The problem with children? They grow up! And that makes it tricky to design rooms for the little raga-muffins — as my clients, Laura and Michael, recently discovered.

They live in a grand, historical home with their 1-year-old daughter, Lauren. The place is beautiful, with gorgeous stained-glass windows, ornate molded ceilings and large, stately rooms. All except the nursery, which is the most boring space in the entire house. Laura and Michael wanted to transform it into a whimsical bedroom for their little girl.

Like many parents, they couldn’t figure out how to create a room that would delight Lauren as a child and continue to suit and inspire her as she grew up. So I summoned my inner child and got ready to create a room that would evolve with Lauren.

The large space had nice hard-wood flooring, a built-in closet and an en suite bathroom, and it was now up to me to inject it with character and style. A mistake people often make when designing children’s rooms is choosing classic toddler motifs, like bunnies or trains, that the children will soon outgrow.


I began by painting Lauren’s room a soft, neutral ivory. The drapery fabric, a rich paisley print in pink, green, linen and white, became my inspiration for the space, and my jumping-off point for the room’s color palette. If you want longevity in a child’s room, look to fabrics that are traditionally “adult,” but in colors that create a playful, fanciful mood.

Next, I mapped out three areas in the room that all flow together — a sleeping area, a storage area and a play area.

In the sleeping area, instead of a crib that Lauren would soon outgrow, I placed a double bed with a custom-designed, button-tufted headboard flanked by two matching, white bedside tables. I view pieces like dressers and bookcases as investment pieces that will grow with a child, so they should be selected accordingly. These key items should also provide useful storage.

For the bedding, I selected gingham and polka-dot linens and added lots of colorful pillows. The paisley-patterned drapes went up on the windows flanking the bed, while blinds were installed for light control and privacy.

Along one wall near the bed, I created a study area by installing a freestanding bookcase/desk combination. This was built to adult scale so Lauren would be able to use it well into her teenage years.


Along the wall opposite the bed, I created a cozy little play area for Lauren and her friends. I used a soft, whimsical wallpaper, which I also used to adorn the back of the bookshelves, and added a settee at the foot of the bed in a bright pink and white polka-dot fabric. The only “kiddie”-sized furniture pieces in the room were the play area’s miniature table and chairs, scaled-down versions of traditional furniture. Because these pieces are less of a commitment, they can easily be replaced as the child grows.

To top it all off, I wanted a ceiling that was truly magical.

Because I was working in a traditional home, it was only natural to reference some of its characteristics (like the molded ceilings) in Lauren’s room. We applied to the ceiling a custom wallpaper displaying a passage from “Alice in Wonderland” in large, concentric circles around a central medallion, from which we hung a playful chandelier.

Of course, I couldn’t neglect the floor. Kids spend a lot of time playing on the ground, especially as toddlers, so it’s important to give them a soft, durable surface. In this case, I thought a silk/wool shag rug was the perfect touch.

After adding a host of accents and accessories, the room was complete. It took a bit of childlike dreaming and a lot of adult hard work, but I managed to create a bedroom for Lauren that will inspire her now — and, hopefully, for years to come.


Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All.”