Maximising space for small kids in small rooms

I didn’t think we’d get to this point so fast – I mean, we just moved in 2 months ago. We threw out or gave away huge amounts of baby stuff, kids clothes and toys before leaving for Singapore. I bought a reasonable amount of storage furniture for the girls’ room. And yet, here we are, one birthday and one Christmas later, and their “stuff” is everywhere. The neatly arranged shelves and baskets are overflowing, the Lego Friends girls have lost their heads, and quite possibly, a bomb containing miscellaneous hair accessories has exploded in their bedroom.

Not to be defeated, we have been attempting to restore order and thought I’d share some thoughts on planning and decorating small bedrooms for children. Small flats and compact rooms are the norm for land-scarce Singapore. Our two girls (4,6) currently share a bedroom which is less than 2.8×3.0m, including the built-in wardrobe.

This is what we started with:

kids_room_blank

It’s hard to photograph small rooms! Being on the ground floor, the rooms are also a little dark as we are slightly overshadowed by surrounding buildings, the glass is tinted for privacy and foliage provides additional screening. But on the upside, our flat is significantly cooler as it doesn’t get much direct sunlight. Which is a huge plus in Singapore!

And so begins my mission to maximise every usable square inch of floor (or wall!) space! Regardless of age, here are some of my design ambitions for kids’ rooms:

Create secret hideaways

The kids have always loved having cosy secret spaces in their rooms. They used to have a great den underneath Miss Chu’s midsleeper bed but their current room doesn’t allow for much. However – standing the bunk bed alongside the window has created a small sliver of partially-enclosed space which they love to curl up in, and it makes good use of the often redundant “Singapore bay-window” – a common feature in local apartments due to a regulatory loophole which allows developers to sell buyers this “extra square footage” without being taxed on them!

singapore_bay_window_before_after

Having committed the faux-pas of putting a bunk bed against the only window (in order to fit the rest of the furniture in) – we inadvertently created a rather cosy nook for the girls behind.

I’ve lined it with gym mats and cushions and it makes for a peaceful, naturally-lit space for reading, feeding baby dolls, card games, napping and daydreaming!

family_photos_gallery

A little photo-gallery space at the back makes a fun talking point for the girls. The plan is to update these every so often but you know what life’s like!

Create spaces which encourage reading

When Miss Chu was born, one of my paediatrician friends advised me to start reading to her right from her earliest days, and added “you can never have too many books!” There’s plenty of research to back this up, but suffice to say I’m absolutely on-board with the the idea of kids enjoying books and always try and arrange their room (and most of the rest of the house!) to suit.

bedside_library

The bunk-bed we chose has integrated shelving on one side, which has been great for allowing each child to have their own mini library in bed as well as being accessible from the hideaway space behind. We’ve also added a clip-on reading light for each of them – otherwise it’ll be torches-under-the-blanket someday!

For younger kids, front-facing book displays are important, and I’ve put up one picture rail to hold a rotating assortment. We used to have more front-facing shelves and racks in Edinburgh (we used IKEA’s Bekvam spice racks but books did tend to topple forward if carelessly stacked) but we are now down to one book-box in the living room for Little Miss to riffle through.

reading_tree_wall_sticker

IKEA Mosslanda picture rails – the ubiquitous front-facing book shelf.

Create spaces which are easy to organise

I sold our IKEA Trofast storage before leaving Edinburgh…and ended up buying it again when we got here. It’s not the most stylish piece of furniture by a long shot, but I haven’t found a reasonable alternative which strikes that balance between hiding things away and keeping them just visible enough for kids to know what goes where. The drawers or shelf options make the units quite flexible; and my kids love climbing the tiered version (which we used to use as stairs for Miss Chu’s old mid-sleeper bed instead of the ladder) – so we got another one.

kids_room_play

IKEA’s Trofast is great for storage, low tabletops and steps to make more use of a room’s height.

I’ve also recently discovered wire netting – generally used in retail display but also brilliant for reducing clutter by keeping a plethora of odds and sods (such as those aforementioned hair accessories) organized and visible. I found a large piece secondhand online before discovering a wee shop down the road which sells this stuff (for readers in Singapore – this place supplies retailers and has a much bigger range than Daiso)! So I bought a small freestanding one, which currently holds our pretend-play kitchenware but could easily be used in various other set-ups.

Trofast_wire_netting

Clutter is inevitable…but it can be organised clutter! Wire netting is my new best friend. Wanted to spray it and add fairy lights but who’s got time?!

