I realize that decorating for a kid is hardly a top priority. Living rooms, kitchens, master bedrooms, workspaces– all are in the design queue way ahead of the kids’ space. Efforts to beautify the kid zone can kinda feel futile. It’s all gonna look like World War III in five minutes anyway, you know? Personally, my bathrooms get design attention before my kids’ room does– which is to say, I’d rather spend my time decorating a stuffy, urine-smelling, phone booth-sized water closet than the space where my kids actually live and play. And while it’s true that kids are pint sized pirates who will destroy all semblance of order, I want to share a little secret with you that might just make kid space design a higher priority.

Kids = People

Just like ordinary humans, children enjoy being in inviting, warm, and welcoming spaces more than bland, boring, and uninspiring ones. They respond to details like cozy rugs, soft mood lighting, engaging art, and thoughtful details just like ordinary people. They like it. They want to be surrounded by it. Which means, if you are following closely, if their space is beautiful and well-designed, they will like to spend time there. Meaning that they will be less likely to be found loitering around you, professing boredom and demanding entertainment. If that doesn’t Brené Brown your ass into wanting to redesign their space, I don’t know what will!

Over the past two days, I have devoted myself to overhauling my kids’ room. Let me be clear about what this means: I have four kids. A nine-year-old girl, an eight-year-old boy, a five-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy. All kids, regardless of gender or age, are in the same room. (We run an equal opportunity household here!) So my design mission, which I chose to accept, was to design a space that my snuggly Thomas lovin’ toddler would enjoy as much as my snarky Taylor lovin’ tween. And believe it or not, I think I pulled it off. I haven’t seen my kids all afternoon! They have stayed in their super inviting,super engaging hobbit hole for hours without coming up for air. I can hear them, chatting, laughing, pretending, and occasionally screaming. I know they’re wreaking havoc on my handiwork, but I also know that I am blogging uninterrupted, and that’s worth its weight in gold. So here are my key ingredients to a successful kidscape:

Use What You Have

My number one schtick with kids’ rooms is use what you have! (gasp!) Dig through your storage and take out anything funny, colorful, youthful, or sentimental (and preferably sturdy). Hint: the best stuff is the stuff you hold on to–can’t make yourself get rid of–but don’t quite know what to do with. That’s the stuff you want on your kids’ walls. It’s fun for little people when the stuff they are surrounded by has personal meaning to them. Things that represent their history, funny stories, and personal memories. (Make sure to tell them the stories behind the treasures you put in their space.) Designing this way will save you the money you would have spent on themey design stuff. Of course, your kids will have things they’re into, and that stuff deserves a place in the space too, but not a dominant place. (Ix-nay on the Winnie the Pooh bedding and wall decals and lamp shades and nightlights.) I’ll talk more about the proper place for pet passions in the design in a moment.

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Stuff Boxes

I keep a black 12” bin for each of my kids to keep their stuff in. Whatever they feel they need to keep, and Lord knows they get sentimental about all kinds of paraphernalia, it all goes in the Stuff Box. Toys, birthday cards, notes, rocks, feathers, craft supplies, anything and everything. And when the bin is overflowing, they have to cull out what they can part with and start clean. Stuff Boxes make cleaning up so much easier, and also that moment when your kid asks you where to put something and you honestly have no idea because it’s ultimately garbage, but you don’t want to say that to them, so instead you just say “In your Stuff Box!”

Personal Space Bubble

It is especially important when your kids share a room to make a little corner of it that is just for them. We have two bunk beds smushed into the kids’ room, and each child gets to treat their bunk like their own little room. They can customize the interior to their own preferences, and we have bed curtains so their space can be “walled” off. Each bunk also has its own reading light, and a small basket for night effects: glasses case, water bottle, books, etc. I also like each kid to have a bulletin board or wall where they can put whatever they want. This is a great place for them to express their fanhood and pet passions. It can change up as often as their interests do. 

Toy Rotation

It is a truth universally recognized that children will get out and leave out every toy that they have at their disposal. (Of course, there are rules that dictate that this is forbidden. Doesn’t matter. Still happens.) So, limit the amount of toys they have access to at a given time. My sister-in-law first put me onto this idea. She keeps five or six toys or sets out, and the kids can choose from them what they will. Every couple of weeks or so, she whisks the first six out, and replaces them with a different batch. This keeps mess to a minimum, and keep interest high. Wins all around.

An Extravagantly Fun ElementHow to decorate your kids room on the cheap 3

I first saw this at my Aunt Gwenda’s house when I was a teenager. She had a wall in their small home completely covered with climbing grips. Even as a sixteen year old, I just had to log the idea away for future use. Now, my kids have a hammock that hangs down in the center of their room. I can literally hear it creaking as I type. It creaks and creaks and creaks pretty much constantly. Having something outrageously fun (like the climbing wall, the hammock, a loft, a slidey pole, a huge pile of bean bags, whatever) in a kid’s room not only keeps your kids engaged, it draws in neighborhood kids. Pretty soon, your house is the cool house. Snacks help build that reputation as well.

Book Nook

Having a cozy corner for reading magically seems to encourage reading. Right next to the kids’ bookshelf, we have our big cozy Blooch (blue chair), and it is the Mecca of solace and coze, complete with cushions, blankies, and a little reading lamp. 

Floor Space

Admittedly we don’t have much open space in the kids’ room, but what we have is prime real estate for building with blocks, making blanket nests, dancing and cartwheels, and general mess-making.  It is important to find an arrangement that maintains a good amount of open space, even if you have limited square footage.

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One thing that is certainly essential in a child’s room is whimsy. That larger-than-life, magical element that acknowledges youth and says “yes” to it. Whimsy doesn’t have to look or be a certain way– you can either give it a nod, or you can go full steam– but, somehow, find a way to to make it clear that the space is intended for the young and jolly.

Good luck to all of you as you design your way into your kids’ hearts.

Love and guts,


p.s. please excuse the ghastly photo quality. Because it’s in the basement, this room is impossible to photograph decently. You understand. First world problems.