Choosing furniture for a kids' room can be overwhelming because of the myriad options available these days. Follow the suggestions outlined here to help you narrow down your choices.
A changing table is a must for babies and toddlers. Safety is the prime concern: Choose a changing table that is sturdily constructed and has a safety strap, smoothly rounded corners, and at least a low guardrail to prevent little wrigglers from falling. (Even though you'd never leave a child on a changing table unattended for even a moment, all but the youngest infants have a disconcerting way of moving suddenly, and balance is a foreign concept to them.)
Choose a model with one or two lower shelves; it will add to the unit's stability and provide convenient open storage for diapers and baby clothes. Even after he or she is toilet trained, the last child in the household may be willing to use the changing table as display/storage for stuffed animals and other large toys. Some families use a chest of drawers or dresser topped with a waterproof pad as a changing table, but drawers are less convenient than shelves, and the lack of a guardrail can be risky. If you do want to use a conventional dresser as a changing table, retrofit it with simple molding rails available at your local home center or hardware store, and make sure they're smoothly finished.
The bigger kids get, the smaller their toys become. Blocks and craft beads in particular seem to slip underfoot with irritating regularity. To keep small toys out of the reach of preschool siblings, stash them in clear plastic shoe boxes on higher shelves. They'll add to the room's colorful ambience and make it easy for kids to find what they want. If a bunch of tiny toys relates to a larger set, such as a model train set or a dollhouse, provide easy-access storage near the main piece. The easier you can make it to put things back where they belong, the fewer struggles you'll have (and the fewer sharp little Barbie shoes or Legos you'll step on at 2 A.M.).
When children start grade school, they'll appreciate furniture and systems that help them avoid losing homework, sports equipment, and personal treasures. Until then, teach children to stash "like with like" by providing as many open or clear-covered boxes, bins, and baskets as they have types of toys. (It's possible to make this task into a sorting game, but you'll have to stay hands-on for longer than you'd like for best results.) Whether you're a Martha Stewart stand-in or very relaxed about clutter, you'll want to enforce the safety aspects of orderliness. At a minimum, even young ones can be taught to keep walkways clear of toys so no one trips, and older children can learn to keep their small toys out of small siblings' reach.
Catalogs and storage specialty stores offer inventive, good-looking solutions of all kinds these days, so make a field trip out of shopping for them with your child. You may not get "buy in" overnight, but he or she will feel part of the process, and that's a start.
Once your child is out of the crib or toddler bed, a nightstand of some kind will come in handy to set down a plastic water glass and a bedtime storybook. Rounded corners are preferable, and an extra shelf or drawer is useful, too. If you have a small two-shelf bookcase, small chest, or even a two-drawer file cabinet, you may want to affix a round or oval top made of wood or solid surfacing material. For small children -- and big ones who love pillow fights -- the nightstand is no place for a table lamp. Choose a wall-mounted lamp instead, and keep the nightstand for unbreakable treasures.
These days, homework is a mix of computer and handwritten projects, a situation that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Computer desks with drop-down keyboard trays are available in every size and style, so you'll have no problem fitting today's technology into any space and any decorating scheme. Even if you prefer to keep children's computers in safe sight in the family room or home office, you'll want to provide a writing desk of some sort in your child's room.
Younger children will be happy with a table and chair at the right height, and even bigger kids often prefer doing homework at the kitchen or family room table. However, there's nothing like a "real" desk to signal your seriousness about homework, and a desk also makes it easier for kids to keep track of paperwork and reference materials.
When it comes to study time, your youngster may appreciate
the hypermodern look of metals, lunar laminates,
and a few special touches like the translucent green
drawer pulls shown on this unit. Retailer: Gautier USA, Inc.
For a space-saving desk that's at home in the most traditional settings, computer armoires are attractive and popular solutions for bedroom or family room use. Upper shelves display reference books, and lower drawers store paper and computer components in style. Look for pieces with wire-management holes in the back; holes ringed with smooth brass grommets keep the wood and wires from becoming worn.
For low-tech solutions, consider a classic writing desk available in simple Shaker style or with 18th-century-inspired cabriole (curved) legs. A secretary desk, another classic with no relation to the administrative job, features a slender profile, lower drawers, and a drop-down work surface that can stash messy projects fast. Add a hutch on top, either with open shelves or glass-front cabinet doors, for extra display and storage.
The easiest desk solution may be a sturdy, generously sized tabletop secured atop a pair of low two-drawer file cabinets. Extra file cabinets in wood or colorful contemporary metal can also help your student store paperwork in style. For older kids, shop the office furniture sources as well as conventional furniture stores. Office specialty dealers offer a wealth of pieces that will work as hard as your student and last as long as you need them to.
Repetitive stress injuries can have their start in childhood, so whatever arrangement you come up with, don't try to make do with a laptop on a conventional-height work surface for more than an hour at a time. Extended computer work requires a lower work surface, an ergonomic wrist rest, and an office chair with a supportive back and adjustable height. Whether you've got a bookworm or a wiggly worm, it will be easier for your student to concentrate with furniture that makes the grade.
Put a Little Light on the Subject
Even youngsters can suffer eyestrain from inadequate lighting, so don't make do with just a ceiling fixture. Use that to cast ambient general lighting around the room, and supplement with carefully planned task lighting near the bedside and desk. If you do allow electronic screens in the bedroom, position lights so they don't shine on the screen, causing glare, and don't let kids watch TV or use the computer in an otherwise dark room. Situate a shaded 60-watt light along the same plane as the screen to soften harsh contrasts. Don't use halogen lamps in children's rooms; they're very bright but also dangerously hot.