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:
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!
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.
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?