EVEN THOUGH SHE’S only 18 months old, Willa Kenner has already been immersed in her fair share of high design. Metallic wallpaper adorns her nursery’s ceiling, pillows in natural fabrics are piled high and a surfing photograph by Michael Dweck hangs over the changing table. “I treated her room as any other in my apartment,” said her mother, Ashley Stark Kenner, senior vice president of design at Stark Carpets.
Often an afterthought, the children’s room can easily be the coolest part of the house. And a “well-designed” one doesn’t have to be a Philip Johnson-worthy temple to minimalism. Simply passing on overly sweet graphics for those that are more stimulating—and abandoning old notions that baby blue is for boys and pink is for little girls—can make a big difference.
“Monochrome décor is a big trend,” said Ashlyn Gibson, whose new book “Creative Children’s Spaces” ( Ryland Peters & Small) is out next month. “It is non-gendered, so [it’s] perfect for nurseries and uber-cool for tweens. It forms a strong palette that you can add to with pops of color.” Chelsea Reale, a co-founder of children’s interior design studio Sissy+Marley, is excited that parents are starting to embrace black and white: “It’s playful and chic and always creates a drool-worthy space,” she said.
Other small revolutions include swapping ABC blocks for wares by Danish label Design Letters, which applies a vintage font by Arne Jacobsen to cups and storage containers, or combining investment pieces from the likes of French brand Perludi with whimsically illustrated pillows by Colette Bream.
On a practical level, this approach means that the rooms can remain functional for longer than usual. “People do not want to have a nursery for two years and then have to do it again,” said Ms. Stark Kenner, who’s now expecting a little boy. Read on for more transformative solutions that go beyond child’s play.
The Open-Plan Storage Plan
Beyond ‘Blue for Boys’
In the book “Creative Children’s Spaces,” by Ashlyn Gibson, out next month, simple white walls provide a neutral backdrop for one boy’s sprightly collection of green objects, a refreshing palette that defies conventions. “The move away from the gender stereotypes of blue for boys and pink for girls opens up a whole world of design,” said Ms. Gibson, who suggested that parents pass on what she describes as “limiting” gender assignments in favor of “kaleidoscopic color and pattern.”
Designers across the board agree. “We’re finding our clients want more sophisticated designs for their children’s rooms, something that they can grow into,” said San Francisco-based interior designer Steven Volpe. “Color palettes are more neutral whites and grays, or toned-down shades of gray-blue or gray-lavender.” Sasso Sidi Said, founder of children’s design boutique Dodo Les Bobos, said combinations of mustard and gray are proving quite popular as are older favorite colors. Vieux rose, she said, “is soft but not your classic baby pink.”
Go Bold, Even For the Not-So-Old
The wall-size jungle scene pictured here “gives a room a modern edge,” and is “more likely to keep your children enchanted,” according to Ms. Gibson. Charming illustrations cover storage bins and pillows as well, and paired with the colorful rugs, clearly announce that this is no ordinary kid’s room. For the slightly less adventurous, the industrial and interior designers of New York-based Material Lust create accent pieces with bold graphics. “We love using Rruka textiles in children’s rooms for pillows and throws at the end of the bed,” said firm co-founder Lauren Larson. “They’re incredible robotic patterns that inject high design in the simplest form.” Ms. Larson is also partial to works by Kinder Modern, for whom she and her partner recently designed a line of black-and-white children’s furniture based on Egyptian hieroglyphics; Kinder Modern’s new line of modular carpeting for kids rooms, which features interlocking geometric shapes in an array of vibrant colors, is another favorite. Don’t forget the walls, though. “We have been seeing a lot of fun wallpaper being used,” said Sissy+Marley’s Chelsea Reale. “It’s a commitment, but it finishes a room and makes a great statement.”
It’s never too early to show kids how to be a good host. The Florida-based studio Tracery Interiors designed a special loft in the living room of a Cinnamon Shore, Texas, beach house as a retreat for children. But rather than install standard bunk beds, principal Paige Sumblin Schnell and the architects of Dungan Nequette decided to tuck the beds into the roof line of the house. “It creates ‘train car’ spaces for children to gather and play,” said Ms. Schnell. “Kids like something that feels like a tiny playroom that they can crawl into.” The bright aquas and greens are also gender-neutral for friends and cousins of both boys and girls.
For those with limited space, a bunk bed can create a similar effect. Dodo Les Bobos’s Ms. Sidi Said recommends the Perludi Flora in the Sky bunk bed. “It can be used as a loft bed, meaning the lower part can be used for [something] other than sleeping, like a play area where you can throw pillows and make it a very cozy space to read.”