News & Politics

2004 Kids Rooms: Furniture That Can Grow Along With Your Child

Invest in furniture that lasts.

Room to Grow

From lace-trimmed bassinets to fabric toppers for diaper pails, children's furniture stores are loaded with temptations. Even interior designers, who see firsthand how parents can go too far, aren't immune.

"We want to do all these cute things for our kids," says Alexandria designer Victoria Sanchez, who recently redid her own children's rooms. "I haven't done my own bedroom in 14 years."

According to Kids Today, a trade publication for the juvenile-furnishings industry, retail sales in the "youth bedroom" category have risen more than 32 percent since 1998.

Parents are spending, and they want longer-lasting pieces for their money– furniture that can take them through generations or have a second life in a guest room or home office.

At this year's International Home Furnishings Market in North Carolina, a semiannual industry event where manufacturers reveal their new lines, the look was more stylish and less kiddie. Teeny, rickety bedroom groupings are giving way to solid-wood sleigh beds and Mission styles.

"I've seen more looks that are more adult or second-bedroom," says Jane Kitchen, editor of Kids Today, "but still work for a kid."

The Nursery: Easy Does It

Parents like to splurge on baby's first room, but many designers frown on overdone nurseries.

"People a few years ago spent enormous amounts on nurseries that didn't transition," says JoAnn Zwally, owner of Ashton Design Group in Ashton, Maryland. "I like to leave room for flexibility and do some pieces that can carry on into college or the first apartment." She's used mosaic mirrors, handcrafted ceramic lamps, and a French table–for later use as a desk–in children's rooms.

Many parents choose a crib that converts to a toddler bed. Those start at around $400. Many, including the popular Bellini convertibles (around $600), come with storage. But Kristen Hughes, owner of Lullaby Baby in Columbia (9130 Red Branch Rd.; 410-997-8090;, says you'll have to sacrifice aesthetics, because convertibles can look bulkier.

Stokke, a Norwegian furniture company that makes the popular KinderZeat, a highchair that converts to a booster and then a desk chair, recently introduced the Sleepi (about $800, including conversion kit), a bassinet that converts to a crib, a day bed, and two chairs. Stokke also makes Care (about $400, includes conversion kit), a changing table that converts to a play table, desk, and an entertainment-center stand. Both are sold at Great Beginnings in Gaithersburg (18501 N. Frederick Ave.; 301-417-9702;

Some parenting books, and the mommy grapevine, say you don't need a special changing table–a bureau or sideboard can be topped with a changing cushion. Bellini offers changing tables that convert to dressers and bookshelves–a sliding "changing tray" to top the dresser is about $250–and DaVinci sells kits that can add drawers, at about $40 each, to its open-shelf changing tables. Sorelle has drawer chests with removable tops and even removable bath attachments.

When she opened her store in late 2002, Hughes was surprised to see dark cherry and cognac finishes selling better than white and light furniture. Designers say Washingtonians prefer formal finishes: A darker finish on a glider, for example, makes it a natural transition to a guest room or living room.

For storage, designers recommend anchored but removable shelves that can adjust over the years. Also good at low heights are baskets or boxes that fit in cubby holes, and easy-to-open, nonpinching drawers, with childproof drawers at higher levels.

Other removable design options include wall organizers with pockets and the "stuffed animal net," stretchy netting hung on the wall to make a hammock for teddy bears.

For windows, "the privacy layer is where you should spend your money," Sanchez says. Miniblinds, Roman shades, and roller shades are designers' choices for children's rooms. Pair a good-quality top treatment with less expensive, easy-to-change sheers –you can have a blind or shade underneath–and you'll get a good-looking compromise that will last years, says Yvette Piaggio, owner of Piaggo's Loft, a design and custom fabrics business in Alexandria.

"Big Kid" Beds

Most kids start to assert their individuality between ages three and five, so that's a good time for a room makeover–and a good time to give kids a say.

Parents often let their kids help pick their first "big bed." Those big beds are getting bigger: Many families are skipping toddler beds and moving straight to full or queen-size. This makes sense if you're planning to make the room a guest room someday, but there are other options. Pier 1 Kids (formerly CargoKids) offers a full-size bed with a removable twin-size bunk over it ($799), making it cool with kids and practical for parents later.

Lofts and bunk beds are less practical–and less popular with safety experts–but they're a hit with children. Kids Today brings a group of children to the International Home Furnishings Market to test products, and Berg's Play and Study Fun Center Loft (about $2,400) consistently gets high marks. The toddler-to-teen setup has a computer desk (with built-in surge protector) and storage spaces, topped by a loft bed. Children say they like the storage cubbies and "secret" niches as well as the lighted nesting spot where a child can curl up and read.

Day beds and trundles, which save space and make room for sleepover guests, can work later in guest rooms. An Ethan Allen children's sleigh trundle ($1,000) might look good in a master-bedroom suite at the foot of the bed.

Canopies and coronas, circular frames used for hanging sheer fabric from the ceiling, are popular. You can hang a corona, such as those at Pier 1 Kids, from the ceiling to make any bed princess-y, then remove it when tastes change.

