9 Design Rules for Timeless (Yet Special!) Kids’ Rooms, According to Julia Marcum

updated Jul 13, 2021
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If I could have anyone as my phone-a-friend for advice about decorating my kid’s room, Julia Marcum, of Chris Loves Julia would be high on the list. Marcum’s daughters’ rooms are full of color and pattern, but in a way that feels livable — unlike some of the professionally decorated rooms in design magazines. There’s also a quality to her kid rooms that is dreamy and timeless — they look tailor-made for creating memories.  

Julia and her husband Chris have been DIYing and blogging about it for more than a decade. What started out as a way to document their budget home improvements has turned into the couple’s full-time job. In addition to the blog and their social media accounts, the Marcums produce a YouTube channel, a podcast, and various brand partnerships like a furniture collection with Interior Define and a cabinet door design for Semihandmade. Very early on in their blogging journey, they became parents — Chris and Julia are parents to Greta, 11, Faye, 7, and Polly, 3 — and like the rest of us, that has influenced their home design. 

The family recently moved to North Carolina and are in the early stages of yet another remodel. I got a chance to talk to Julia about how she designs with kids in mind and how her room schemes have evolved over the years.

Here are Marcum’s nine rules for decorating kid spaces:

1. Even kids deserve great design

“Children pick up on good design,” says Marcum. “Kids always appreciate and treat a room better when it’s complete. I think adults are the same — whether we realize it or not — when a space reflects us, is well designed, and feels good, we feel better in it and in turn, it’s easier to keep it clean and organized.” Plus, she says, when parents put time and effort into their kids’ rooms, “It feels like a gift. They are going to feel loved.”

2. Involve the kids — strategically

“I believe in involving kids in design even at a young age,” says Marcum. “My daughter was only 6 when she picked out the wallpaper for her room.” To make sure it was a positive experience, Marcum presented her daughter with choices that “no matter which one she chose, it would be amazing.” Marcum says letting a child choose it helps kids feel proud of themselves and their space, but only if the parent follows through. “You don’t want them to choose something and then you say, ‘Well, what about this?’ Because it doesn’t build confidence to second-guess their choices.”

3. But don’t force your kid to take an interest

“If your child doesn’t show an interest in design, don’t push it on them,” says Marcum. In that case, she says, “You know them, you know what you are going to love, trust your gut. Even if they could care less about the details, they will always appreciate a room that we designed for them.”  

4. Use wallpaper to make a room transportive 

Marcum says she was slow to catch the wallpaper bug, but once she did, it escalated quickly. Her first wallpapering project was in the entry of a previous home where she wallpapered just one wall, which led to wallpapering a few nooks of her daughters’ room. “That was all I needed to say, ‘I’m not afraid, I’m ready to do a whole room,’” laughs Marcum. In her last home, she went all in on wallpaper. “I used a repeated pattern all over our house. I just love the feeling it brings.”

5. Employ repetition to create a cohesive look

“I’m always asking myself, ‘How can I call back?’” says Marcum, who advises to keep repeating design elements cohesive, not repetitive. For example, in her daughter Faye’s room, Marcum opted for a dark botanical on the walls and a planked ceiling, while in Polly’s room, they planked the walls and used botanical paper on the ceiling. The trick to “call backs” is in creating variations in the repeating elements. 

6. Choose midtone colors

“Midtones feel warm, inviting, and comforting. They’re easy on the eyes,” says Marcum. “For a lot of years, I wanted to make paint color darker and darker, but now I think that there’s something beautiful and peaceful about walking into a room painted a more muted color — it just feels livable.” Marcum played with these midtone hues in her last house. “We used red, yellow, blue, green, and purple even — almost every color in the rainbow — but when they’re all the same muted tone, they flow together really well.”

7. Don’t design grown-up only rooms

“I don’t want off-limit rooms or off-limit furniture in my house,” says Marcum. “Growing up, there was no room that we couldn’t use: We were allowed to play anywhere and taught to be respectful of the furniture and the decor.” To achieve this, Marcum says she opts for durable finishes, including metal, wood, and performance fabrics and never puts glass at kid-height. But she says the other piece of the puzzle is to chill out and let the kids live in the space. “Back when they were little, my babies would take every book off the bookshelf. I never moved the books, after they tried it a few times, they were bored of it. I let them get it out of their system.”

8. Skip the theme rooms for design that lasts

“Longevity is always on my mind,” says Marcum. “So, I never use a theme in kids’ rooms. I want the design to last longer than they are going to be obsessed with that thing.” But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t listen to her daughters’ longings. For example, her daughter Faye has always loved “Frozen,” so Marcum used that as a design touchstone when designing her room. The palette for the room featured a color similar to Elsa’s signature blue. Instead of an actual princess bed or “Frozen” bedding, Marcum found a four poster bed that looked like something Elsa or Anna might sleep in. 

9. When in doubt, listen to your house

If you come to a design crossroads, Marcum says look to the house itself: The architecture and the locale can all help you make decisions. “There are so many trends, between Instagram, Pinterest, and magazines, but just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your house,” says Marcum. “Our new house is more formal. It’s a colonial, so a lot of the rustic cottage-y things that I loved in our last house in Idaho won’t translate … Mid-Century Modern doesn’t really work in a colonial either. I can admire and love those styles, but you need to lean into what the house needs.”