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Pride of Place: Kids Help Design Space

March 15, 1997|From Associated Press

It seemed precocious, even for a kid whose mom is in the business.

"I was shocked he even knew the word," Rebecca Ross says.

Ross, of Cleveland, is national marketing manager for decorative products for Sherwin-Williams' retail stores. So perhaps she shouldn't have been blown away when her 5-year-old son recently said he needed new wallcovering in his room.

He had probably overheard such talk from his mother on numerous occasions. But the truth is that more and more families allow their children to have a say in decorating their rooms.

"Parents are involving their kids much more in the design process," says Wendy Smolen, lifestyles editor at Parents magazine in New York.

The trend has ramifications in paint, wallpaper, furniture and accessories that catch kids' imaginations--and withstand their abuse.

Benjamin Moore & Co. of Montvale, N.J., went to the crayon box for its newest paints for kids. The Crayola Collection of 150 colors includes a fuchsia called Razzmatazz, as well as Grape Jelly, School Bus Yellow, Parrot Green, Lady Bug Red and Sailboat Blue.

Specialty finishes are part of the collection too. A clear overcoat adds glitter to a wall, and another makes the room glow in the dark for about 20 minutes after "lights out." Then there's paint that turns a wall into a chalkboard.

Sherwin-Williams' color palette for kids includes Ruby Gem and Purple Grandeur. The Ever-Clean formula is a stain-resistant, flat latex paint that can be wiped down with a damp cloth.

Licensing is big business in children's decorative products. The manufacturers' job is to stay current with the toys, movies and TV series that send kids into orbit. The parents' job is to set ground rules for how much is too much.

"Kids pick their heroes from TV and movies, and they want them in their room," says Malcolm Cooper, vice president of design for Sunworthy Wallcoverings in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

About a third of Sunworthy's designs for children feature licensed characters from television, film or toys. And stores are chock-full of licensed bedding, towels, fabric and accessories--with jammies to match.

Sunworthy's designs from Disney licenses are based on movie characters such as the Lion King, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas and Winnie the Pooh.

The rub is that kids are likely to tire of a theme faster than they outgrow their PJs. So hedge your purchases. Paint the walls and add a decorative border. If you're committed to wallcovering, let the child choose a border and then pick a coordinating stripe or pattern for the walls. When a child outgrows Pooh or the Muppets, borders with athletic themes such as in-line skating and ballet await.

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The nursery is a child's first space of his own--and probably the last that will be decorated without some input from him or her.

Ross says a popular theme with parents of the diapered set looks as if it had popped off the pages of an old-fashioned children's book. One border she saw recently includes characters from Beatrix Potter stories. Another features old toys on a crackle background with coordinating crackle wallpaper. Reproductions of old toys enhance the theme.

There are also vintage and antique toys--to look at, not to play with. Leanne Stella, president of an antiques show management company in New York, says she picked up vintage toys, posters and wooden display letters to decorate her infant daughter's room.

Antique children's furniture is hard to find, because families tended to wear it out or throw it out. It may not meet modern safety standards anyway. The slats on some old cribs are too far apart, and many highchairs don't have harnesses and tend to tip easily.

There are vintage pieces suitable for the newborn--such as cradles, basinets and prams--and little wooden chairs and benches for toddlers. Just be sure there is no lead-based paint exposed.

Fanciful new furniture is probably a better bet. Wild Zoo Design's fiberboard furniture is shaped like fish, teddy bears, bunnies, cows and other animals. Prices range from $160 for a low rocker to $300 for a bed with bear feet or a chest of drawers that looks like a hippo. The pieces, from Wild Zoo Design in Bend, Ore., are shipped flat to assemble at home with an Allen wrench or a screwdriver.

Wild Zoo Design: (888) 543-8588.

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