Next-Generation Design

| Boston Magazine |

Balking at generic, pastel-hued romper rooms, style-savvy Boston parents are putting creativity (and money) into their children’s living spaces like never before. Just because you’re still in diapers, it seems, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy cutting-edge décor. View the slide shows!


Slideshow: Baby Knows Best
What happens when a two-year-old calls the design shots and price is no object? Nothing short of toddler Xanadu.

Slideshow: The Littlest Loft-Dweller
In this Fort Point Channel condo, the challenge was making a cozy place for baby without losing that wide-open appeal.


Spoiler Alert!
We know it’s tempting, but just because you can give your offspring everything doesn’t mean you should. Why child-development experts now argue it’s the little design touches (and not that $5,000 four-poster bed) that do the most to foster smarter, happier kids.

Cyber Spaces
As kids spend less time outdoors and more time on YouTube, parents find ways to make the computer part of the family—and the décor.

If These Walls Could Talk
No longer content with plain old paint, right-brained parents deck the nursery with more-innovative wall coverings.

What’s the Décor Equivalent of "Localvore"?
Beats us. But we know you’re out there—and all across New England, small manufacturers are turning out the homegrown kids’ clothing, sophisticated furniture, and eco-friendly toys you’re looking for.

A Few of Their Favorite Things
Nine local tastemakers share how they added some personal touches to their own half-pints’ domains.

 

Go on to the next page to see children’s fantasy bedrooms…


Spoiler Alert!
We know it’s tempting, but just because you can give your offspring everything doesn’t mean you should. Why child-development experts now argue it’s the little design touches (and not that $5,000 four-poster bed) that do the most to foster smarter, happier kids.

 

By Terri Trespicio

[sidebar]There’s a reason the Advent School feels like a home, and that’s because it once was. Nestled in Beacon Hill, this brick and brownstone school has been slowly taking over 15–17 Brimmer Street. As apartments were vacated and more students came in, administrators have added a wing here, a floor there.

Designed by Chris Genter and Mimi Love of Boston-based design firm Utile, the revamped school features warm, inviting spaces with plenty of windows and natural light, height-appropriate cubbies and coat hooks, and smart use of storage. Tackboards are filled with children’s artwork, a fireplace turned crawlspace provides a place where kids can hide, and open rooms invite play and exploration. All of which combine to create an environment that stimulates learning, inspires creativity, and nurtures growth.

But what happens when children leave for the day? Or more to the point, how important is it for the home to do what a school setting is designed to do? The answer, in short: very. "There’s a difference worth noting between a school or public area and the home," says Gail Sullivan, principal at Studio G Architects in Jamaica Plain. "And that is that a child will move on from one classroom to another, but will always return to the same house at night," making it even more vital that the home environment be flexible in order to support his or her development. Indeed, a study published in March in the Journal of Social Issues revealed that the effect of the home learning environment on young children was "over and above" what had been previously thought, that it exerts a "greater and independent influence on educational attainment" than a parent’s education or socioeconomic status does. Cornell University professor Lorraine E. Maxwell uses the phrase to describe the influence that physical environment has on kids: She calls it the "third teacher."

In an era when getting your kid into a reputable preschool can feel akin to a Harvard acceptance, the pressure to create a perfect world for little ones starts early. And not coincidentally, in the past few years, there’s been a surge in the number of stores offering children’s lines, from custom-designed cribs to color-coordinated bed linens; 2006 saw a 5 percent increase in spending on children’s furniture, with the top 20 companies racking up sales of more than $10 billion ($6 billion of which was credited to Wal-Mart, Target, and Babies "R" Us alone). Specialty outlets, meanwhile, are banking on parents’ being willing to shell out the cash: At the online retailer PoshTots, $15,000 buys your child a Fantasy Carriage crib, with wheels the size of satellite dishes. After that, she can trade up to the full-blown Fantasy Coach for $47,000, which looks as if it rolled right out of a Disney movie, and is guaranteed to fascinate her for maybe a year or two.

But as the experts will tell you, over-the-top furniture and expensive décor is not necessarily better for kids. There’s no guarantee it will make them smarter and happier—and in fact the only thing it might do is hyperstimulate. "Fulfilling every need is counterproductive," says Joanne Szamreta, a professor in education at Lesley University. "If everything is prescribed, the child can become bored or disengaged. It’s the parent’s job to give kids a leg up, but not all the answers." And that applies not just to homework, but to how you set up a child’s bedroom.

