Kids make room for fun

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 13, 2004 - 10:00 PM
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Molly Flesher's bedroom was designed by her uncle, Andrew Flesher of Gunkelman's Interior Design.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Molly Flesher, age 8, recently faced a common but difficult rite of passage. She was giving up her bedroom to make space for a new baby brother. And she was not happy about it.

So her uncle Andy came to the rescue with an offer to decorate her new room. "He said, 'Don't worry, Molly, we'll make it fun,' " recalled Molly's mom, Beth Gooley of Minneapolis.

And he did, designing an eye-popping fuchsia and tangerine color scheme, up-to-the-minute horizontal stripes and a quilted Astro-Turf wall sprouting silk flowers.

"We thought that a way to make the transition would be to make it more of a grown-up girl's room -- fun and hip," he said. "Something she could live with for a while."

Not every big sister is lucky enough to have an Uncle Andy, especially one like Andrew Flesher of Gunkelman's Interior Design, who recently was named one of the hottest new design talents by House Beautiful magazine.

But Molly's neon-bright room embodies the playful sophistication of today's design-savvy kids and the spaces they are eager to call their own.

Spending on children's rooms has risen sharply in recent years, and with that increased investment comes increased expectation: for design that will grow with the child and support multiple uses.

Children's bedrooms aren't just for sleeping anymore. They're doing double-duty as playrooms, study rooms, multimedia rooms, even fantasy worlds where children can escape.

"Themes are very big," said Karlene Hunter Baum, senior designer with Gabberts Design Studio. "It used to be that people just wanted a cute room. Now there are more specialists to call on -- faux painters, custom-built furniture, like a bunk bed that becomes a fort or a cave. You can walk into a whole other world when you walk into their room, depending on the budget and how wild you want to get."

With home improvement playing a major role on TV and throughout the culture, children have more exposure to design and more interest in decorating, said Jane Kitchen, editor of Kids Today, a trade publication for the children's furniture industry. The result: They're more likely to have an opinion about what they want.

Molly Flesher had only one design directive for her room: She wanted it pink, and she wanted it bright. Beyond that, Uncle Andy had free rein.

The bold color palette he created suits Molly's outgoing personality, Gooley said. He also chose many of the room's accent pieces, including a lime green loveseat from Molly's earlier bedroom, a yellow armoire and a fuchsia throw.

"I wanted to give her a room she'd love," her uncle said.

And he succeeded. Molly loves spending time in her room, she said, especially playing dolls.

"On play dates, [the room] is like a magnet," Gooley said.

Spending up

The kids' decor industry is growing as rapidly as a gangly adolescent. Retail sales of youth bedroom furniture rose 32 percent between 1998 and 2002, compared with 11 percent for furniture overall, Kitchen said. "A lot more companies are making youth bedroom furniture, showing parents that children's rooms can be fun, more than just a twin bed."

Many large retailers, including Pottery Barn, Ikea and Bombay, recently have launched children's product lines.

Smaller companies also are sprouting up to fill style gaps. Tracie Gildea, president of Sozo USA, said she and her husband decided to launch their e-commerce company (http://www.sozousa.com) after trying in vain to find the products they wanted for their infant son's nursery.

"It was pink and frilly for girls, cars and trucks for boys," she said.

Sozo's bedding, crib sets and window treatments feature bold graphics and sophisticated color schemes, aimed at creating rooms that can extend into the childhood years, Gildea said.

"People are looking at longer-term purchases," agreed Bob Carlstedt, owner/manager of A Room of My Own in Edina. Instead of buying baby furniture or teen furniture, they're choosing furniture that's less age-specific, so that they can create rooms that will grow with the kids.

"And people are getting more adventurous with color," he said. Vivid wood finishes, such as blueberry and cranberry, are increasingly popular and more people are mixing and matching pieces for an eclectic look.

Dave Schwartz, a buyer for Becker Furniture World, said that more kids' bedroom furniture mirrors adults', with "exotic carved pieces" and attic or heirloom styles.

He has also noticed an increase in parents' spending on youth bedrooms. An order for a full set of children's furniture ($2,000 to $4,000) used to be an occasional occurrence, he said; now he sees several such orders each week.

"There are wealthy parents who don't have any qualms about spending $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000" on a child's room, said Hunter Baum of Gabberts.

Or even more. Posh Tots (http://www.poshtots.com), an e-commerce company specializing in children's furniture features many pricey theme beds, including the $39,500 "fantasy coach," a Cinderella-esque creation that is shipped from England, then assembled and custom-painted in your home in "the motif of your choosing."

"Parents are waiting until later in life to have children, when they typically have more disposable income," Kitchen said. "Then there's the grandparent factor."

Grandmothers also have disposable income and they like to spoil their grandkids, said Lee Hafemann, sales manager at LaCrosse Ltd. in La Crescent, Minn. That's why they're a prime customer for the company's CooCoo Critters kids' clocks. "Everybody's grandma had one [a cuckoo clock] and it brings back memories."

Some grandparents even create rooms in their homes especially for their grandkids. Julie and Doug Huseby decorated their new lake home with their six grandchildren in mind, she said.

The home includes a children's bunk room that sleeps up to eight, complete with a small "clubhouse." The Husebys had the bunk room painted by a mural artist to resemble being in a treehouse. The home also includes a lower-level play area painted with colorful tropical fish.

"It's a kids' paradise," Julie Huseby said. "We want it to be fun for them to come to Grandma and Grandpa's cabin."

Secret room

Even architecture is catering to kids. Carrie and Tim Frantzich included a "secret room" for their children when they had their Stillwater-area home built last year.

Tim Frantzich grew up in a big, old house with a lot of nooks and crannies. "A lot of my best memories are of those secret non-adult spaces," he said, and he wanted to create something similar for his children. So they had their architect, Paul Hannan of SALA Architects Inc., design a tiny room between the rooms of their two youngest children, Jonah, 5, and Esther, 3.

The secret room has child-size doors opening into the two adjoining bedrooms, and its interior was painted by artist Kirsten Frantzich Allen (Tim's sister) in the style of Swedish author and artist Elsa Beskow's children's book "Woody, Hazel and Little Pip," a favorite of the Frantzich children.

Jonah and Esther use their cozy room for reading or playing hide-and-seek, their mother said. Sometimes they leave the doors open at night so that they can talk to each other and share secrets. "Even our older son [Zeb, age 12] likes to go in there and read."

Hannan, the Frantzich's architect, said he always tries to involve children in the design process. "It gives them more ownership." He has designed a room with high windows to reveal a child's favorite constellation and another with a skylight to frame a child's view of an antique weather vane that symbolized a favorite story.

The teen factor

While young children have preferences when it comes to their rooms, preteens and teens have iron-clad mandates.

"Teens are different," said Abigail Jacobs, public relations manager for PB Kids and PB Teen, the recently launched Pottery Barn lines for younger consumers. "They want their rooms to look like them. They don't want their parents' leftover furniture."

That's why PB Teen's Web and catalog business is marketed directly to teens, unlike PB Kids, a retail business marketed to their parents, Jacobs said. "Older kids are more sophisticated -- they know exactly what they want," agreed A Room of My Own's Carlstedt. "Their parents may see something and say, 'This is cute.' " But teens don't want cute. "Girls in particular want something very adult."

His own teen daughter chose an "Austin Powers '60s look" in lime green and purple for her room, he said, although she didn't get to choose her furniture. "She got the hand-me-down set."

Kim Palmer is at kpalmer@startribune.com

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