Big Ideas for the Little Ones

When it comes to making room for the children in their lives, some homeowners opt for elaborately themed and carefully planned spaces that are anything but kids' stuff.

When Sandra Katsantonis decided to decorate a room in her home for her 6-year-old grandson, she went far beyond buying a cartoon-character bedspread and filling a toy box with a wish list of playthings. Instead, the Orange resident created a cowboy hideaway for her little buckaroo.

Her grandson has gotten plenty of use out of the room during his frequent after-school and weekend visits during the last four years, but Katsantonis says she would have spent the same time and money on the space even if he didn’t visit as frequently.

“I didn’t have a son — I had girls — and I just thought it was a fun thing to do,” she explains. “It gives him a lot of pleasure. I’m thinking of doing something for my granddaughter, too. We just haven’t quite come up with an idea.”

Solon-based interior designer Libby Palmieri hired a mural artist to paint the walls of a recessed area in the child’s room to look like the inside of a rustic bunkhouse. She then filled the space with Western-style furniture and outfitted the twin beds with headboards upholstered in cowhide, buffalo-plaid dust ruffles and bright blue bedspreads with cowboys on them. The finishing touch was a 5-foot-high tepee made of canvas.

Katsantonis is not alone in her desire to indulge the small fry in her life. More high-end homeowners are providing their children and grandchildren with the bed-and-bath amenities once reserved solely for grown-ups. In some cases, the thought and effort put into the décor exceeds what is expended in other areas of the house. Perhaps the best example of the growing importance parents and grandparents place on these spaces is the sheer square footage being devoted to them.

“They’re not satisfied with a 12-by-14 room,” Palmieri says. “They’d like to see their kids have a 14-by-16 or 16-by-18 room that has a sitting area, walk-in closet and good-sized bath.”
Eric Bloom, an interior designer at Warner Interiors in Westlake, says some of his clients go so far as to build homes with a discrete area off each child’s bedroom that can be used as a playroom or study, depending upon the child’s age.

“It’s an extension of the master-suite concept, where parents have a room off their sleeping area that’s their sitting area,” Bloom says.

The requisite attached baths, he adds, are no longer utilitarian housings for a simple vanity, commode and tub. He offers the example of a suburban West Side couple who equipped an 8-by-14 bathroom for their 9-year-old daughter with a built-in vanity, water closet, whirlpool tub and separate shower enclosed by a single sheet of curving glass.

“That was one of the most expensive things we did in the house,” Bloom says. “The piece of glass alone was over $4,000.”

While not every parent or grandparent is so extravagant, Palmieri says some homeowners spring for the standard-sized whirlpool tub manufactured by Jacuzzi. And Bloom adds that many people opt for finishes such as granite and tile.

“Part of it is resale value,” he says. “Anybody who comes into that house is going to expect to find certain things in certain rooms.”

All this, of course, is in addition to the common recreational area many homeowners set aside for the kids in their lives — something that accommodates model-train setups, extensive Lego projects and ballet practices in front of a mirrored wall. Some of Palmieri’s clients are adding an arts-and-crafts room with a utility sink, large table and storage where kids can paint, sculpt or scrapbook without fear of dirtying their surroundings.

“You can start something and not clean it up,” Palmieri adds. “If you’re in your kitchen, you have to put everything away so you can set up for dinner.”

When it comes to decorating these spaces, some parents and grandparents go to delightful extremes. In recent years Palmieri’s projects have included an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed bedroom and a playroom fit for a princess. The former featured giant daisies painted on the walls and a 7-foot-high three-dimensional wooden mushroom that served as an entrance to an adjoining playroom. The latter was created by painting a mural of a castle, building a three-dimensional turret that could be used to stage puppet shows and covering both in tiles painted to look like stone. A curving blue-carpet moat — including a bobbing fabric crocodile ­­— was inlaid in the wall-to-wall grass-green pile to complete the fairy-tale scene.

There are limits, however, to the generosity of even the wealthiest homeowners. Bloom points out that the same Westlake couple who had a lavish bathroom designed for their daughter insisted on more neutral finishes — in this case, light sage and cream — that would withstand years of teenage decorating whims. And although they agreed to a wildly bright color scheme for their daughter’s bedroom, they refused her request to paint the walls hot pink. The palette of hot pink, lime green, navel orange and sunshine yellow was confined to a bedspread, throw pillows and window-seat cushions.

“Children can be very fickle,” Bloom says. “One year they’re into it, and the next year they’re not.”

For that reason, Palmieri says, a relatively small percentage of her clients are willing to invest in elaborate décor for a child’s bedroom, especially if the child is older and may soon dismiss it as too juvenile for his or her tastes. She tells the story of an 8-year-old girl who, after much debate, decided that she wanted a bedroom with a Hawaiian theme. By the time Palmieri had come up with a design plan that featured a headboard made of surfboards and a tropical mural on one wall, the child had changed her mind.

“She nixed it because she thought it might be too immature,” she says.

Themed bathrooms, Palmieri adds, are largely created with towels, shower curtains, and drawer pulls instead of murals and built-in features.    

Both Bloom and Palmieri note that many parents choose not to provide each of their children with a personal computer or laptop. Instead, they install one in a common study area or media room.
“I’ve had a number of clients who’ve said to me, ‘Find me a computer armoire that I can put downstairs in the family room or by the kitchen so I can watch when the kids are online and see what they’re doing,’ ” Bloom says. Palmieri says the same holds true for televisions and landline telephones in some homes — including her own.

“One of the reasons is to try and keep the family together,” she explains. “If you have your own TV, your own computer, your own phone, what’s the point of leaving your room besides to eat?”

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