How I’m Designing Our Kid’s Rooms Differently This Time (Things Have Changed…)



One of the occupational hazards of my job is that our kids have gotten spoiled with stupidly cute Pinterest-perfect rooms since the day they were born. They just popped into the world with animals wallpapered all over their rooms and carefully curated gallery walls. So easy! We are all EXTREMELY lucky and privileged, and while it’s not their fault, our kids have NO idea how much work, time, and money it takes to pull together a room. Before the pandemic it was different. I was so busy and had a team of designers that helped me with my own house. Emily Bowser and Julie Rose created the tent bed at the mountain house. Shade installed the rock climbing wall. Julie drew and executed the blue and white canopy in their last shared room. I remember crying in the shower, reaching a breaking point thinking “I don’t have time to even decorate my own kids’ rooms”. And yet there was immense pressure both internally and externally to have their rooms done, perfect, styled, shot, published, and praised. I was so embarrassed that they were both sleeping on mattresses on the floor for a couple of years that I stopped inviting anyone over that wasn’t a very, very, very close friend. I was so sick of apologizing. I actually didn’t mind showing you all on the internet, but if friends of friends came over I would have anxiety due to the expectation. The pressure was real and just so dumb (and trust me, people did judge and I don’t blame them). Even if it had been just me designing their rooms they were young, in school, and never really saw the hard work that it took to make a room beautiful. They were 3 and 5 then and now they are close to 7 and 9. Things are different. And I’m in such a different place physically and mentally.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: elliot’s nursery update

Recently we watched the show Get Out Of My Room where siblings design each other’s rooms with the help of a team, and surprise! A new totally dialed-in room. It’s pretty darn fun for the whole family and the designs were super cute – if not totally far out. Afterward, they both had a massive list of ideas and design elements that they wanted for their rooms. Once again TV has made things look so easy and attainable. “Oh really??!!!,” I said. “And who is going to do all of this, and how are we going to pay for it?!!!” I think we all know how they would have answered, “Uh, you” but they were smart enough to not answer. As a mom who grew up not financially privileged, knowing that I’m responsible for their entitlement is a real bummer and has forced a change in how we do life.

I honestly haven’t really thought about their rooms at the farmhouse until now because I was too swamped with the renovation to think about decoration. We weren’t sure if they were sharing or not and still aren’t. During the day they both want their own rooms, but at bedtime, they say “we aren’t ready”. Right now they want to start with two full beds in one room, knowing that within the year once they get used to the house (and get over the fact that our room is so far away) they’ll separate. Another reason that I haven’t started their rooms is because I want to take my time and enjoy the process with them. Imagine that! And now that we are getting closer to moving in, our kids are talking about their rooms more which is what I needed to get excited. So here is how we are going to do it this time:

Find A Jumping-Off Point We BOTH Love

photo by tessa neustadt | from: a baby girl’s blush and green nursery

Now you don’t always have to have a “Jumping-Off Point” but with kids (and those of us who are ADHD), they can be all over the place and change their minds constantly with the newest shiny thing. I get it. Finding one thing, whether it’s a piece of furniture, a pattern, or a theme and then trying to keep everyone aligned with what we originally all loved I think helps. For Birdie, it was her wallpaper (which you’ll see this week) full of tons of colors for us to pull from. Such a relief. For Charlie, it was his vintage “net” chair, again full of colors and a vibe that gave us both good ideas for his 80s concept. I’m not going to be strict about it or anything, but knowing that they love these two design elements a lot gives me a sense of where we are headed, and then I can show them how to pull colors for the rest of the room to work with what they have chosen. Almost like the now restricted color palette was their idea.

Ask Them Their Opinions And Ideas Away From The Internet

I’ll write about it later this week but because of how ads have taken over every. single. platform, if you put in any theme for a room, even on Pinterest, it’s all product or moving videos. So guess what they want? New stuff and to watch annoying ad videos. So yes, I’m asking them all the questions and getting answers like “glow in the dark”, “boom box tech”, “disco sparkles”, etc. But then I’m going to find the good versions of those ideas and pitch them back to them. Otherwise, they see a lot of garbage and want it.

Curate Before You Show And Tell

photo by tessa neustadt | from: charlie’s big boy room reveal

I’ve made this mistake so many times thinking somehow we are aligned in our likes and dislikes. WE ARE NOT. Their ideas aren’t bad, but I’ve found that naturally, they choose the loudest versions of them, which I don’t think have longevity. When I gave them the whole paint deck to choose colors they somehow both found the colors that hurt my eyes. I’m not a monster and want them to have those colors, but there is a “good” version of every color, even neon green and bright purple (I hope, dear God, I hope). So now I show them curated chips instead of the whole fan deck – especially when we are talking about painting Birdie’s bed. Kids are the opposite of refined – as they should be! And I don’t want them to dislike something in a year as they grow. I think it’s ok to think about longevity and not dive too deep into colors, themes, or characters they may not love in a few years. Finding that balance between fostering and forcing is hard 🙂 Also, I’m not going to show them every option – I found this dope vintage architectural white metal lamp on Etsy the other day and showed Charlie, and he loved it. If I had shown him all the vintage lamps on Etsy he might have liked other ones more, and frankly, until it’s their money I’m only buying things that I know will go in our house well and for a long time. He’s happy and I’m happy.

