clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pro tips for designing kids’ rooms

There’s a little something for everybody here

A large red bed holds a mattress covered in purple bedsheets with four pillows. There are two side table lamps, one on each sidle of the bed. A seven-bulb white and brass light fixture hangs from above.
A kid’s room that broke the internet: People drooled (and re-’grammed by the dozen) when T Magazine posted this Kelly Wearstler room to its Instagram account recently. The home Wearstler designed for a family in New York City is included in her new book, Evocative Style, out now from Rizzoli.
Evocative Style by Kelly Wearstler

Welcome! This week I’m diving into a topic that some people will find highly relevant, and some people may not care about at all: kids’ rooms. Don’t close that tab quite yet, though. If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you know I don’t go in for cutesy, so I surmise there’s a little something for everybody here. TL;DR: A dash of red never hurt no one! —Kelsey


Longtime design writer-editor Jill Singer is the co-founder of Sight Unseen—which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week!—and mom to two kids, an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. She’s one of my aforementioned sages, and we habitually debate over text about vintage furniture, statement earrings, and karaoke songs. (She has impeccable taste in all three.)

I’ve been mulling what our own baby’s room will look like for a few months now, and am only just starting to make some decisions. It’s a fun but challenging design brief, navigating between my own exacting aesthetic and something that will be playful enough for a tyke. As part of my research, I quizzed Jill about her approach:

Kelsey Keith: How do you reconcile your own highly specific and well-honed taste when it comes to rooms that have practical needs—like a kids’ room?
Jill Singer: The key for me was picking larger furniture that is well-made but not necessarily “cool”—allowing the kids’ personalities and my own design sensibility to come through in other layers (art, rugs, textiles). Both of my kids have extremely sturdy beds from Room & Board. Kids are gonna jump on their beds, so I needed something really well-crafted. Some pieces I’ve had custom-made and some pieces are hand-me-downs, things that I’d outgrown, like an Established & Sons Fold lamp that was a wedding present for my husband and me.

That’s a good rule of thumb in general: Don’t exclusively shop in kids’ departments. Instead, look for pieces that have a playful aesthetic. Oh and, as in any room, a mix of vintage and new really makes the space.

In the apartments you’ve lived in as a family in New York, what did you prioritize with such limited space?
In their current incarnations, both of my kids’ rooms get a lot of personality from rugs and sheets—an abstract rug and striped duvet for my son’s room, and a Swedish-inspired flatweave rug and lemon-patterned sheet set for my daughter. Art is probably the next most important element for both of them.

Any art resources you favor?
Oh my god, there are so many more resources now than there were eight years ago [when Jill’s first child was born]. I’m jealous! The Poster Club is great for super-colorful geometric or abstract prints. I’ve always loved Benjamin Critton’s DOTS series for Picture Room for kids. And don’t forget, framing is a huge piece of the puzzle! I had a New York taxi photograph that was kind of sad and foreboding in its original black frame, but I reframed it in taxicab yellow and it’s so cute now! My favorite local source for colored frames is Imagic.

A single-person bed is covered in red-and-white striped bedsheets, facing a corner of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a cityscape. A red guitar sits on one side and, on the other, a white desk.
Jill Singer’s son’s room sports a rug from West Elm (no longer available, though she also recommends this one), a red Componobili three-drawer cabinet from Kartell, and and an Omkstak desk chair.

Let’s talk about your color scheme. I love all the red, which I think is pretty underused for kids.
I didn’t set out to design my son’s room with a red color scheme, although I was definitely into a less traditionally gender-specific idea of a nursery, and I hate anything too cutesy. When he was born, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in the East Village, and I knew that he would share our room for at least a few months. So I didn’t have a ton of flexibility: There was an Ikea dresser in one corner of our room and a Stokke crib in the other. To designate that side of the room as specifically his, I found this ABCs poster with a light-touch graphic sensibility and then went to Sheetworld (which, FYI, has a wildly extensive selection of crib sheets, some cuter than others) and found a great red pin-dot pattern. I ended up loving the red so much that when we finally moved to a two-bedroom, I decorated his whole room with that in mind, mixed with lots of white and natural wood so as not to be too insanely “themed.” It’s also a very specific red: tomato-y with overtones of Italian design (like the Componibili!), rather than the brick red you see in a lot of big-box store kids’ sections. It’s a harder red to find, but worth it.

