An all-adult brainstorming session is what the parents of a 3-year-old expected to take place when they hired Judson Beaumont to help them create a whimsical, one-of-a-kind bedroom for their daughter. Brimming with ideas of their own, they were bewildered when Beaumont got down on his knees and asked the little girl's opinion. She said she liked bumblebees, so Beaumont built her a bed with a hive-shaped headboard complete with honeycomb cubbies.
It's more often the case, though, that moms - and to a lesser extent, dads - make the decorating decisions for young kids' bedrooms. On the whole, sales of kids' room décor are down due to the recession. But in any economic climate, "There's an elite group that wants their children to have these ultimate fantasy bedrooms," says Beaumont, whose ironically named Vancouver-based company, Straight Line Designs, sells surreal pieces ranging from $1,500 for an askew accent table to $9,000 for a seasick-looking dresser that seems to wobble and sway on stubby legs.
Home-makeover shows featuring highly conceptual children's bedrooms probably catalyze more than a few spending sprees, but Beaumont says safety concerns also come into play. Less comfortable allowing children to roam outdoors, parents transform their rooms into imagination stations.
But the economy is forcing some changes in children's bedroom design.
"It used to be the sky's the limit, especially with nurseries, because people were having babies later in life. They had the money, and they just wanted to do it up because they'd waited so long," says Beth Keim, whose Charlotte, N.C.-based interior design firm, Lucy & Co., specializes in children's bedrooms and playrooms. "Now, people aren't doing full-blown rooms anymore. They buy key pieces and leave out the finishing touches."
Elaborate, over-the-top designs are out of reach for many parents, but even in a pinched economy, it seems the last thing they want is a room that looks cheap. In fact, the latest trends in children's décor are sophisticated color palettes, understated patterns and sumptuous fabrics, which can be expensive up front but cost-effective over the long run. Ralph Lauren Home's line of children's textiles, for example, includes textures and patterns that would look right at home on a college-bound senior's bed - herringbone, plaid, tartan, stripes, paisley, toile. Likewise, PoshTots, Glen Allen, Va., sells children's bedding lines such as Cambridge Prep, which features a subdued chocolate-brown and cream-colored plaid pattern and optional decorative pillows with leather buttons and toggle closures.
The advantage of such timeless styles is that they need not be switched out as a child matures, unlike pastel pinks and blues or garish primary colors, Keim says.
"I haven't done a primary-colored room in a long time," she says. "I don't know if it's because of input from moms and dads or if kids are getting more sophisticated because of what they see in magazines, but it's good because the newer colors have more staying power."
Disney icons aside, even bedroom furnishings featuring licensed characters tend to be less cartoonish and more subdued. Through a license agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Trend Lab - a Burnsville, Minn.-based nursery décor manufacturer - is launching a line of crib bedding this fall starring Theodor Geisel's oddball characters, but they're curiously behind the scenes, peeking out from between stripes.
"You don't look at the design and say, 'Oh! It's Dr. Seuss!' It's not overly character-driven," says Audra Simmering, vice president of business development, Trend Lab. "We're offering a trendier, modern style that pulls in just a little bit of the character elements."
Reflecting the latest color trends, the crib bedding is predominantly chocolate brown, brick red and sage green - not the sorts of hues you'd associate with typical Seuss characters such as the blue-haired twins Thing One and Thing Two.
"There's a combination of class and whimsy," Simmering says. "But I think what's really great about it is it's not what people expect."
A taste for the unexpected is what keeps Beaumont in business. He has custom-built beds shaped like castles and trains emerging from tunnels, but he tends to push his accent pieces, which appeal to a broader range of ages, and discourages parents from getting too carried away with themes.
A fairyland or fire station theme might be enthralling for a year or so, "Then the child gets sick of it or outgrows it, and you have to redo the whole room," he says. Because little kids fixate on things like dinosaurs and princesses for relatively short periods, and older kids tend to be fickle, Keim also avoids overly themed room designs.
"You want the room to reflect the kid's personality," she says, "but you don't want to overdo it. If a kid likes skateboarding, I might use a couple of skateboards as shelves, but I don't go too far with it. Kids are into what they like, but what they like changes from year to year."
Beaumont explains: "The pieces I make are meant to be kept in the family as heirlooms that pass down from one kid to another." He understands parents want to surround their children with special things, but spending a lot of money on babies' and toddlers' furniture likely will prove to be wasteful, he says. Parents should "keep in mind that kids' furniture is disposable furniture. Kids put stickers all over it and mark it all up with their crayons. You don't want to spend a fortune on something you'll be hauling out to the trash two years later."
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