My Secret Strategy For Family “Treasure Hunting” (Thrifting)

photo by tessa neustadt | from: our boy/girl, 2-twin bed shared kids room

Ok. I know I started this post talking about how I have spoiled them but here’s my rationale for this: Kids don’t like the act of “shopping” without buying and I get that. But thrifting/vintage shopping is my favorite thing to do and I really, really want to do it with them. I tried telling them to bring their own money but understandably they don’t want to use their car wash dough on “old stuff”. So, for my birthday last year, I took Birdie to Aurora to go shopping for her dollhouse (Kinder wasn’t in school yet, Charlie was), offering to buy her antique dollhouse furniture. Once she knew that she was going to be able to walk away with something, she LOVED going in and shopping. It’s just getting them in the door that is hard. In order to cultivate shared interest they need to feel the whole experience and at least have the potential to walk away with something. Brian buys them tickets to professional soccer games and Dodgers games, spoiling them with cotton candy and soda because he wants to have that experience with his kids. He wants them to love sports so he can do that with them. This is the same thing. The whole experience basically serves as a bribe for them to enjoy it. And gosh darn it, it’s working. So yes now I either give them $5 or $10 (depending if we are at a thrift store, garage sale, or antique shop) so they actually have fun. Or if we are talking about their room then they know that if there is a lamp, pillow, or furniture that I also like and is a good deal (which is hard to explain), I’ll buy it for them. I am planning a future dream Paris flea market trip with Birdie – I need her to LOVE antiquing. Charlie was harder because he picked up Brian’s not-so-subtle opinion of antiquing, thinking that it’s a “lady mom” thing. But Brian shifted his outward opinion, I rebranded it as “treasure hunting” and it’s been much more fun ever since. Charlie has found old binoculars, pocket knives, and that cool basketball net chair I was talking about earlier. He’s still not as into it as Birdie is, but he doesn’t mind going. I also give them my phone and tell them to take pictures of everything they love, knowing that we likely won’t buy any of it but it gives me a good idea of what they like. This keeps them VERY engaged and feeling seen/heard and part of the design process.

Buy Used When Possible So They Start Getting Into That Habit And Understanding Waste + Budget

photo by tessa neustadt | from: elliot’s nursery update

We mostly go to antique malls in Oregon because the thrift stores are honestly so overpriced and picked over. Recently we went garage sale-ing, which was SO FUN but as you can imagine they came home with 10 pretty disgusting stuffies each (people were just giving them away but I didn’t want to say “no” because we were having so much fun). Not everything can be “used” (like bedding and towels) but we are shopping vintage and second-hand first for this house and I’m just not really showing them anything new unless we can’t find it vintage. Also, if you try this, lower your expectations. It’s not perfect, they won’t last long shopping and there still might be arguments. But to me, it’s absolutely worth it to share my favorite hobby with my favorite people. Plus we are teaching about how much better it is for the planet, how much further our dollar goes.

Have Them Help DIY Their Own Art, Textiles, & Accessories

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our boy/girl, 2-twin bed shared kids room

I have a whole post planned on what I want to DIY with them because I figure the only way for them to understand how much goes into making things is for them to start making things themselves. Their concept of money is hilarious and understandably they think we can just spend anything on anything. Again, I know this is my fault. So my hope is to engage them in a lot of DIY projects together (upholstering headboards, making art) and obviously that will be SO fun for me. I also totally recognize that most moms don’t have this kind of time, but I can set it aside because it’s still “work” and of course, I’ll be documenting them. So please don’t feel bad if you don’t have time to do these DIYs with your kids.

They’ll Help Paint Used Furniture In Their Bold Colors

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our boy/girl, 2-twin bed shared kids room

They both want super bright bold colors which I think is VERY fun. I was Charlie’s age when I started 4-H and refinished my first piece of furniture. So if they are interested in using crazy bright colors that I don’t know if they’ll love in 5 years then they’ll help paint used pieces of furniture. I’m definitely not paying someone to paint neon dressers. That we will do ourselves. I have no idea if they are ready for the patience and hard work that comes with refinishing, and this plan might totally fail, but I think I can get them to engage enough to help (even if I might finish). I also know I am being super naive here and things aren’t going to always go well. But this is my intention 🙂

Foster Their Creativity, Not My Ego

from: our kids attic playroom update

I let go of the idea that their bedrooms would be in my “Scandinavian shaker farmhouse” concept months ago. Their bedrooms aren’t “mine”, and it’s so exciting to see them engaged in wanting their personality in their room. I really, really want that for them. While I love how our mountain house has a really cohesive concept, they just don’t want it. They want loud, bright, and messy and I get that! I did, too!!! This is why the DIY part of it will be important because even if it doesn’t turn out well, at least there was some learning and bonding along the way. So I’m literally just trying to say “yes” as much as possible and then tweak and supplement where needed.

I’m Keeping My Expectations Low And Flexibility High

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our boy/girl, 2-twin bed shared kids room

This is likely not going to turn out as well as I want it to – not the rooms. The rooms will likely be great, but this whole experiment of heavily involving them won’t be easy. I’m sure there will be some battles. I’m not naive to that. We’ll both have to be flexible and compromise. They understand that this is my job and my job pays for everything in their life, so if they want to buy a $9 Frozen Elsa lamp, they will have to spend their own money on it. But it’s hard! I want them to express themselves creatively without battling with me, and not creating waste. That might sound harsh if you don’t have kids but if you do, you know that between their concept of money (zero. zip.) and what they like (everything branded and tacky), you have to edit them a bit in order to not contribute to waste in money and landfill. That’s why not giving them the option of the internet or new stores so at least it curbs that a bit. For now. But also y’all, this is my first rodeo doing this with them and I’m going to make a million mistakes. My goals go in this order: A. Have fun together, B. Foster their creativity, C. Create rooms full of good ideas that might help you, and D. Subtly teach them the value of hard work, longevity in design and money. I think I can say what you are all thinking real quick: GOOD LUCK, EMILY!!!!

Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House: The Kids’ Room Reveal!!

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