Now that they are a bit older, do your children pick out their own stuff?
Sometimes! We recently moved again, to a three-bedroom apartment, and now both of them have their own rooms. My son didn’t need too much in the way of furniture, but I let him choose his Superman clock, and I took him to Bi-Rite to pick out a vintage lamp for his bedside table. His desk, the Omkstak chair, and Memphis desk light were all my picks, but I ran them by him before buying anything. He has a pretty great aesthetic, so if he ever vetoes something, I don’t try to force it on him. His taste is his own! My daughter is only 4 and still worships everything I do, so she’s easy.

What are your children’s favorite pieces of furniture?
Ironically, nothing that belongs to them! They love this iridescent acrylic stool that was a gift from my friends at Objects of Common Interest; my daughter uses it to play shop. We also have a nubby swivel armchair from CB2. Kids love anything that has the potential to make them dizzy or nauseated.

What do you think is the most useful piece of furniture for a baby’s room?
A bookshelf! I see a lot of nurseries online that have these extremely quaint display shelves that hold, max, six books each. But if you really want to grow a reader, you have to prepare for an absolute avalanche of books.

And the most overrated?
I didn’t have a glider with either kid. My back might have suffered for it, but I also saved about $1,000.

You can follow Jill on Instagram at @jillsinger. Discover what else is top of mind for her and fellow Sight Unseen founder Monica Khemsurov in their weekly Saturday Selects column.

Shopping picks

From left to right: a wooden bed frame in a kid’s room, a wooden desk with a bright green chair and bright yellow desk lamp.
Another great room for kids, from a home tour we ran this month on Curbed. At left, the family added a custom-built house canopy by Mark Jupiter to a DucDuc Alex platform bed. At right, another colorful vintage desk chair paired with an equally bright task lamp and built-in desk.
From left to right: a blue tasseled rug, a pile of light-colored blankets on top of a stool, bedsheets with a chalk print.
Left: Lorena Canals makes about a million different styles of washable cotton rugs that are perfect for kids (it’s never too early to get into terrazzo!). This 4.5-by-6.5-foot sapphire blue one is currently on sale for $163. Middle: I imagine babies find Willaby’s four layers of cotton gauze just as cozy as I do, whether in blankie form, or sheet sets for toddler and twin beds. Right: On a similar note, I’d like Kip & Co printed sheets for my own bed. A dense floral bedsheet ($35 for a crib, $75 for twin-size) is hard to beat, as is this abstract chalkboard print duvet ($135 for a twin).
From left to right: a white bunk bed with the bottom shaped like a truck, a large apple wall print, a sheepskin rug with a baby laying on top of it.
Left: The F bunk bed from Rafa Kids (1,810 euros)—recommended by Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange—accommodates a toddler bed, twin bed, desk, or play space underneath. Middle: Enzo Mari’s silkscreened fruit print series from 1963 is a sweet pick for a child (apple red, to boot!). Danese Milano still produces them ($310), or you can buy vintage. Right: Made in New Zealand, the EcoWool sheepskin baby rug ($101) comes in natural long-length wool or shorn short wool and is machine washable.
From left to right: Wooden toys shaped like trees, a three-compartment wooden bench.
Left: For wooden toys that also look good on display, I love the workshop Raduga Grez, which is based in Russia. Check out the mountain stacker ($36), forest play set ($46), or sun stacker ($30). Right: For well-constructed and American-manufactured, look no further than trusty Room & Board. Their white oak Ashby cubby bench ($499) would work wonders in a room designed for short people.

Shameless plug

Hopefully you’re well versed in Curbed’s home tours column by now (if not… bookmark it and check back every Monday for a new one!). We recently added a companion “shop this home” story for each of our House Calls: Get the scoop on where to buy, for example, a six-seat modern dining table for under $700—as featured in a renovated Mar Vista bungalow on the west side of Los Angeles.

Sign up to get Editor’s Notes directly in your inbox before everyone else. Every other week, you’ll hear from Curbed Editor-in-Chief Kelsey Keith as she shares her latest observations, intel, advice, and shopping recommendations.