House & Home

Kids' zones: Rooms to grow

Posted January 13, 2018 5:14 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 2:06 p.m. EDT


Kid’s spaces — nurseries, third-graders’ bedrooms, playrooms — they all present unique design challenges. Parents want spaces that are cozy and welcoming, soothing but also developmentally stimulating. They’re looking for rooms that kids want to hang out in but also rooms that they themselves want to spend time in. That’s a bit of a balancing act, but fortunately, today’s builders and designers are looking at the spaces in our homes, and how we use them (or don’t use them) in a whole new way.


Pink & blue no longer rule

Long gone are the days of frilly pink for girls and blue check for boys. The new palette for nurseries is neutral. Cotton candy pastels have given way to soft taupe, dove gray, even muted olive green. These offer a subtle canvas for adding pops of color — a sunshine-yellow light fixture, a mint-green painted chest, a bright coral window treatment.

“We’re seeing more sophistication in general, when it comes to kids’ spaces,” says Ryne Page, Design Center Manager for Calatlantic Homes. “The colors and finishes are refined. They don’t scream ‘kids’ room!’ anymore.” Page notes that many new parents are choosing to forego the not-so-elegant changing table for a nice dresser upfitted with a changing-table topper. “That’s a much better piece of furniture,” she adds, “and one that can last to meet the child’s changing needs.”

Page sees a real melding of more grown-up sensibilities with a playful whimsy. “We created a wall arrangement in a nursery in one of our models,” she says, “with really beautiful picture frames that would look good in any room, but the photos inside were of baby animals.”

The natural world is also a big influence on today’s nurseries, with themes ranging from nostalgic woodlands, to arctic winter wonderlands to tropical jungles. Wood finishes and natural textiles like cotton and wool, as well as plenty of natural light, all play a part in this movement to bring the outdoors in.

The Danish way

Another popular home trend that’s made its way into kids’ spaces is the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah). This focus on a sense of warmth and coziness can be seen especially in the soft plush textures of plump poufs for seating and fluffy faux fur rugs for sprawling on the floor. “It’s all about creating a luxurious, welcoming environment,” says CalAtlantic’s Page.

Along these same lines, creating “me space,” secluded, private little niches where kids can feel like a master of their own castle, is a must for bedrooms and playrooms alike. Canopied corner reading nooks, lofted forts, canvas teepees and fanciful tents create safe and cozy zones for little imaginations to run wild. “What’s wonderful now is that these don’t really look like tacky little kiddie things anymore,” laughs Page. “They are made from quality fabrics, in lovely neutral prints. You really can have one in almost any room”

It’s not all just about lounging around though; kids’ rooms need to welcome all kinds of activities too. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort or beauty. Cork floors or the new luxury vinyl plank floors offer warmth and comfort as well as the kind of washability you need for active kids’ spaces. “Armstrong has a line that gives you the look of hardwood,” says Char Kurihara, Corporate VP of Sales, Marketing and Branding for Dan Ryan Builders, “but is much better suited for diapers and crayons.”


Chalkboard paint is another must-have for inviting creative expression in the kids’ zone. But it’s not just the old black paint of yesterday. In keeping with the trend toward more sophisticated design, chalkboard paint can now be custom blended to match just about any color scheme.

Bin-and-cubby storage — with coordinating fabric bins, of course — is a quick, easy, kid-accessible way to corral all those many toys, large and small, behind an elegant façade. And don’t forget, “as kids get older, their toys get smaller,” says Kurihara. “And they need a place to be plugged in.” If you want the room to grow with the child, be sure to include plenty of outlets when planning your youngsters’ hangouts.

Don’t forget, when you’re outfitting your kids’ zones to make them cozy and inviting for grownups too. You’ll need a comfy chair for bedtime reading, and the playroom could use a table and chairs big enough for Mom and Dad to join in the puzzle working.

Be flexible

Possibly the biggest craze in playrooms these days is that they’re not in the playroom at all. “At Dan Ryan, we are rethinking living spaces from the ground up,” says Kurihara. “We want homes that actually function for the way our buyers live.” And of course, that means all kinds of family configurations and lifestyles. Babies, at first close by all the time, become toddlers needing pretty close supervision and youngsters who don’t want to be too far from Mom and Dad and then teens who want all the privacy, but still need some oversight.


Dan Ryan Homes offers one model that brings a little twist to the traditional kitchen-great-room plan. The kitchen is indeed open to the family room, with a huge island in between, but adjoining this space is a room with French doors that is, at once, right in the middle of things, but can also be closed off. Later on, when the kids don’t need a play room any longer, it can easily be converted to an office or hobby room. Upstairs, a loft space makes a perfect area for teens to do homework, play games, watch TV or gather with friends — without being too secluded. “We really want to design spaces that are multifunctional, multigenerational,” says Dan Ryan’s Kurihara, “that are a canvas for our buyers to fill in.”

Rethink every single room in your house. When it comes to your family’s needs, there are no rules about which spaces are off limits to whom. You may think you don’t have the space for a dedicated playroom, but consider alternate uses of sometimes underutilized rooms in the house. “Don’t hesitate to repurpose a room to fit your needs (and keep your sanity),” says CalAtlantic’s Page.