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Tips on Decorating Children`s Rooms — Feathering the Empty Nest

By Sarah Van Arsdale on January 02, 2008

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In recent years, as the economy has boomed, one sector of the interior design industry has enjoyed a remarkable explosion: products for babies and kids to use when decorating children's rooms. We're here to help you figure out how to wade through all that's out there when you're decorating kid's rooms to create a place that's just right for your child or for the child's room of your client.

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Let's say the last of your fledglings just finished his first year at college. At last.

But no sooner have you celebrated the fact that he made it through that first year without getting arrested than he tells you he has no intention of living in the family home once again, but has made his own plans to spend the summer on a kibbutz, at a Habitat for Humanity project in South America, or with his new pals at the Tattoo Shack on Muscle Beach.

Don't sink into despair that your youngest has now grown up. Celebrate again, this time the fact that you've done your job right in making this young person independent and hard-working.

And then, start thinking about how you can use what used to be Junior's room. That's sure to cheer you up.

At first, you may feel overwhelmed by this prospect, but the biggest challenge is simply in how to maintain the room as a space that's still available for Junior, should he deign to stop in for an overnight. And unless you already have a guest room, it also should serve if a more adult guest comes to visit.

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If you can make this room into more of a guest room and less of a kid's room, you'll be encouraging Junior to continue taking flight into the world of adulthood, and you'll be giving your guests a more pleasant place to stay, where they won't have to wake up to a big poster of Limp Bizkit or a pile of old basketball shoes shoved into the corner.

The place to start is with getting rid of some of Junior's belongings. In the moments he is at home before taking off for his adventures, try to snag him in between his pickup Frisbee game and his afternoon volunteering at the shelter, and get him to sort through the stuff that's been collecting in that room. You may find that you have to insist that he keep some of the things he's sure to want later, such as his gold medals, or you may find that he's a pack rat and refuses to throw anything out.

Remember that you can always pack up boxes labeled, simply, "Memorabilia," and tell him he can go through them again in another year or ten. Let him keep some clothes and books in the room, so he won't feel that you've just been counting the minutes until you could make over his room, but make sure any decorative items go in those boxes.

Sheffield Top Tip: Next, a fresh coat of paint on the walls is probably in order, especially if you've followed our advice in the past and allowed him to use his own palette. Something in a pale spring color, such as a sage green or a light lemon, might be nice. Remember, as always, that using a color for a wall can be most effective if you paint an opposing wall in a neutral cream or off-white.

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If Junior had a single bed, this might be the time to replace it with a fold out sofa, futon sofa, or daybed. This will serve two purposes: you'll have a room that will serve as a pleasant sitting room, music room, reading room, or sewing room as well as a guest room, but you won't be encouraging Junior to move back in. Make sure that the room truly works as both a sitting room and a guest room; try this out by folding out the bed and lying in it yourself. In this way, you'll see what you need to add to make it a comfortable bedroom, such as a small table with a lamp and clock on it.

Carefully evaluate the other furniture in the room as well, and get rid of anything that isn't necessary. Do you really need two full-sized dressers in a guest room/sitting room? Do you need to keep all those bookshelves and books, or could you pack up the Goodnight Moon and My First Guide to the Birds to save in case Junior ever blesses you with Juniors of his own? A small bookcase with a few well-chosen novels will make the room homey without making it seem like a kid's bunker.

This doesn't mean you have to rush out and shop for new furniture and decorative items (unless, of course, you want to). Rather, you can use one old, pretty dresser and decorate it with an interesting bowl and a couple of arty candlesticks. An old rocker will serve the room well, and can be attractively draped with a pretty embroidered shawl.

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Think also about the flooring in the room. If the floor is wood that's been battered and beaten over the years, you could either refinish it or paint it with a fresh coat of shiny floor paint, in off-white or grey or steel blue.

Once the floor and walls are done and the furniture is all in, plan out exactly what will be necessary to make the room comfortable for guests, Junior and others. You've already left a few of Junior's books on the shelves, so that the room will look inhabited and guests can leaf through some J.D. Salinger if they can't sleep. You can stow the bed pillows and blankets in the top of the closet, now that there's some room in there.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to consult with Junior about these changes, so he can feel he's part of the makeover. That is, if you can catch him between his tour of duty with the Navy Seals, his filling out applications for medical school, and his next piercing appointment.

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