Interiors... Sweet Dreamers
Decorating a child's bedroom has come along way from cartoon bed linen
I will never forget the childhood excitement of getting a Tom and Jerry pillowcase and then, two years later, a matching lampshade. In the w1970s, that was about the height of it. The notion of themed children's bedrooms hadn't really taken off.
Apart from the Tom and Jerry memorabilia (I've still got these treasured possessions), we had bunks of the kind that you use to stack children, one on top of the other, and "removable" wall stickers that fell off within days of being put up. Otherwise the decoration was pretty minimal. If you wanted a den, you made it with blankets.
Now, parents spend serious money on children's bedrooms. "Throughout the leanest of times it was a type of business that never tailed off," says the interior designer Collette Ward. The challenge is to decorate a bedroom for a seven-year-old in a way that will still be acceptable to her at 13.
"When I'm designing a room for a young child I don't advise too much consultation with the child herself. I will talk to her and find out one or two things that she really likes - dogs, for example, or the colour purple - and make those things a key element of the design, but I don't think it's a good idea for a parent to ask for a child's approval every step of the way."
Young children, she thinks, aren't able to visualise a finished room in the way an adult can. If a parent tries to follow the child's lead on everything, it can result in a design that is disappointing to everyone.
Ward recommends that the expensive aspects of the room - like the floor and the curtains - are kept as simple as possible. "Children's colour preferences change. If I use a curtain with a coloured stripe running through it, I can pull out that colour to use in different aspects of the design over time, without having to change the curtains."
Wallpaper is a cheaper way of bringing detail into the rooms. "It is so much easier to remove than it used to be. Previous generations thought that wallpaper was for a lifetime, but that's because they had to take it down with a chisel."
Children's wallpaper can be very heavily gendered but, as Ward says: "There are girls that don't want pink fairies on their walls and boys that don't want tractor tyres." Dogs in Clogs wallpaper (€50 per roll) is an example of a design that's engaging, gender-neutral, and also appeals to adults. "I've used it in cloak rooms too," she says.
The pattern also comes in a cotton print that could be used to make cushions or upholster a little chair, but Ward's own designs tend to combine products from a few different collections. "I like to avoid the 'Catalogue Factor'," she says. "There's nothing as boring as a room where everything comes from the same shop."
Once the basics are in place, a child's enthusiasm of the moment can be catered for with themed bed linen (around €13 for a duvet set) or a bright rug (around €20) from Ikea. "Keep the themed items to things that can be changed easily," she advises. "Otherwise you'll be stuck with a frozen bedroom that's going to haunt you for years."
The bed is one of the major purchases in a child's room. Children's beds can, of course, be bought very cheaply but Geraldine Flanagan of the Galway-based children's furniture shop, Little Dreamers, feels that it is important to get one that will last.
"Children's beds get used as trampolines and for pillow fights and X-Factor performances," she says. "You need something that's going to stand up to that kind of treatment."
The Lifetime Four-in-One bed, which comes from Denmark, begins life as a low level four-poster bed for a toddler, converts to a child's bed, and can be raised up to a midi-bed with room for a beanbag den underneath it, or even a desk. It then changes back to a standard single bed.
At €1,049, this is a big outlay, but it comes with all the parts needed to make the various conversions over time. "It will see them out until they fly the nest," says Flanagan. Just don't lose the spare parts.
Beds at Little Dreamers range from a basic single (€300) to the Uncle Tom's Cabin bed (€1,400) which turns into a play hut. They also have themed Race Car beds (€395). "We never had a girl interested in that one, but the boys love it."
Most parents choose a white or natural wood finish that sits easily with other furniture. Flanagan also advises that you put your money in the mattress. "I hate to see people economising on a mattress for a growing child - it's important for their posture."
If you are introducing a bunk bed for an older child, make sure to buy a mattress with a low profile so that you don't lose the benefit of the guard-rail.
The Danish company Lifetime also make a children's desk (€298) which converts to adult size but there are others, including the Falko desk (€525) that can be adjusted from toddler height to a full adult-sized study desk. This, like the bed, could be a wise investment.
The economy being what it is, many little full-grown chicks can't afford to fly the nest. Obviously, we love having them around. But it's even better if they can still use the bed and the desk that they had since they were six.