In the olden days, when I was a teenager, my idea of great design was gently prying the Tiger Beat centerfold from its mid-line staples and sticking it on my bedroom wall along with all my other carefully positioned posters. One time, I hand cut hundreds (ok, maybe it was more like tens) of those little Sandra Boynton cartoon cats (does anyone else remember those?) and scotch taped them all over the rails of the head and foot of my bed. I mean, it was the very height of elegance! But the real piece de resistance was my obsessively arranged menagerie of stuffed animals, posed and precise, positioned on my pillow specifically to avoid any hint of hierarchy (no one wants hurt feelings). Everyday I left for school with my room camera ready lest a crew from Chatelaine were to somehow stumble upon our humble abode in desperate need of some inspiration for their next issue and looking to feature a teen room with a sick Sears bedroom suite and a couple of needle point Holly Hobby wannabes framed and hung with pride.
I really believe I was destined to be an interior designer in the same way that Gretzky was destined to play hockey only, instead of an ice rink, I practiced my craft in the hallowed brown and orange halls of the local mall. My destination? The Panhandler. Let me say that again: My favorite store at the age of 14 was The Panhandler. I can still remember the homey smell of sweet cinnamon potpourri as I brushed past the cookware and decorative tea towels to browse the scented candles, ceramic clown masks, and killer selection of Gund stuffed animals (Should I add another to the group? I’d hate for Cheer Bear to think he wasn’t enough). What I’m trying to say here is that I have a special place in my heart for teen bedrooms. Like most of us, my room was my sanctuary. It’s where I cut my design teeth and, not to be dramatic, discovered my life’s passion. Our childhood bedrooms are really our first go at making a space our own and they can be the difference between being at home and feeling at home.
Today, kids have slightly higher (and more sophisticated) standards. They have access to Pinterest, Instagram, and a much broader selection of retail options (RIP The Panhandler). The options and ideas are endless. So how exactly does one balance a design that will endure with internet trends and an aesthetic that seems to have gone from Sophie the Giraffe to Shawn Mendes virtually overnight? By focusing on the foundations.
What exactly are the foundations of a space? They’re the parts of a room that, without which, the room would cease to function as intended: furniture, floor and window coverings, wall finishes (although we have a little room to move here). Accessories and artwork will come and go, it’s the more permanent stuff you’ll want to invest in- the dresser drawers that will be slammed in a fit of annoyance, the bed you will be dragging them from in an effort to ensure they’re not late for jazz band (again), and a carpet able to withstand the onslaught of crushed potato chips.
Without a doubt the most expensive part of a bedroom makeover, assuming you’re starting from scratch, is the furniture: a bed, a night stand, a dresser, possibly a desk. I like to steer away from bedroom suites and instead pick pieces that are individual, yet cohesive as a whole. I’m also a proponent of the full-size bed, space permitting. Kids grow, it’s kind of what they do, and it’s always nice when they grow into something that they won’t grow out of.
Look for solidly built pieces, ideally ones where the bottom of the drawer won’t fall out from having 15 pairs of black TNA leggings balled up and shoved hastily inside. Also, soft close drawers- go ahead and try to slam those suckers. Style-wise, look for something that will mature along with your child. But if your son absolutely must have a neon green night stand, why not? Chances are you can find one at a garage sale that can be refinished, and no harm will be done when he decides it would be so cool to graffiti it with Sharpies.
If you still have an empty corner kicking around, a deep and cozy phone, I mean reading, chair and ottoman with a super soft throw is a lovely addition to a bedroom. It may even be exactly what’s needed to inspire them to crack open that assigned reading that’s due Monday. Ha-ha, just kidding, it won’t be. But we can dream, right?
Probably the next most expensive item on the list, but if done right they can be a very worthwhile, long-lasting investment. Privacy, light, temperature, and sound control, color, texture, and pattern- the functionality and impact of window coverings should not be underestimated.
Maybe you’re working with your existing floors, maybe they’re due for a refresh. Either way, consider that spills will happen and plan accordingly. It may be a can of coke, it may be nail polish, it may be trumpet valve oil, all of which my kids have spilled on their carpets. Obviously hard surfaces are better for preventing stains but area rugs and wall to wall carpeting are available in nylon and polypropylene, which are stain resistant, durable and add a feeling of overall comfort. On a related note, if you know how to remove trumpet oil from carpeting, drop me a line.
As with any room, the key is to create a layered lighting plan. Start with a ceiling light, add some focused lighting for home work and reading, and throw in some softer
selfie ambient lighting in the form of twinkle lights for when they want to zone out and listen to music or have a heart to heart with a good friend.
Wall finishes are one of the things designers get asked about the most., probably because color (or lack thereof) can have such a big impact on us and our surroundings. A coat of paint or a fantastic wallpaper can completely change the look and feel of a space and a little bit can go a long way. Wallpapers are having a moment, to be sure, and options are extensive: Geometric prints? Yep. Florals? Of course. Bananas? Bewilderingly, yes. Nooks, feature walls, and walk-in closets are all great places to try something bold. Paint is one of the easiest and least expensive things to change, which gives us the freedom to get a little crazy. Wall finishes can be the focal point or a neutral backdrop against which a space comes to life.
I’m putting bedding right before accessories because, although it packs a lot of punch design-wise, unless you are doing custom, it is easy to switch out as tastes and color preferences change. There are so many fantastic, reasonably priced places to find great bedding that it makes it less painful when they break it to you that millennial pink is so over or you find a ball point pen that has been left to roam free, uncapped (Seriously, is it just my kids?).
Pillows upon pillows. Big pillows, small pillows, lumbar pillows, euro size pillows, floor pillows. Removable covers are ideal, but not required. Oh, your kid happens to be a minimalist? Still pillows.
There really is no excuse for not having great art in a teen room, prints and frames are so widely available and well priced. Album covers, a favorite drawing from elementary school, and things like concert tickets and playbills are also great candidates for framing. Let your teen create their own ever-changing art installation by providing empty frames they can fill with their own work or a large ribbon or cork board they can fill with pictures of friends, trips taken, favorite quotes and doodles.
My last piece of advice for designing a teen room is to have fun. Spend your money on the things that really matter and then let go of the reigns just a bit. Leave a space for their collections and trophies and let them have their say as the main “stakeholders”. If my teens are any indication, when you begin the process of designing their spaces it will become enormously apparent that whatever you think is cool is, in fact, not. If that’s the case, and you need a neutral third party in order to finish the project and ensure you’ll still be invited to their graduation, please give me a call.