Baby steps
While for most of us the term "design" may be synonymous with "décor" (fabrics, furnishings, window treatments), a look at the theories behind children’s spaces leads us into considerably deeper territory. That’s because you’ve got much more than a color palette to consider: The ideal environment is defined by what it helps kids to do—namely, to play, explore, create, and interact. "The first step is to answer who, what, when, where, and why," says Jan Ham, director of Learning by Design in Massachusetts, a Boston-based children’s-design education program. "If the parents only ask ‘who,’ then they miss part of the equation. When thinking about the child’s surroundings, parents need to find themselves in their child’s world as much as the child finds himself in theirs." Which means creating a space where adults want to spend time, too.

This is most relevant for the smallest children, those age three or younger, who are beginning to form relationships with adults, says Claire Hamilton, associate professor at the UMass School of Education. "Humans learn by imitating behaviors, so for small children, learning comes from watching parents and forming relationships," she says. "If the adults are uncomfortable because everything is scaled down, then the mom, dad, or caregiver may be reluctant to sit and play or read a book to the child. This leaves kids o
n their own at the very moment they need to begin interacting." Hamilton suggests keeping an adult-sized rocker or glider in the room for reading time, or making sure that the bed can easily seat a grownup. She also recommends using point lights that encourage reading (for older eyes), or focusing play in one small area of the room.

Of course, when it comes to kids, the tendency is to overdo it. (We’re looking at you, $800 stroller.) A 1997 study by Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families found that a majority of parents thought more stimulation was better. But in fact, an overly ornate wall, lots of patterns, bright colors, and too much stuff can be very disorienting to someone who is still learning how to read the physical world. "When there’s too much visual stimulation, kids have no way to use that information," says Joanne K. Guilfoil, author of Places and Spaces in Art: A Program of Activities on Architecture and Landscape Design. Add to the mix all the brightly colored toys that come in over the years, and the bedroom can become a visual circus.

"Some rooms are so crowded that it’s disturbing to even go into them," says Ham. "You try to focus the child, but if you’re lost in the visual stuff, how can you expect kids to fare any better? Attention is something you need to learn as a preschooler, to take time with one object." What’s more, a busy room deprives kids of the space to create their own ideas. These days, most designers of children’s rooms start with a neutral color palette, instead of bold hues that can compete for attention. At the Advent School, for instance, Genter and Love used off-white on classroom walls to "make the space lighter and brighter and let the children’s artwork take center stage," says Love.

The organized toddler
Another big developmental goal for children, says Hamilton, is learning how to categorize the world—through language and through objects. Ditching the all-purpose toy box for smaller tilting bins, drawers, and containers with several compartments encourages children to find similarities and differences among their playthings and perfect the skill of sorting: Legos go in the Legos drawer, blocks go in the blocks bin.

Storage also presents an opportunity for kids to learn to create order out of chaos. "When there’s a place for each thing, they know that’s where it goes when playtime is over," says Sullivan. "In this way, the child learns he or she can control her environment." Herding toys into smaller compartments prevents kids from getting overwhelmed and frustrated, which often manifests itself in the child’s dumping a box of random things on the floor and walking away. "Young kids can’t organize their activities without a little help," says Ham. Plus, by rotating what’s visible and usable, you not only keep a kid from being overwhelmed, but you can make old things new again. "New presents come, old ones go away, and just when they’re getting bored, out comes a toy they’d forgotten all about," says Sullivan. "This is one of the greatest secrets to kids’ design."

Bigger, better, more, more
A warning for McMansionites: When it comes to a kid’s playroom or bedroom, there is absolutely such a thing as too big. According to Dan Butin, assistant dean at Cambridge College’s School of Education, children need smaller spaces in order to focus. "Remember the open classrooms of the ’60s? They were a disaster because the children were out of control," he says. "In the past few years, we’ve found that external structure allows internal freedom. Kids need well-defined spaces to be able to sit down and read a book or experiment with objects or play one-on-one."

When Ham designs "dream houses" with schoolchildren, she finds that kids younger than seven invariably prefer smaller spaces. "When they think of an activity, they think of a room—this is the reading room, this is the eating room, this is the hair-brushing room," she says. "They don’t get that you can overlap spaces. So if you want them to draw, give them a drawing nook. If you want them to read, give them a designated space to read."

And then there’s the pleasure of the unexpected nook—a window seat, a niche under a stairwell—that a child can transform. Diane Miller, founder of Miller Design in Medford, designs both commercial and residential spaces for kids, and was happy to discover that a 6-by-8-foot gap between her living room sofa and the wall was enough to constitute a play area for her kids. "Their sightlines are different, so to my daughter, it’s a whole different room," she says.

