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Designing & Decorating Children's Rooms

An interview with Candie Frankel, author of Babies & Children###s Rooms

Q. What types of furniture and d├ęcor do you think best make the transition as a child grows up?

A. I###d choose furniture that you could envision functioning in multiple ways in different rooms in your house. This is especially applicable to bookcases, slide-out bins, wire baskets, stacking crates, and similar modular storage pieces. For young children, especially climbers, you might choose a unit that you can position horizontally, so it###s low and stable, and then stand it vertically as the child grows older. A daybed with a trundle underneath can transform a small, shared bedroom into a playroom for younger children or a semiprivate apartment for older children. I also like armoires because they can fitted on the inside to store just about anything, from an infant###s wardrobe and diapers to a television set. I###d choose decor that###s easy to update. A poster, for example, is less expensive and easier to replace than a themed wallpaper.

Q. Children appear to be playing a greater role in family decisions of all kinds in the ###90s. How much say-so do you think they should be given in their room design as they become old enough to express opinions?

A. I very much support seeking a child###s input for the room design. Young children can let you know what colors or cartoon personalities they like, while an older child might need space for a particular hobby or be yearning for a canopied bed. Working with older school-age children to design a room is the perfect way for parents to get to know their children and increase their family privileges and responsibilities. I###d encourage parents to share the budget for the project with older children and get them involved in planning the purchases and tracking the costs. If an item has to be passed up because it is too expensive or frivolous, the child will at least know why it was vetoed and will perhaps be spurred to find a substitute. There are some decisions, of course, such as whether to have a television or a telephone, that remain the parents### call.

Q. In your experience, what room and design elements are most important from the child###s perspective? From the parents### perspective?

A. Young children might not always be able to express this, but having furniture, toys, books, and clothes accessible to them helps them feel more secure and capable. This means drawers at a height they can reach and that glide open and closed easily, without sticking; a low table with chairs for coloring, puzzles, or snacks; a toy bin on wheels that they can roll around for easy cleanup; low shelving or storage units for books; and so forth.

School-age children get more involved in collections, hobbies, sports, and clothes and need places for display and storage. They also start seeing their rooms as an extension of their personalities and as a place to entertain friends. Parents are generally concerned with organizing the clutter and keeping things neat and easy to maintain.

Q. What are some tips for designing a child###s room from scratch?

A. If I were starting a room from scratch, I###d pick the functional pieces first--bed or crib, storage for clothing and toys, a changing table for infants, a study space for school-age children--and plan the rest of the room around these pieces. It###s always a good idea to draft a floor plan on graph paper and plot out the furniture placement before you start moving around the actual pieces. Save that graph paper floor plan, since you can use it to calculate your wall and floor square footage when it comes time to paint, wallpaper, or lay a carpet. If you can###t complete the entire room at once--which for most of us is most of the time--make a master plan of all the pieces and accessories you envision. Knowing the style and dimensions of future pieces will help you resist impulse purchases that do not suit the space.

Q. Any final advice?

A. Basically, parents should set aside any expectation that their children###s rooms will ever be show house caliber. Creative, active children use and live in their rooms, they tend to work on different projects concurrently, and they like to leave things out in the open, ready to pick up at a moment###s notice. A room like this holds personal interest for children, like merchandise on display at a store, but it can often look messy and helter-skelter to adults. There###s a distinction to be made between this type of "room as laboratory" and a sheer mass of unorganized stuff. If the room ends up being used as a warehouse, it###s time to weed out the excess (make a donation to your favorite charity) and cut back on future purchases.

Candi Frankel is senior editor of Handcraft Illustrated magazine, which is published four times a year by Boston Common Press. For a free trial issue, call 1-800-274-9955. She is the author of a series of books published by Friedman Fairfax (212) 685-6610. Among these are Babies & Children###s Rooms; Design & Details; the Comfortable Home; Encyclopedia of Country Furniture; Decorating with Tiles; Drapes & Curtains; and Painting Textured Walls. Her e-mail address is candie_frankel@bcpress.com.