A Place to Work and Play

Experts say scaled-down furniture contributes to a child's sense of security. But not all miniature furniture is practical.

A mini upholstered club chair probably wouldn't be used for more than a few years, for example. Still, it can be hard not to cave: Whenever my two-year-old sees a mini-club chair in a store, she gives me Cindy Lou Who eyes and says, "This little chair is for me?"

As a child starts getting homework, says decorator Deborah Weiner of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, a workstation with shelving, desk space, and drawers is a good investment. Armoires and entertainment centers, which now come as part of children's bedroom groupings, accommodate computers, CDs, and video-game setups and can be used later in other rooms.

Techline Studio in Rockville ( sells modular desks, shelving, and storage that can grow with a child. "You can start with a small arrangement and keep enlarging. You can modify the height, and we can work with small spaces," designer Fathi Bugaighis says. The store offers a free brainstorming session with parents and children.

Because parents like to keep an eye on their kids' computer habits, builders are adding "command centers," usually near the kitchen, with shelving, desks, and computer setups that both kids and parents can use. Such centers also work in upstairs hallways, playrooms, or media rooms used by the whole family.

Tweens and Teens: Having a Say

Young people seem more design-savvy. Redecorating programs are showing up on kids' cable channels, and retailers are marketing aggressively to teens and tweens (7 to 12), with stores tailored to fulfill their decorating whims.

The strategy with any redecorating at this age is to try to keep the bones of the room –bed, storage system, homework system, window treatments, and art–and change the bedding and accessories.

After consulting with her seven-year-old daughter, Victoria Sanchez splurged on custom wall painting in a harlequin pattern. She went discount shopping for a sequined window-top treatment, recycled fabric from her daughter's old room, and passed on her own antique brass bed. Her daughter wanted to keep her Laura Ashley fabric accessories printed with whimsical creatures, and Sanchez had the painters duplicate some of the details from that fabric on the wall.

To find out what teens are looking for in design, I met with a group of art students from Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg.

Their favorite stores, where they find trendy pieces, include Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Target, and DC boutique Go Mama Go. But they are hardly marketers' pawns–what matters most is that an accessory have some personal significance. "Designer labels don't make a difference," says Elsie Dwyer, 17. "If it's ugly, it's ugly."

Many teens like garage sales–one scored a disco-style mirror ball. Although retro looks are popular, teens say if you use too many, your room looks "fake."

What matters most to teens? The lighting and how easy it is to live in a room. They don't put their beds where the morning sun can disturb them. They want bright light bulbs, such as GE's Reveal, in lighting fixtures. Many have rooms in basements or attics, or rooms with bay windows and other features that are both a challenge and a delight. Pet peeves include rickety wicker furniture and parents who use their rooms–or closets–for storage. One teenage girl rearranges her furniture about once a week.

Teens like to work and socialize from the floor. "I have a lazy room," as one put it. Teenage girls like novelty lamps and floor pillows–a favorite for kids of all ages–which are a less expensive way to change a room. Piaggio recommends pillows with reversible covers.

Boys care about their rooms, too. Adam McDonald, 15, had literally grown out of his old room and bunk beds, so the family moved him down the hall into a guest room in their Potomac home. Besides a platform bed with storage from Hardwood Artisans and a big desk and entertainment armoire from Scan, decorator Deborah Wiener created a remote-control system for the lighting and blinds. Adam's impression? "Awesome." Adam's mother, Marion, okayed the armoire because it would be useful even after Adam leaves for college.

"Just by changing the comforter, the room can get lots of different looks," Marion McDonald says. "Take the trophies off, and it won't scream 'kid's room.' "

It wasn't all smooth: Adam wanted a plush, more expensive carpet. "I lie down on the floor a lot, and I have a cat and I like to play with her on the floor," he says.

"I agreed after he promised–promised–he would make sure he didn't track in any dirt," Marion says.

Adam shrugged off color choices, so Weiner and Marion came up with taupes and blues for a tailored look and painted one wall deep blue. "He's never heard of an accent wall," Marion says. "He thought it looked 'weird' at first."

Kid's Choice?

When it comes to transforming a room, it's not just the furniture that's a challenge–it's the children. By getting kids involved, there's a better chance they'll enjoy the room and even take care of the furniture.

The age of the big-kid bed is a good time to get kids involved in color choices. You might ask them to pick out favorites from a box of crayons or point out photos from magazines or catalogs and ask what they like.

JoAnn Zwally of Ashton Design recommends asking children what they want to keep from their baby rooms. One little girl really wanted the clown wastebasket from her nursery, so Zwally "re-dressed" the clown to match the new design.

"JoAnn is our therapist," jokes Lisa Karlsson of Olney. "She runs interference." At age seven, Karlsson's daughter, Lindsey, helped make storyboard designs for the family's beach house. Now, at 11, she is clipping PB Teen catalogs to do the same for her first bedroom makeover.

Zwally recently helped negotiate when mother and daughter disagreed on the extreme green Lindsey picked for the walls.

Lindsey's mother told her "it might look good on a little piece of paper but not on the whole wall," Lindsey says. "We're going with something just a little lighter."