong Kong are invariably small, so clever storage solutions are a must. Bels, who custom-makes much of the furniture in her projects, is a fan of tailor-made built-ins. She also maximises under-bed storage with a hydraulic lift system that is easy enough for kids to use. Her top tip? "I like also to make a swing out of zesty, colourful rope to use as shelving for teddy bears and dolls," Bels said. "You can display a lot, and the accumulation of teddy bears makes the swing interesting."

Designer Clifton Leung Hin-che agrees that storage is the biggest challenge in achieving a well-designed children's room. "As parents and teachers know, kids aren't naturally neat, but they won't play with toys that are all in a jumble." To help children keep their books and playthings visible, accessible and orderly, the right storage pieces can make a real difference, Leung says. "Make things easier on yourself and them with lots of low, open storage bins, baskets and shelves. Choose shelves that are shallow, and drawers that are ample, making sure there's plenty of room to move around. Under-the-bed storage drawers on wheels are another practical option to help keep less-used items available but not underfoot."

Another of Leung's kids' room design tips is to encourage creative play with things such as chalkboards, magnetic boards, or colourful carpet blocks. He also stresses that toddlers are curious, so for those under three choose furniture that is sturdy and stable enough to be climbed on and crawled under, avoid sharp corners, and use slip-proof pads under every rug.

Well-designed kids' kit has not always been easy to find in Hong Kong, but these days there is much more choice. Stylish boutiques such as Petit Bazaar (in Central, Wan Chai and Stanley) are springing up, and chic brands Tree and Indigo Living (with Indigo Kids) have introduced children's furniture lines.

Petit Bazaar was founded by Narguess Sousi, a French speech therapist and psychologist, after she struggled to furnish her children's rooms in a way that matched her European style and taste. Sousi personally selects items from the 100-plus brands in store, on criteria that include quality, eco-friendliness and design that "gives children's imagination and curiosity free rein".

Most of the brands are exclusive to Petit Bazaar. They include Anne Claire Petit (fair-trade crochet works hand-made by village women in mainland China); La Cerise Sur La Gateau, a creative French illustrator who produces poetic home décor suitable for adults and kids; wooden toys from French brand Janod; and Oeuf from New York, an eco-design brand that utilises sustainable materials and natural stains in a functional way.

Eco-furniture boutique Tree also had sustainable chic in mind when it introduced Sand, a playful and practical new brand of children's furniture and accessories by Italian designer Silvia Marlia. Inspired by the Montessori educational philosophy, the collection is made from sustainable solid American hardwoods including oak and walnut. The Sand collection is aimed at children aged three to eight, although some pieces, like Books on Wheels, provide handy storage for teenagers or even adults.

John McLennan, managing director of Indigo Living, also draws on his experience as a dad to advocate keeping a kid's room design simple and flexible.

"A child's concept of what they want in a room changes weekly as they are introduced to new things on a daily basis. To them, everything is new and exciting," he said.

Given that kids today want to have their say - there's no "magic age" but toddlers as young as 18 months have apparently squealed with delight upon entering Indigo - McLennan has found the most effective result comes when parents decide the "bones" of the design concept (such as large pieces of furniture), and work with the child in choosing accessories.

"Steer them in the right direction in terms of colour choices, but sometimes let them have the last say, even if you don't agree," McLennan said. "At the end of the day, design has no right or wrong answers, so something you think may look bad others may think looks great."