"Kids are drawn naturally to the least-defined toys—pots and pans, spoons, toilet paper rolls," says Miller. "The same holds true for spatial design." An area that allows for a range of imaginative adventures, she says, is ideal for stimulating creativity. "They’d rather have a platform where they can create their own world around it, a blank slate."

Safety… last?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, there’s also such a thing as an environment that’s too safe. Studies show that kids build cognitive skills through physical activity. A safe ladder or loft—something they have to think about how to navigate—can help develop good motor skills and improve hand-eye coordination. And if you don’t provide a channel for this need, "then they’ll find one," says Miller, "even if it means scaling the bookshelves." One of the most active advocates of the "don’t be too safe" maxim is Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, a weeklong camp in Montara, California, where kids "learn how to build things." In a 2007 lecture at a Technology Entertainment Design program, Tulley argued against what he called the new wave of overprotected kids by spelling out five dangerous things you should let them do, including play with fire. "I do put power tools into the hands of second-graders," he says. "We live in a world with ever more-stringent child-safety regulations. As the boundaries of what we determine as the safety zone grow smaller, we cut off our children from valuable opportunities to learn how to interact with the world around them." Tulley believes letting children explore the real world will help them grow up to be "creative, confident, and in control of their environment."

If letting your eight-year-old tussle with a band saw makes you a bit squeamish, there are variations built on Tulley’s theories that can be put into practice with relatively low risk. The kitchen, for instance, is by definition a very adult-oriented environment, characterized by high countertops, hot stoves, sharp knives—not exactly the place where you’d want to give your kid free range. But experts are finding that by involving your child in these dangers, you teach the art of awareness early on. Including step stools in the design of the kitchen ensures that a child can be part of the household routine, says Miller.

"Kids should be experimenting with materials," adds Ham, who also encourages parents to do arts and crafts with their school-age children using glue guns and scissors. "If it’s tied down, it’s boring." And to foster that adventurous, give-it-a-try attitude, children’s work, play, and sleep spaces should be made of resilient materials—like modular carpet squares instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, and upholstery with a lower natural-fiber content, which is more stainproof—so that nothing is too precious. "Our earliest memories are t
ied to the spaces we make for ourselves," says Ham. "So whatever the design, whatever the color, kids need to be able to make it their own."

Additional reporting by Rachel Levitt.

Go on to the next page to read about computer-friendly decor…



Cyber Spaces
As kids spend less time outdoors and more time on YouTube, parents find ways to make the computer part of the family—and the décor.

By Brittany Jasnoff

Kathy and Brian Hines first tried plunking it down on a small desk in the kitchen, then tucking it away in an armoire in the family room. But they couldn’t find a spot where they and their three children could harmoniously share the computer. It took a renovation to their shingle-style Manchester-by-the-Sea home five years ago to create exactly the right space: a home office situated between the kitchen and the family room.

The couple’s decision to create a tech hub for their family reflects an increasingly common choice in home design. According to a report last fall in the New York Times, almost three-quarters of American youngsters are accessing the Internet not from their rooms, but from a communal area like the kitchen or living room. From a parent’s perspective, building a computer workspace into this kind of high-traffic spot can not only help make the Internet part of a family’s day-to-day life, but also offer the ability to keep a (discreetly) watchful eye on kids’ online activities.

For the Hineses, the ideal solution took the form of a 12-foot U-shaped mahogany desk, installed by Universal Builders of Beverly and located in a bright, bay-windowed nook of the office. Two computers, two chairs, and—for extra comfort—heated stone floors from Tile Showcase completed the setup, which solved two problems at once: It created a large enough area so that two or more family members could comfortably work at the same time, and it allowed Kathy and Brian, who hired Beverly design firm Siemasko + Verbridge for the project, to monitor everyone’s computer use from a respectful distance. "Because the desk is U-shaped, the kids didn’t feel as if I was looking over their shoulder," Kathy says. "But if I’m working on the computer at night and my youngest son is doing his homework next to me, he’s close enough to ask questions."

As part of a recent renovation to their Weston home, Carey and Craig York-Best were also bent on having their computers be out in the open. They opted for a bit more of a dividing line between grownup and kid territory, though, via two desks incorporated into the new family room—a freestanding one for their three young children, and a built-in for Carey. "Their desk is close enough to my own and to the kitchen that with a quick glance from either location, I can tell what they’re doing on the computer," says Carey.

