When I drive around the neighborhood, I like to look at peoples' yards. You can tell the ones with children because of the mostly hideous, brightly colored slides, climbing bars and other playground paraphernalia that cover otherwise pristine lawns. Who said that children love those brilliant yellows, blues and greens so much?
When I set about decorating my children’s bedrooms, I knew I did not want the Plastic Playground Palette so ubiquitous in kids’ furniture departments. I did not want my daughter to feel she was going to sleep inside a raspberry popsicle, or my son to feel he was stuck inside the locker room of the Philadelphia Eagles. But thanks to the continuing gender-bias in the design world, it is easier to find a talking fish than suitably gender-neutral decor for one’s kids.
Once they are old enough, you can ask them what they want. This raises another issue, of course. If you give in to your daughter’s request for black walls and a mirrored floor (“Like an ice rink, mom!”), and your son’s request for wall-to-wall plasma screens for his video games, you will seem to lack control over your children. If you attempt to suggest alternatives, you will be imposing your own will on them and be accused of stifling their creativity.
I remember seeing a child’s room in which the defining object was a huge velveteen-covered bed shaped like a pony, head as headboard, bedding draped over its backside like a saddle. A proud mom once showed me her little boy’s room which was totally decorated according to adult taste—a minimalist display of subtle beiges and browns with not a book or toy in sight, as obsessively neat as a Ralph Lauren ad. To add to this Freudian layout, on one wall was a huge stuffed moose head complete with antlers (dad asserting his authority?). Enough to give nightmares to any child.
In short, the paradox is that you have to abandon your own ideas, but not entirely, and encourage your children’s taste, but not entirely, so you end up with rooms that are livable for them, dirt-resistant and clean-up-friendly. I offer one final comforting thought: You will not have to live with these rooms for the rest of your life.