10 Parents Reveal Their Biggest Kid Space Mistakes — And What They Would Do Differently Now
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When it comes to decorating with kids, there’s Instagram — and there’s reality. Children’s rooms can be an opportunity to have a little fun while decorating, but that enthusiasm can sometimes get in the way of practicality. And many a parent has had their perfect interiors scheme foiled by a child with a mind of their own. I polled friends and designers to see if they had any regrets about the decorating they’ve done with their own families, and many of our experiences overlapped. (And, whew, the designers made mistakes, too!)
Here are the decorating mistakes we made with our kids — and what we’ve learned through trial and error.
Mistake #1: Over-decorating for one stage
Whether it’s going whole hog on a very “baby” nursery or investing in too many items sporting the same Disney character, kids grow out of phases much quicker than we expect. My friend Bridget in Raleigh, North Carolina, says, “A local artist painted an incredible mural in my daughter’s room — castle, rainbows, and all. But now that she’s 8, she’s totally over it … and we feel too guilty to repaint.” For my friend Nancy in Austin, Texas, who has three elementary-aged boys, her decorating mistake was investing in built-ins for their rooms that didn’t leave space to accommodate desks when they were old enough to study on their own.
Our design takeaway: Consider adding to a kid’s room piece by piece, so you can adjust as they grow. When it comes to any character or theme they’re obsessed with, start small — say, with a poster of their new favorite soccer player, instead of a whole bedding set — rather than going all-in.
Mistake #2: Not getting kids’ input
While you might not want to indulge every passing fancy, it’s worth it to get the buy-in from your children before designing a room. “My kids definitely had opinions as young as 4 or 5,” says my friend Jill, who has three young kids and lives in Raleigh, NC. “Some of the things that I loved — and thought they would love, too! — were not well-received.” For her older daughter, it was the glittery tulle bed canopy and hot-pink touches they added when they surprised her with her “big girl” room. Jill says, “The canopy was down within a week, and she didn’t think it was cool to have her room decorated in Barbie’s favorite color — I wish I had asked for some input!”
Designer Warté Moore, also of Raleigh, has learned this lesson both with clients and with his own children. He and his daughter recently redesigned her room in a Lily Pulitzer theme. “We had so much fun working together that I wish I’d asked for her opinion when we transitioned her out of her nursery,” he says. “I wish I’d gotten her involved before!” Now, whenever he designs spaces for children, he’s careful to ask what they like. “I think it builds confidence and makes them value their rooms more.”
Our design takeaway: Get the kids in the mix! You don’t have to run every decision by your child, but it’s good to get their opinion on the general direction or color scheme, and you can present them with options for larger purchases to get their buy-in. Just remember that since you’re the one paying for the decor, you get that final decision-making power.
Mistake #3: Using flat paint
Flat paint — also known as matte paint, with a non-reflective finish — has that great, saturated color, but it’s not the best for busy young ones. “The builder used flat paint all over our house, and we have handprints everywhere, so it’s impossible to clean!” says my friend Annie in Raleigh, NC, who has three young kids.
Our design takeaway: For high-traffic areas, like the kitchen, hallways, or kids’ rooms, choose a semi-gloss or glossy paint, which are easy to scrub clean. (You also may just have to live with stick figures on your walls for a few years, in my experience.)
Mistake #4: Choosing the wrong rug
Between markers and dirty feet and nasty stomach bugs, rugs in kids’ rooms take a beating. I’ve been lured by flat-weave rugs — they’re often cheaper than tufted versions, and theoretically you could throw them into the washer — but the times I’ve tried to clean them (both DIY and professionally), they never looked the same. Jill agreed: “There’s nowhere to hide the dirt or spills, and [the rugs] get dirty really fast.” On the other end of the spectrum, my friend Jessica in Madison, New Jersey, tried a shag rug in her daughter’s room, but found it turned brown and matted in the highest-traffic area, in front of the changing table, and never looked good after that.
Our design takeaway: After trying a few different styles over the years, I’m convinced that the best option is a low-pile, patterned rug, which will wear better and hide spots and stains. I like Rugs USA for their wide range of affordable styles, and Revival Rugs for their vintage options in particular. If you’re looking in store, see how they’ve held up to customer traffic, and ask the sales person for their recommendations.
Mistake #5: Investing in light-colored textiles
My biggest nursery splurge was a white, slipcovered glider, and it looked great for about three months. But between late-night feedings and early morning coffee spills, plus an attack or two from a creative toddler, the glider is now, to paraphrase a line from Clueless, more of a Monet — best looked at from afar. “Any sort of white furniture is a disaster,” says Stephanie in Austin, Texas, who has two elementary schoolers. These days, I have kitchen chairs slipcovered in a nice dove gray (now worn brown at the arms and peppered with stains), and white kids’ duvet covers with blotches of slime on them. So this is a mistake I personally keep making … but I hope y’all can learn from it.
