Decorating a child's room: a family affair. Parent's perspective

It's time to redecorate your daughter's room. As she talks about her ideal decor, you discover a few differences of opinion. She likes modern; you prefer antiques. She loves purple; you were hoping for soft peach. She thinks waterbeds are ``totally rad;'' you had in mind maybe a four-poster. When it's your child's room but your money and ``our'' house, how can differences in taste and style be resolved to everyone's satisfaction?

One solution is to hire an interior designer, a neutral third party to coordinate color schemes and select furnishings. Another approach is to view the project as a rewarding exercise in family creativity, collaboration, and compromise. For parents, the do-it-yourself approach can help to keep costs down. For pre-teens and teen-agers, it can teach useful lessons about color, scale, harmony, and taste.

Begin by soliciting ideas about what constitutes your son or daughter's ideal decor. Decide how much you can spend on the project, then select a floor covering first. This will set the basic color scheme. Walls come next, followed by upholstery, window treatments, and bedding.

Traipsing from store to store to look at carpeting, wallpaper, and furniture can be time-consuming and challenging at best. All those choices! To simplify the process, many parents narrow the field by doing preliminary scouting alone. This avoids boring or confusing a child. It also allows a parent to select possibilities within an appropriate price range, then take samples home for family members to consider.

In the process of visualizing patterns and colors as they relate to a particular room and house, children can see how designs harmonize or clash. They can observe subtle variations in color. ``How can there be so many greens?'' a son may ask in amazement as he studies carpet samples or paint chips. Children can also note the effects of light on color. The carpet sample that looked so appealing at noon under natural light, for instance, may appear muddy and dark at night under artificial light.

Then there is the matter of scale. A wallpaper pattern that seemed ``just right'' in an 18-inch strip may look too big, too small, too busy, too shiny -- you name it -- when hung on the wall. For a small fee, many wallpaper stores will order a larger sample for a customer -- money well spent to avoid a mistake.

Decorating also tests mathematical skills. The per-yard cost of a daughter's dream carpeting may initially seem within the family budget for this project. But add padding, installation, and tax, then multiply by the number of square yards in the room, and the total might come as an unpleasant surprise. The same holds true for wallpaper rolls and fabric yardage. Finding a less expensive alternative and calculating the savings can give everyone a feeling of triumph and ingenuity.

To avoid unnecessary squabbles over differences in taste and opinion, consider the ground rule one mother established as she and her daughter prepared to redecorate the girl's room: mutual approval. Whatever they selected had to be something they both agreed upon.

The daughter eliminated several of her mother's choices on the grounds that they were either ``too cute'' or ``too adultish,'' as in ``That wallpaper (or fabric or furniture) is too adultish.''

The mother, for her part, vetoed a waterbed but happily said yes to a platform bed. By patiently discussing other likes and dislikes and considering alternatives, the two arrived at agreeable compromises.

What happens when children are old enough to have definite ideas but too young to have great taste? Take heart. Tastes do change and mature. The eight-year-old girl who gravitates toward bold primary colors -- whose carpet-of-choice is something best described as ``Astroturf green'' -- may grow into a 15-year-old who waxes ecstatic over a beautiful muted shade called ``lyric pink.'' Gently, tactfully guiding a child to a more appropriate choice now will save money and disappointment later.

Although painting and papering are best left in parental hands, enlisting children's help in stripping off old paper and washing or spackling walls can add to everyone's feeling that this is a family project.

When the room is finally finished -- carpeting installed, wallpaper and curtains hung, furniture all in place -- be prepared for unexpected rewards. The ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation of a room can give a child a new sense of beauty and order, a renewed sense of ``home'' -- important assets at any stage.

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