Overseeing the renovation was Boston-based ThereDesign, whose founder, Katy Flammia, has firsthand experience with this type of layout challenge: She and her own daughter share a built-in desk that’s tucked into an entry-area alcove in their Brookline home. "We can pass by and see what’s on, ask questions, and play games with her," she says. "Also, we know exactly when it’s been a bit too much time online for the day."

Putting this kind of extra effort into designing a comfortable, useful computer setup for the whole family can pay out lasting dividends, too. Even though two of the three Hines children have now ventured out of the nest for boarding school, their mother says, they haven’t stopped using the communal desk, often setting up laptops there when they come home. "When they were younger, we didn’t allow them to have computers in their rooms," Kathy says. "Now they don’t like to work in their rooms."

 

Go on to the next page to read about innovative wall coverings…


If These Walls Could Talk
No longer content with plain old paint, right-brained parents deck the nursery with more-innovative wall coverings.

By Donna Garlough

To culture-minded moms and dads, a kid’s room with blank white walls—or worse, one covered in Winnie-the-Pooh wallpaper—is a missed opportunity to cultivate creativity. "Wall décor is an opportunity to bring art into kids’ lives," says Holly Becker, a Hollis, New Hampshire–based design consultant and founder of the blog Decor8. And since, more selfishly, they also "want kids’ rooms to be the more playful versions of the rest of the home," she says, that means using custom artwork and patterns that pop.

Decals
Removable stick-on graphics provide plenty of design flexibility. Popular picks: WallCandy Arts’ range of decals includes themes like farm animals and helicopters ($50 per set, Hip Baby Gear, 80 Washington St., Marblehead, 781-631-5556, hipbabygear.com). For those with edgier taste, Blik wall appliqués feature modern designs like leafy bamboo and Atari-style video-game characters ($35–$40 per set, Vessel, 125 Kingston St., Boston, 617-292-0982, vessel.com).

Kids’ Art
Kids’ drawings can be transformed into permanent installations. Popular picks: Artist Drew Carroll will take any drawing and turn it into a custom painting ($200 and up; drewcarroll@comcast.net). If chalk is your youngster’s preferred medium, let him or her sketch away on WallCandy’s chalkboard decals in square and animal shapes ($50, Hip Baby Gear). Or just grab a can of chalkboard paint and turn an entire wall into a scribble-friendly surface ($12 per quart, Home Depot, 5 Allstate Rd., Dorchester, 617-442-6110, homedepot.com).

Murals
Here in Boston you’ll find some truly talented muralists who can surround your child with art. Popular picks: Belmont-based Holly Johnson’s delightfully cartoonish works run the gamut from penguin-dotted icebergs to a bird-and-blossom-filled cherry tree ($500 and up, Cheeky Monkey Murals, 617-875-3930, cheekymonkeymurals.com). Natick artist Monica Erickson adds color and interest using boisterous stripes and polka dots, rather than a single theme that risks being quickly outgrown ($400 and up, M. Designs, 508-596-7850, monicaericksondesigns.com).

 

Go on to the next page to learn where you can find homegrown kids’ clothing, sophisticated furniture, and eco-friendly toys…


What’s the Décor Equivalent of "Localvore"?
Beats us. But we know you’re out there—and all across New England, small manufacturers are turning out the homegrown kids’ clothing, sophisticated furniture, and eco-friendly toys you’re looking for. By Lisa Zimmermann

Clothes/Accessories

Chulamama, Salem
The name means "cool mom" in Spanish; the inventory includes all the maternity wear, baby clothes, and nursing essentials she needs. 320 Derby St., Salem, 888-424-8526, chulamama.com.

Inside Out, Newport, VT
A collection of colorful, funky outfits that feature reversible pants and coordinating T-shirts and sweatshirts, which are offered in boys’, girls’, and unisex d
esigns. 802-334-8535, insideoutkidsclothes.com.

Kico Kids, Somerville
Luxurious fabrics and casual designs for boys and girls ages two to 12. Available at Lester Harry’s, 115 Newbury St., Boston, 617-927-5400, lesterharrys.com, and other retailers; 617-764-0352, kicokids.com.

Little Packrats, Ayer

Backpacks, totes, and messenger bags tailored for little shoulders and emblazoned with eye-catching graphics. Available at Tadpole, 37 Clarendon St., Boston, 617-778-1788, shoptadpole.com, and other retailers; 978-449-0222, cbhstudio.com.