Our design takeaway: Darker upholstery, and fabric with a little bit of color variation (like a bouclé, which often has multiple colors woven in), will hide spills better. If you do like lighter colors, consider slipcovered pieces that are easier to wash.
Mistake #6: Choosing the wrong window coverings
One time, when my girls were still young enough to sleep in pack-and-plays, I taped black trash bags to a window to get a room dark enough to guarantee an afternoon nap. That’s how important I think good window coverings are — particularly in summertime, they can help the kids (and you!) eke out a few more minutes of sleep. I recently re-learned this lesson after buying cute new curtains for the girls’ room: I quickly discovered they did very little to block the light, so I added some roller blinds behind them.
Our design takeaway: There are plenty of options for a range of styles — from basic roller blinds (I’ve had luck with BlindsGalore), to Roman shades, to curtains (I like the ones from Target’s Pillowfort line — very light-blocking!). Just look for the words “light blocking” or “blackout” in the description to be sure they’ll work for you.
Mistake #7: Choosing finicky surfaces
“We have a glass-top coffee table that shows all sorts of food smears and fingerprints,” says interior designer Jess Davis in Atlanta, Georgia, who has two elementary-aged kids. “It’s easy to clean, but it’s a pain because you have to clean it so often.” Stone tops don’t do well with art supplies — designer Erin Wheeler in Raleigh told me she keeps a stack of newspaper in her breakfast nook to prevent disasters on her marble-top table with her two young kids.
Our design takeaway: Wood generally holds up and cleans well (I’ve found that most stains eventually wear off my acacia dining table) and can be refinished when your kids are old enough to stop ruining your things. (Let me know when that is.) In the meantime, I’m a big believer in placemats.
Mistake #8: Locking into the wrong organization system
It’s a real trial and error finding methods to organize kids’ clothes and toys in a way that keeps things corralled and looks reasonably attractive. A few lessons learned: “Avoid too many little bins; kids just dump them!” says my friend Patricia in New York City, who has two toddlers. Jess found that bins with lids, and ones that fit too tightly into shelves (like those cubes you find at a bunch of retailers) never worked for her family, because they couldn’t easily see inside. I personally have found that any system that requires too much effort rarely works (specifically, expecting dress-up clothes to be hung on adorable little hangers and thinking that my daughter’s crayons would stay separated from the markers and colored pencils in their art supply cart).
Our design takeaway: Patricia now keeps a wheeled under-bed bin under her coffee table to hold all their Duplos and Megablocks — too heavy to dump, big enough to just throw everything in at cleanup. In general, look for bigger, more open containers to make cleanup easy, and resist creating too many categories or systems for your family to follow.
Mistake #9: Leaving precious tchotchkes around
Carved soapstone elephant you got in India? Toy. Wooden hippo from South Africa? Toy. Russian nesting dolls someone brought back for you? Also a toy. From about when your child can walk until … early elementary school, anyway, all souvenirs are toys. And if they’re within reach, they’ll likely be played with and/or broken soon.
Our design takeaway: If something is truly precious, either display it on a high shelf or put it into storage for a few years. Between kids’ books and artwork, you likely have enough to fill your shelves, anyway.
Mistake #10: Embarking on overly ambitious Pinterest projects
For me, it was the gallery wall. It took three years to finally create … and then I didn’t like it. For my sister Alayna in Washington, D.C., who has a toddler, it was a crocheted wall hanging that took forever to complete, with sort of lumpy results. It’s easy to get lured into DIY projects by social media, but hard to get them just right — especially in the early years where you are still getting a handle on your schedule.
Our design takeaway: Be realistic about how many available hours you have — and it’s OK to enlist a partner or sitter to free up more time, if you truly enjoy crafting and house projects. But if it’s not something you actually love to do, consider outsourcing it: There’s a strong chance you can find a nice version of a DIY item on Etsy, and TaskRabbit is a great resource for folks who can quickly get a few paintings onto the wall.
My main takeaways from talking to friends, family, and designers is that, try as we might, nothing is off-limits for kids — and that everything changes quickly. Being able to be flexible, to accept that things will be broken and stained, and to let it go when something is ruined … those are all just part of parenting. And from what I hear from my friends who are parents of older kids, it’s just breaking us in for the teenage years.
Besides, I’d bet that behind almost every grid-worthy bedroom in that influencer’s house is a whole pile of clutter — or a marked-up wall — just out of frame. Such is this season of life.