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Long gone are the days when I could make choices about my kids’ room and answer to no one but myself. Now my children-slash-clients are what is known as tweens. Moses, 12, and Roman, 10, have strong opinions, but at the same time can still be swayed to do something with the promise of candy. We recently made a cross-country move from San Francisco to New York City, settling into a rental for the foreseeable future, and collaborated on the design of their new shared bedroom. The stakes were high and the expectations even more so. I think the key to making sure it was a successful project was to give them space to be themselves. Here are six more lightbulb moments I had from the experience.

Photography by Jordan Ferney

Start With Things They Love

Moses and Roman agreed on their favorite color: neon red. So we decided to make the electric hue the main accent in the room. I found a cheap bunk bed with clean lines and took it to be powder coated. It was the first time I had powder coated something and it turned out beautifully—but it wasn’t cheap: $1,100 for the whole bed. One easy hack I figured out was how to color match the bedding with the accordion-style arm lighting we had installed next to each bunk for bedtime reading. Since the wall was so saturated, the white lampshades really stood out—and not in a good way. I took some acrylic paint, watered it down, and matched the color for a perfect customized look. Budget balanced! 

Let Them Pick (but Edit First)

I remember my mom letting me choose paint colors when I was a child, and it was a pivotal moment that gave me confidence and taught me to care about design. That said, I knew if I let them cover the walls in neon red, it would be a bit…much. To avoid a seizure-inducing paint job, I suggested two complementary shades that would look good in the mix: gray with a slight green tint and a beige-brown. Both options would make the neon really pop. We brushed paint samples on the wall so we could choose together, and we talked about why each one worked (or didn’t). Eventually Moses and Roman voted for the darker brown.

Photography by Jordan Ferney

Go for Form and Function 

I picked out some IKEA Svalnäs shelving that was affordable and easy to install. It made a nice visual anchor for the big wall in the room and created a place to put the things they needed, like books and supplies, as well as collectibles and cool treasures that made the space feel personal.

Shop Together

We made a big list of things they love. It included: Nintendo, Pokémon, traveling, games, space, science, and reading. We started to troll the Internet together on vintage sites like Etsy for keepsakes and interesting things they would be excited about collectinga vintage star chart, some NASA memorabilia, and office supplies like an old abacus. There is functionality mixed in with the fun, too: The Nintendo mushroom is a nightlight, and the flip alarm clockan amazing new analog piecehelps them wake up for school on time. Once everything arrived, we slowly started to arrange the objects based on theme and what looked good together. I wanted the shelves to have things they actually used (pencils, scissors, and books) but that were beautiful and fun, as well.

Photography by Jordan Ferney

Make (Commercialized) Art

If you care about design, it can be hard when your children love something branded and mass produced, and they want to wallpaper their room in $3 posters. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that—but one of the work-arounds I’ve found is to have kids make “branded” artwork themselves. My tweens were very excited to create a Nintendo sculpture with their dad out of plaster of paris, as well as draw Pokémon characters that we framed. This honors the things they love but also teaches them to care and add a little heart and personality to their world. We framed a self-portrait that Moses made for school and realized we needed more wall art. I got a small canvas and we brainstormed different ideas together, before landing on a drawing of a banana with his favorite quote from The Simpsons movie, “Bananas are an excellent source of potassium.” 

Plan for Mess

To make the room actually work, we planned for the usual craziness of kids. Their closet has drawers for school papers and backpacks; there is a corkboard to hang the latest drawing or prized Pokémon card; and we put up a roll of butcher paper so they could sketch right onto the wall (well, right onto the paper on the wall). The kids are old enough that the room won’t feel dated too quickly. I’m a big believer in giving everything a place and then not stressing too much. There’s nothing an IKEA shelf or lick of neon red paint can’t fix. 

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Timewhere we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.