When Dr. Randy Pausch gave his famous “last lecture” in September of 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, he talked about the creative space his parents gave him when he was a teen, letting him paint his bedroom at will, even if it meant they ended up with the quadratic formula on the walls. He implored parents, “If your kids want to paint their bedroom, as a favor to me, let them do it. It’ll be okay. Don’t worry about resale value on the house.”
What Pausch understood, and what kids innately know, is that children need space that’s theirs, where they can let loose and really be creative.
“Engaging kids in active play to inspire creativity is so important,” says Glen Halliday, founder of Windham, Maine-based Kids Crooked House. “There are so many things in kids’ lives today where their creativity is force-fed to them, that doing anything you can create that evokes that imagination and creative play is key.”
Design for Your Kids, Not for You
One of the first mistakes parents make when creating a space for their kids is not involving them in the process enough. The best way to set out on a project like this is making your kids a part of it from the beginning.
“There are so many times a parent will design a house for their child, and it will have all the bells and whistles,” Halliday says, “but if you ask a kid, they just want the simplest things.”
And giving up a little control can make all the difference in how well-loved the room becomes. “What really makes a difference is when parents allow their kids to conceptualize, and pick the colors and textures, and have a say in what elements they would like in the space,” says Doug Masters, founder of the design and building firm Masters Touch in Medfield, MA.
Color Their World
Paint can be a very evocative substance for kids, who are often passionate about the colors they love and those they can’t stand. Kelly J. Thyen, owner of the Blaine, MN-based kids’ design boutique Wiggles N’ Giggles, says parents should consider not only their child’s interests, however, but also the “psychology of color” in choosing the base shade for their child’s creative area.
“Blue is a fabulous color for a kids’ space,” she says. “It is a peaceful color that actually causes the human body to create calming chemicals and also make you more productive. Green is another great color because of its calming effect.” Thyen adds that although kids often love colors like red and yellow, using them only as accent colors may make for a more pleasant space. “Red stimulates chemicals in your body that create excitement and hunger, and yellow can have a very unsettling effect; even though it’s cheerful and sunny, it tends to make people loose their tempers and children cry, which is definitely not what you want in your child’s play space,” she says.
Beyond just color, however, paint can be used to delineate a space. “It’s important to remember that for younger kids, their eye level is right around three feet or so,” says Ann McGuire, Valspar Color Consultant and founder of Beehive Studios of Buckhill Falls, PA. “Think about doing borders along the bottom of the wall like handpainted flowers for a little girl’s garden or a cityscape for little boys who want to play with their trucks or LEGOs.”
And it doesn’t have to stop with the walls. McGuire says when parents are willing, painting the floor adds a whole new dimension to kids’ play. “Painting hopscotch boards, roads for cars or even four-square sets, especially in a basements, where you don’t mind the bouncing ball, can be great for kids.”
Focus on Kid-Friendly Materials
When designer Sharon McCormick, principal of the Durham, CT-based Sharon McCormick Design, LLC, created a playroom for her clients with a rambunctious two-year-old, she knew she had to choose materials that were both attractive and durable.
She recommends checking out Flor carpets for soft, modular flooring that can be easily replaced. “We made a checkerboard design, but the number of designs and colors are seemingly limitless,” she says. “By buying a few extra tiles, if one gets dirty, you can take it out and replace it in a jiffy.”
McCormick also chose beadboard wainscoting for the room. “It’s tough and much more washable than sheetrock,” she says, adding it’s important to choose high-grade paint that can withstand multiple cleanings before having to be repainted. But even then, having the wainscoting will reduce your work. “Since with little kids, the lower half of a wall takes the brunt of the dings, when it’s time to repaint, you can just repaint the wainscoting instead of the whole room,” she says.
For fabrics, she chose stain-guarded, relatively inexpensive cottons and rugged denim. And instead of choosing fragile tassels for window treatments, she went with a more practical trim. “We used a braid trim on the bottom of the roman shade and saved the tempting tassel fringe for the top of the valance,” she says.
Don’t Neglect Safety
Creating a room that’s just for kids means they will sometimes end up there without much adult supervision, which is why safety is a key concern in any room you design with kids in mind.
One safety issue parents need to address early is making sure the space is completely finished. “Don’t leave any bare studs or loosely tacked carpeting that the child could get caught, cut, or slip on,” says Thyen. “The space should be fully finished.”
Also, Thyen says to make sure any furniture that can be climbed on or that might wobble is screwed securely to the wall. Any large, heavy items like televisions should also be secured. And don’t forget the cords: “Make sure cords are hidden, wound up, and secured,” Thyen says. “And cover every outlet.”
Finally, don’t forget lighting safety. “Watch that light fixtures are fully enclosed and that they don’t get hot enough to burn, especially when creating a playroom under stairs or in another small space.”
Worry Less, Play More
Still worried about the resale value of your house if you install that fireman’s pole your son craves or turn your fourth bedroom into a jungle room? So was Janie Glover, who created a deluxe playroom for her daughter Katherine in their former home in High Point, NC. When the family put the house up for sale, their realtor suggested they remove the room, which had been featured in several local papers and had been a labor of love for the entire family. So Glover decided to wait.
“We decided we would try to feature it as a selling point first,” she says. “We knew that it was a unique feature and felt it would set our house apart. We told our realtor that if a couple was interested and did not have children or grandchildren, we would take it down and repaint the room.”
Glover’s decision was the right one — the house was put on the market on Thursday, and it was under contract on Friday to the first couple who looked at it. “They had been looking for a home for more than a year,” she says. “They had a two-year-old little girl who spent hours in the playhouse while her parents toured the rest of our home. It was perfect for them and they said the playhouse is what sold them on the house.”