Pogibabies Handmade, Brockton
Handmade clothing and shoes, created by a one-mom venture and sold in local crafters’ markets and boutiques. 508-583-9690, pogibabies.com.

Tuff Cookie Clothing, North Falmouth
A line of high-quality fleece and other outerwear for infants that’s stocked by boutiques across New England. Available at the Red Wagon, 69 Charles St., Boston, 617-523-9402, theredwagon.com, and other retailers; 508-548-9933, tuffcookie.net.

 

Zutano, Cabot, VT
Whimsical, brightly hued T-shirts, leggings, and other togs for au courant babies. Available at Brussels Sprouts Kids, 855 Washington St., Newton, 617-244-9832, brusselssproutskids.com, and other retailers; 800-287-5139, zutano.com.

Décor

ABC Quilts and Crafts, Hollis, ME

Handmade quilts—in classic patterns like Irish Chain, Log Cabin, and Dresden Plate—that will make any wee one feel comfy in bed. 207-286-4210, abcquiltsandcrafts.com.

Angela Adams, Portland, ME
Hand-tufted wool and cotton rugs with designs inspired by the coast of Maine. Available at Urban Living Studio, 58 Clarendon St., Boston, 617-247-8150, urbanlivingstudio.com, and other retailers; 800-255-9454, angelaadams.com.

Bob’s Your Uncle, Boston
Melamine plate sets, fun calendars, and more. Available at ihcdstore.org and other Web retailers; 617-670-3782, bobsyouruncle.com.

Crispina/Fuchsia, Pittsfield
Wool and cotton blankets, rugs, and accessories made from recycled material. Available at Didriks, 190 Concord Ave., Cambridge, didriks.com, 617-354-5700, and other retailers; 413-637-0075, crispina.com.

Tatutina, Attleboro
Decorative products such as vibrantly handpainted bookends, coat and clothing pegs, wooden letters, and baby dishes. 508-226-5656, tatutina.net.

Vessel, Boston
"Candeloos," LED lights that look like critters and function great as night lights. 125 Kingston St., Boston, 617-292-0982, vessel.com.

Furniture

Allagash Wood Products, Allagash, ME
Pint-sized picnic tables, rocking chairs, tables, and other outdoor furniture. 866-727-3033, allagashwoodproducts.com.

Cedarworks, Rockport, ME
Elaborate (and, if desired, custom-designed) swing sets that use locally grown wood. 207-596-1010, cedarworks.com.

Ducduc, Torrington, CT
Modern, stylish furniture for chic babies. Available at Magic Beans, 312 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-264-2326, mbeans.com, and other retailers; 212-226-1868, ducducnyc.com.

Furnature, Watertown

Custom designs made from organic, nontoxic ingredients. 86 Coolidge Ave., Watertown, 800-326-4895, furnature.com.

Olde English Woods, Goffstown, NH
Handpainted furniture—custom-made or chosen from the company’s collections—to fit any style. 603-647-2511, oldeenglishwoods.com.

Vermont Tubbs, Brandon, VT
Homey wood pieces for youngsters’ bedrooms. Available at Boston Interiors, 31 Boylston St., Brookline, 617-731-6038, bostoninteriors.com, and other retailers; 802-247-3414, vermonttubbs.com.

Toys

Different Drummer Workshop, Solon, ME
Lead-free, handmade wooden toys from a family-owned business. 207-643-2572,
differentdrummertoys.com.

Bunnytail Blankets, Newport, RI
Rugged wraps for outdoorsy nippers, who’ll stay warm and dry underneath Polartec fleece backed by wind- and rain-resistant nylon. 207-725-8865, bunnytailblankets.com.

Fish River Crafts, Fort Kent, ME
Handmade marionettes that go way beyond Pinocchio (dinosaurs, moose). Or, for crafty types, the kits to make them yourself. Available online at toymotion.com; 207-834-3417, fishriver.com.

The Happy Kid Company, Princeton
The Fortamajig, a portable play space that can become a fort, a tunnel, a canopy, or anything else an imaginative tyke dreams up. 800-617-0474, thehappykidcompany.com.

Maple Landmark Woodcraft, Middlebury, VT
Educational children’s toys, games, gifts, and other wooden creations. Available at Boing, 729 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-7800, boingtoys.com, and other retailers; 802-388-0627, maplelandmark.com.

Michael’s Toys, Rutland, VT
Simple and timeless wooden playthings, including rocking horses and a whole fleet of trucks, planes, and trains, all crafted by the shop owner himself. 64 Merchants Row, Rutland, 802-773-3765, michaelstoys.com.

