For 20 years, Aaron Christensen has created every type of fun and immersive environments for children—from nurseries and bedrooms to retail interiors and play spaces—through his firm Embellishments Studio.
As a self-described "artistic handyman," Christensen has experience with woodworking, metal craft, and decorative painting from his prior work in "visual design world" conceptualizing merchandising displays, and he now puts all of those skills to use in his kid-friendly interiors.
"Kids are kids for a short time," he says. "Create a space that lets them live in that world for as long as they can." Here are his top five tips for doing just that.
1. Think like a kid
Designing rooms for kids and infants means letting your creativity and imagination reign. "Everything’s on the table," he says. "There’s no such thing as over the top to a child." He encourages parents to have fun with brainstorming during the design process and get input directly from the room’s inhabitants.
When he starts a new design project, he interviews the child to learn about their hobbies and favorite things. Designs can then emerge from a favorite color, storybook character, theme, or environment.
"I really try to start from the child’s standpoint," Christensen says. "I try to understand what they’re about now and try to amplify that forward into the future." For a glimpse at his creative process, check out his Pinterest moodboards.
For a nursery design, he takes a slightly different approach, because the room has to speak to the parents. "Expectant parents do a lot of research," he says. "I help them expand on that to make the room special for the child and for themselves." Starting points for the nursery design might be a special interest of the parents, such as travel or sports, or a childhood memory of their own.
2. Personalize the space
As an avid DIY-er, Christensen prefers to go beyond stereotypical kid’s room designs and customize the space to its inhabitants in surprising ways. He doesn’t believe that a child’s room should "match" the rest of the house, nor does it have to fit any prescribed styles or trends.
"For example, if it’s an infant, it doesn’t mean the room has to be sweet and cute," he says, pointing to a nursery design that was executed in bright bold colors because the mother hated mint and pale yellow. Another way to personalize a nursery space is to incorporate a gallery wall of family photos, showing family members past and present.
"I always include something intellectually and artistically engaging," he adds. For instance, for one little girl whose favorite book had an octopus character, he painted a playful octopus tentacle in the room’s hidden corners. For a Seuss-inspired bedroom, Christensen sculpted a large blue hand to hold a reading light over a chair.
"The reason it works is because it’s for the child and for the family. I don’t care if it meets certain design criteria," he says. He also sells his own prints and canvases at the Embellishments online store.
3. Add creative storage
It’s a truism that children, and especially babies, have a lot of stuff. "Storage is underestimated, especially in the nursery," says Christensen. "After the baby shower, stuff is usually spilling out of everywhere."
He recommends outfitting the closet with excellent shelving capacity, beyond just the hanger rod, such as this modular set from Pottery Barn. "Toy storage is important," he says.
Making storage accessible to smaller children via toy boxes, baskets, and bins will allow them to more easily engage with their toys; Christensen like Storagepalooze boxes from The Land of Nod and the selection of containers at Rosenberry Rooms.
He will also craft a display for the child’s things, creating inventive storage and décor simultaneously. For a client that loved science and nature, he customized hexagon-shaped wall shelves for their rock collection, which then became a focal point of the room’s design.
4. Consider safety
"Certain things shouldn’t be included [in the room] until a child knows right from wrong," says Christensen. These can include displays tacked to a wall that might be tempting for a toddler to climb, or displays of smaller trinkets that could be easily grabbed and swallowed.
Christensen ensures that furniture is anchored to the wall and that there’s nothing within easy reach of the crib. "A lot of people want to go crazy with the bedding," he says, "but studies have come out showing that you don’t want anything else in the crib other than the basics."
To lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, this means including just a fitted sheet on a firm mattress, so no pillows, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, blankets, or sheepskins.
5. Design for growth—and play
As children grow up, their rooms need to evolve with them. Christensen says that a child’s room typically goes through two or three incarnations, with the nursery scheme changing once the child enters school, and a subsequent décor change happening at the onset of pre-adolescence.
Christensen’s designs take this maturity into account. A coloring area might become a desk for homework. The pad on a changing table is removed so it is a dresser (like the Avalon Dresser and Topper Set from RH Baby and Child). Some cribs convert to toddler beds with a kit—Christensen likes the furniture options from The Land of Nod.
"I try to design rooms that last," Christensen says. Most importantly, no matter the child’s age, make sure there’s plenty of room for them to just be kids. "A lot of parents will forget that children just need room to play."