Planning for now and later Design: A room adaptable for a child from infancy through early elementary school features bright colors and play space that can later accommodate a desk.


We're expecting our first child, and would like some ideas on how to design the baby's room. The space we'll be using is larger than most nurseries -- big enough, in fact, to serve as a bedroom as the child grows older. We'd therefore appreciate tips on adapting and converting the original design to meet changing needs.

Your approach is a smart one. And with some careful planning, the project won't be difficult to carry out.

To design a nursery successfully, one needs to know a bit about child development. Babies react first to color, so it makes sense to introduce bright colors and patterns on the ceiling and upper part of the walls. (Babies spend a lot of time on their backs -- either in their cribs or on changing tables.)

Lively wallpaper borders are an easy way to add visual interest to those areas. And don't automatically choose a typical nursery motif. A vivid geometric design can be more stimulating -- and not at all cloying.

As for the color, parents may prefer serene and pretty pastels, but babies apparently do not. Studies suggest that they respond more actively to what we'd consider loud combinations.

These and similar points are addressed in detail in a book by Ro Logrippo titled "In My World: Designing Living & Learning Environments for the Young" (John Wiley & Sons). In one of its sections, California designer Denise Tom-Sera observes, "Everything in [a young child's] room is a potential toy and teacher."

Further lessons in color, for instance, can be taught by painting ,, dresser drawers and door pulls in a variety of colors. Why not? It'll be fun for the child, who is, after all, the person for whom the space is being designed.

The accompanying photo, taken from Logrippo's book, suggests how a room can be made to meet a child's needs for years to come. Some carpentry skills are required for this particular design.

A storage and display/play area was created in the corner of this room through the addition of a couple of shelving nooks. Note that the lower levels are easily within the reach of a toddler.

A playpen was formed by installing a picket fence and gate between the storage units. This enclosure can continue to serve as a cozy play area right through the early-elementary grades. Later on -- after the fence has been removed and the area repainted in a more "grown-up" manner -- this will be the logical place for a desk. Alternately, you can install a sleeping platform -- in this area, if it's time for a redo of the room's layout.

The key point is to remain flexible in your attitudes as well as in the design of the room. For the first few years, you'll get no complaints or insistent requests concerning the look of the room. After your child reaches age 5 or so, however, you'll find that your own opinions are not the only ones being expressed.

One final tip: Don't discard household furnishings as they begin to show their age. Of course you'll want to hang on to quality items such as a comfortable rocking chair. But I recommend that you likewise retain those brass reading lamps, slightly tacky paintings, rag rugs, wall clocks and all examples of kitsch. You may be tempted to get rid of such stuff in a yard sale, but many kids love these funky and sentimental objects.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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