Pear Tree Studio, Harrisville, NH
A whimsical menagerie—elephants, horses, chickens, kangaroos—crafted from recycled sweaters. Available through the New England Artisans Studio, neartisansstudio.com; 603-827-3014, peartreestudio.com.

 

Go on to the next page to learn about the children’s bedrooms of local celebrities…


A Few of Their Favorite Things
Nine local tastemakers share how they added some personal touches to their own half-pints’ domains.

Bill Boehm
Principal at Boehm Architecture; father of Théo, 6, and Rosa, 3
"We built a small addition to our house to create a bedroom for the kids. It has a high, wood-paneled ceiling; built-in window seat; and cork flooring. We purposely kept the decorative scheme neutral to allow for the kids’ own work, which is an ever growing gallery of images that they choose and tape up on the walls. Just outside their room is a light-filled hall that opens to the kitchen. It’s a great in-between space that they can play in (and mess up!) while being in contact with their parents, while not literally underfoot."

Wendy Goldstein Pierce
Founder of PR and marketing firm Goldstein Pierce; mother of Jack, 6, and Elizabeth, 4
"When we moved into our new house, the kids’ rooms were the first things we decided to do—we wanted them to feel settled and comfortable. My son has a space and world theme: dark blue walls covered in maps, a rocket-shaped light fixture with a model of the solar system around it, a comforter printed with a U.S. map. There’s no furniture in his room except for a bookcase, and all his stuff is in a large red bin packed into the closet. My daughter wanted a pink and yellow room, so we found a light fixture that resembles the sun or moon, depending on the time of day. Her white wicker bedroom set is actually mine, from when I was a child."

Fritz Klaetke
Principal of graphic design firm Visual Dialogue; father of Ava Detroit, 6
"Our house is superclean, all white, very modern. The only decoration is in her room: She has black and white flower-patterned shades, vinyl insect decals on the walls, an Ishihara test for colorblindness that spells out her name. She has a collection of Russian nesting dolls as well as stuffed animals. It’s kind of a mix of everything."

Mimi Love
Principal at architecture firm Utile; mother of Sofia, 8, and Nico, 6
"My son wanted a space theme for his room, so we found these great sheets and duvet cover from Boodalee with a rocket ship pattern. We also had these big shelves built for all his Lego collections, along with dressers from Machine Age and totally modular shelving for both the closets. Sofia’s favorite color is light blue, so she has a blue Flor rug that looks like a puzzle—it’s like modular carpet tiles. Her favorite thing is the Garnet Hill curtains and sheets, which are white with blue polka dots."

Betty Riaz
Owner of clothing boutique Stil; mother of Ines, 11
"My daughter’s room is my favorite room in the whole house. It’s huge, at about 700 square feet. There’s an antique dresser, a vintage chaise from France, a gorgeous quilted bed, and a Persian silk carpet that we just brought back from Pakistan. Oh, and a chandelier."

Sara Campbell
Fashion designer, mother of Maggie, 14, and Lucy, 12
"Initially, we used all antiques: a handpainted crib, a picket-fence bookshelf—I simply looked for unique furniture. My daughters have stepped in since then. Maggie still has the antique bed and the matching rocker and chest of drawers, but has made it more of a Pottery Barn style. Lucy stripped the wallpaper and painted the walls Tiffany blue."

Michael Horvath
Exhibit designer, Museum of Science; father of Ava, 2, and Olivia, 6 months
"Ava has an Asian-themed room, with an elaborate mural of an Indian elephant above her bed, while Olivia’s room is inspired by Paris and by travel. And since Olivia’s too small to reach her bed, we made a small set of stairs for her."

Eli Gurock
Co-owner of kids’-gear retailer Magic Beans; father of Audrey, 5, and Mira, 4
"You can theme the room based on a kid’s personality and include them in the process. We knew Audrey loved purples—she’s a bright kid, and color affects her personality, so we hired a local company to do murals all along the walls to create a fun, colorful environment."

Jan Saragoni
Founder of PR/marketing firm Saragoni & Company; mother of Joe, 16, and Anna, 15
"Our house has an old servants’ quarters on the third floor, which we converted into the kids’ hideout. They have a staircase that goes straight down to the kitchen. It’s basically their own little nook. The only thing they let me do was paint the rooms: Joe’s walls are a pale blue; Anna’s are pale yellow. But now they’ve covered them with Sports Illustrated and Teen Vogue magazine covers. Once they go off to college, I imagine that the top floor will turn into Mom’s little hideaway."