 Create spaces which you can easily change

I’m terribly non-committal when it comes to interiors. I think it’s partly because up until now, I’ve moved house every few years and always felt the need to keep things reasonably neutral for the next buyer. But with growing children, their ever-changing requirements gives me another reason to try and keep things flexible. So I tend to avoid built-ins in favour of pieces I can move around. I often buy IKEA or second-hand stuff, and will sell them on again when they no longer suit our needs. I rarely colour the walls, preferring to leave them white and layer on the colour with accessories which can be changed and inexpensively refreshed. (White also helps brighten and enlarge space visually if you’ve got small rooms!)

small_kids_room

Wallstickers are an easy option for non-permanent decor. Wire-netting offers a super compact open-storage system which can be styled to match any room.

bedroom_bunting

Coloured accessories and bedlinen can brighten a neutral background and can be easily updated as children grow.

Create spaces which are personal

This can be tricky if much of your stuff comes from IKEA. It’s all so generic-looking and everyone has it. I make space for family photos and childhood mementoes, and like to personalize kids rooms by putting a bold feature on the wall.

I do like wall stickers (they are wonderfully non-committal!) and really wanted a large one as a visual feature for the girls’ room. But I couldn’t find something ideal at reasonable cost, so decided to DIY the thing with rolls of adhesive vinyl and (extra-wide) washi tape. It was a bit of a collaborative family effort and the girls loved sticking the leaves on! The nice thing is that we can add-to and modify the tree as and when ideas evolve. It was surprisingly cheap to do and I’ve got loads of leftover vinyl!

DIY_wall_sticker

I’ve always wanted a reason to buy MT CASA washi tape!

 

DIY_wall_sticker2

The wallsticker in progress. I followed a rough sketch but mostly made it up as we went along. There are plans to add cute woodland creatures but they have not materialised yet!

We settled on yellow as a key colour for the room (I was avoiding pink, but knew I’d not get away with grey!) and I’ve tried to inject enough yellow to pull the room together without it becoming banana-fied. It’s nearly impossible to be elegantly coordinated or matchy on an everyday level considering the random assortment of stuff kids accumulate – but a bold base-colour can help unify the room.

My other favourite find for personalizing walls (and we’ve had these for years) is our Articulate frames. Conceived by some clever Scottish parents who initially tried to get backing on Dragon’s Den, they have been great for showcasing and storing those great piles of artwork which young children are capable of producing.

Articulate_frames

A magnetic wall is another easy way of personalizing the décor in a non-committal way whilst providing additional compact activity space in a small room. We had a very well-used low magnetic wall in Edinburgh, and whilst I haven’t gotten round to putting one up here, I’ve got vague plans to squeeze one in alongside their bedroom bay window. Weak magnetic surfaces annoy me, so I used a cloth-covered steel sheet in Edinburgh. Magnetic surfaces are good for sneaking in some “playful” educational material.

A few more handy tips for kids with small bedrooms:

  • Use large mirrors (especially facing your windows) to visually open up the space and reflect in more light.
  • Use blinds rather than curtains (blinds can be fully rolled up to maximize window area and light during the day; curtains are more voluminous and will always obscure part of the window)
  • Use recessed lighting or a “lightweight” pendant to reduce visual clutter at high level
  • A bedframe (as opposed to a divan) will allow for underbed storage, which can amount to quite a lot of space
  • Rotate toys and books – don’t have everything out at once!

It’s been fun having a brand new room to do up for the kids and whilst it’s still work-in-progress, they seem pretty happy with their wee corner of the house. Anybody else out there fancy a custom vinyl wall sticker?

10 Comments

  1. The room decor is so nice! Love the step up ladder n storage! The bunk bed n secret chillout area! You r so creative Tammy! *super impressed!*

  2. What a lovely little space you have/are created(ing)! Geena is really good at drawing Squirrels if you’d like additions to the tree? It could become the Singapore version of Princess Street Gardens!

  3. Great to see how you’ve managed to adapt another small space and keep it fun for the girls. Love the reading nook too! We’re still using the magnetic board you left – although I get frustrated with the tiny magnets that paperchase use on rather heavy “handy” notebooks as they end up on the floor. And I’m also looking into new storage ideas for Ava’s room, as the Kallax can only handle so much. Thanks for another interesting post.

  4. So awesome Tammy! You are really talented!! Very nice, thank you for the ideas!

  5. Wow Tammy I am really impressed . You are very creative. Jenny be careful you have competition in this field…..hahaha

    • Thanks 😉 – I doubt I can possibly encroach on Jenny’s playing field from all the way over here! Unless she’s aiming for world domination.

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