Whether you’re planning a nursery for a new baby, transitioning your toddler into a Big Kid Room, or redecorating a space for your tween or teen, the task can be daunting. You’ve studied HGTV, lost heaven-knows-how-many hours clicking through Houzz and made multiple Pinterest boards, but you still aren’t sure if you should go with Modern, Transitional or maybe Scandinavian-meets-Japanese. And, for people who already have kids, we know that in real life our little angels will have those sleek, white, spotless rooms looking like crime scenes in about 10 minutes.

So, how can those of us with more inspiration than design skills create spaces that are stylish, functional and reasonably manageable? I asked three pros – a designer, an organizer and an educator – for some sanity-saving tips.

Tip #1: Make Design Choices With an Eye Toward the Future

We all want to make the spaces in our homes look great, so I started by asking Gabrielle Lowrie of the award-winning design studio Bandd Design here in Austin to share some tips for parents. Lowrie loves to use fun, playful paint colors and even wallpaper for kids’ rooms, but she adds the caveat that parents might want to aim for “patterns and textures that will work with the space over time.” She acknowledges that children’s preferences have been known to change and adds that parents “can easily swap out duvet covers, accent pillows, inexpensive wall decor, frames and knick-knacks to fit their ages and interests.”

Professional organizer Karie Winfree of OM Organizing recommends thinking ahead and not creating a space that is “too specific” to your child’s immediate age or stage. “Ideally,” she adds, “you want to create a space your child can grow into.” She points to furniture choices, noting that “infants have different storage needs than grade schoolers and teens. So, it’s good to pick furniture that can be repurposed without having to completely redecorate every four years.”


Tip #2: Make Design Choices With an Eye on Function

When it comes to furniture, Lowrie starts by considering space and storage. In addition to making sure that the pieces fit the space and leave plenty of room for playing, she recommends storage solutions like shelves, bookcases and baskets that keep things both tidy and accessible. Winfree echoes Lowrie’s advice on considering storage at the planning stage.

Winfree likes furniture that can function in multiple ways, such as those that contain units for storage, under-bed storage drawers and headboards that double as bookshelves for older kids. These are especially useful in smaller or shared spaces. To keep the stuffies off the floor, she likes “pet nets,” those hanging hammock-shaped nets for stuffed animals. She has even been known to stuff them into bean bag covers to save space.

When I asked Winfree what professional organizers think about when planning a space that the rest of us mortals don’t, she said that they think about how the space will function and be sustainable. She usually works directly with the kids at this point in the process and says that they’re “often willing to purge more toys and unused items than their parents are!”


Tip #3: Make Design Choices With an Eye on Your Kid

Working with and observing kids in action is something that Dr. Liz Johnson, a certified K-12 teacher educator and education evaluator, prioritizes, too. Echoing Lowrie and Winfree, Johnson recommends letting the kids be “part of the thinking and preparation process.” For the space to feel like their own, she says, it “has to make sense to them too, to fit their bodies and their ways of working, playing, relaxing and socializing.”

In addition to her years as an education specialist, Johnson is a mom of four kids, one with a disability, so she recommends watching kids as they use spaces, both their own rooms and shared areas. She and her husband were planning a kitchen renovation when they observed their daughter, who is of short stature, working in the space. “It help[ed] me see a whole world that I couldn’t,” she says.

Despite their different areas of expertise, all three professionals mentioned letting the kids lead as much as is reasonable, helping them to feel ownership of the space and making sure the space is easy to maintain. When I asked Winfree how to prevent that freshly decorated and Pinterest-worthy space from looking like a yard sale in real life, she gave me an inspiring answer. You’ll want to jot this down.

“Perfection,” she said, “is NOT attainable. Those Pinterest ‘perfect’ spaces were expertly styled and photographed and it’s doubtful any kids were allowed to go near them. Spaces are meant to be lived in and enjoyed.”


Beth Eakman writes, edits and teaches writing in Austin. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, New York Family, AustinMama.com and other cool publications. Read more at betheakmanre.com.

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