Decorating a baby’s room is all about what mom and dad want. But decorating a bedroom for a “tween-age” child is more complicated.
It’s a great place to give growing adolescents some creative freedom. But will they reject at age 12 the color palette and furniture they begged for when they were 10?
Kids grow up fast enough that parents may not want to rush the process by removing all childhood whimsy from their rooms. But we also don’t want to redecorate each time our kids get just a bit more mature. So we’re left walking the line between playful and Mom-I-can’t-believe-you-bought-me-this-furniture.
Here, designers Michelle Workman of Michelle Workman Interiors, Brian Patrick Flynn of Flynnside Out Productions and Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design offer advice on designing a tween bedroom that has ample storage, homework space and enough cool style to keep kids happy year after year.
Kids love color, but it’s practical to start with a neutral base. Flynn suggests going all-white on walls and ceiling but adding texture “to keep all-white from reading flat or sterile.”
“I use 1-inch-by-10-inch pine planks on the walls and install it horizontally,” he says, “then have it all whitewashed or painted solidly. This brings architecture to the room and also creates a linear backdrop for showcasing favorite things.”
Workman recently designed a bedroom for a 10-year-old boy with gray walls and cabinetry. “Gray allows you to layer either cool or warm colors on top,” she says, “whereas beige tends to only work with warm colors, and then the room becomes too warm.”
She added a navy leather sofa (“a pullout for sleepovers,” she says, “and leather only gets better with age”), plus a rug, throw pillows, an ottoman and chairs that included shades of orange and turquoise. The result: playful but not immature.
Another approach: “Red, white and blue has become a modern classic for boys and girls,” Flynn says.
“For a masculine touch, I’m a fan of sticking with rich navy and fire-engine red. Girl spaces are an excellent fit for more muted blues such as robin’s egg or sea foam, and more poppy shades of red such as cherry,” he says.
What if your kids have their hearts set on colors you think won’t work?
Respect their input, Burnham says, but adjust the shades as necessary: “It’s your house, too. If you don’t want a school-bus-yellow wall, what can you live with? Maybe a dijon, or maybe the school-bus yellow is his bedside lamp.”
If your daughter wants purple, “maybe it’s a gray lavender,” she says, or another shade of purple that “she won’t get sick of in six months.”
For walls, “tweens and teens tend to favor bold patterns, and find wallpaper cool due to its vintage, retro appeal,” Flynn says.
“If wallpaper is too much of a commitment,” he adds, “consider a graphic treatment on the walls with paint. Stripes are classic and gender-neutral, plus they’re not too difficult to paint.”
Toys, trophies, books, papers and a whole lot of electronics: Kids have an awful lot of stuff.
Burnham suggests choosing a wall “that can accommodate 18 inches of depth or 22 inches of depth,” and have built-in cabinets and shelves installed.
“Built-in cabinetry is so very handy in a tween room,” agrees Workman. It allows “an easy transition to a teenage space” because you’re not dealing with furniture that the child may no longer like.
Custom carpentry can be expensive, but it’s an investment in your home’s value. You can save money by using less expensive wood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard manufactured to look like wood). And “don’t be afraid to use Ikea as a resource for inexpensive cabinetry that can be given a built-in look by adding crown molding and baseboards,” Workman says.
For free-standing storage pieces, Flynn suggests hitting a flea market or garage sale: “This way, the tween has something cool that becomes a huge part of their room’s design, but also is packed with practicality. Some of my go-to items are Danish modern desks with sleek drawers, rustic metal lockers and three-drawer dressers to use as nightstands.”
“Tweens are still finding themselves, so it’s tricky to decorate their rooms with one particular style,” Flynn says.
His preferred style for tweens? “Eclectic.”
Workman agrees that vintage pieces — especially those already banged-up and scratched to perfection — are perfect for older kids’ bedrooms. Vintage chairs can be recovered in fresh fabrics, and antique furniture can shine with a new coat of glossy paint.
“I like to use vintage items, and industrial style for a tween boy’s bedroom,” Workman says. “I created a huge lighted sign out of tin letters that spelled out the boy’s name. There was a definite cool factor to this, and it’s the type of ornamentation that won’t be too ‘baby’ later on.”
To tie disparate flea-market finds together, keep the color scheme consistent. And to protect the tops of desks, dressers and tables, Burnham advises having a piece of glass cut to cover them.
“I am a real believer in creating a kids/tween/teen room that utilizes classic ‘adult’ fabrics and furnishings,” Workman says. “I had a client that had no fear using antiques in her children’s rooms, and those children had a deep respect not only for their own space but for the rest of the home as well. She never had to redecorate those rooms, because they went from child to adult with only a change from stuffed animals and toys to guitars and drums.”