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Home & Garden

Kids' rooms can adapt to teenage needs

| Monday, Aug. 23, 2010

As children grow up, so must their rooms.

"You want to provide a room that is a good place for sleep, for study, as well as a good place to hang out," says interior designer Cecilia Staniec from McCandless. "The furniture has to go from crafts to computers."

For designers and others dealing with furniture and decorative items, "transition" is a word that emerges constantly. This is the time of transition from little kid to high-school student. A few years later, it can be a transition from student to young professional who might want to take some of that furniture to a first apartment.

Lori Brasiola from Arnold Furniture near New Kensington says furniture, more and more, is being made with keyboard trays, cable holes and practicality in mind. Pieces that serve for toys at one time can handle a computer tower down the road.

The key becomes providing design and decoration that will last.

"You want to grow into a room, not grow out of it," says interior designer Carol Jackson from McNeel Jackson Interiors in Lower Burrell. "Girls grow up and forget about that white French Provincial."

Chris Pelcher, vice president of merchandising at Levin Furniture, says that has led to interest in "more sophisticated" bedrooms. Once upon a time, a girl got her white bedroom and a boy got one in oak. Now, there is interest in a "unisex" merlot color.

Jennifer Strang, marketing specialist from IKEA Pittsburgh in Robinson, agrees.

"Investing in furnishings with a neutral finish such as black-brown, white or oak will allow for a quick update with textiles and accessories and very little expense to the parent," she says.

That textile tactic can be part of an overall strategy.

Leading to an easy change

Catherine Gentile, from the national headquarters of Bed Bath & Beyond, thinks there is a good reason for paying attention to bedding when decorating a child's room. Bedding is easy enough to change.

It can bear images of characters, flowers or sports logos -- but they can be changed when they lose their appeal. Bedding also comes in enough patterns and colors that it can still provide freshness.

Designer Staniec, owner of a design service called A Darling Room, says one of the mistakes parents make when decorating is that they "try to theme a room. You know, flowers for girls, sports for boys. It tends to be overdone."

In a similar fashion, she adds, trendiness in design can look hip when first added, but lose effectiveness when styles change. Again, using bedding or easy-to-change elements such as window shades is an easier and safer way to deal with such matters.

Gentile also suggests painting is one of the easiest manners to dramatically change a room, and one of the least expensive.

The walls can be adaptable in another way, too. Mike Powell, president of Walls, Floors and More in Castle Shannon, points out RoomMates, peel-and-stick appliques that can be added and removed as a child's taste changes.

This allows youth to add to a room the same elements that an adult might add with a border.

He finds them popular because "the client doesn't want anything too expensive or too permanent."

Gentile talks about stick-on items that can be decorative and functional. WallPops! come in designs as simple as plain circles that can be used to convey erasable messages.

"So they can be notes from little girls or, for older kids, a note like, 'The final's tomorrow -- don't forget,'" she says.

But furniture is the most costly and probably most important element, the professionals say.

Take time to pick furniture

Designer Jackson says there is a simple reason to buy good furniture. Juvenile furniture just doesn't last, she says.

Retailer Pelcher says there is another good reason. More mature furniture creates more possibilities down the road. A room with furniture in a conservative merlot takes on a aspect of maturity.

It can be used when the teenage student, now enrolled in college, comes home from the dorm or apartment only a few weekends a year.

That same room can become a guest bedroom, making the larger furniture outlay more reasonable, he says. Pelcher says a more usable bedroom suite probably will cost between $1,499 and $1,999.

That multiple use sometimes is overlooked, suggests fellow retailer Powell. He says a seldom-used option is a Murphy bed unit that can make a child's room into an office, or vice versa. That is a fairly expensive choice -- and could cost between $3,000 and $12,000 -- but it is a practical one.

If the other-use possibility is not a major consideration, a multiple-use reason should be, several experts hint.

IKEA's Strang says parents should "look for versatile pieces that can grow and adapt with a child's changing needs." She says, for instance, one of the company's loft beds allows room for play when a child is young, but then can be equipped with a desk or sofa. They range from $99 to $149.

Gentile points to features such as an ottoman that creates a seat but also has storage space in it. That creates a decoration answer in a room but also starts to teach a lesson on organization.

"You have to start young in teaching about organization," she says.

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