Designing a Tween Room

 When I was in the joyful bliss of picking out bedding and paint colors for my first baby’s room a woman gave me unsolicited advice in the middle of a store. She said it was all a waste of money and really useless.  She explained babies don’t spend time in their rooms and furthermore they have no opinions about the design.  She left with “Wait till they hit their teens. Then they’ll be full of opinions!”.  

In hindsight, I can admit her opinion made sense and it kind of saved me.  We had just moved into a new house. It was abandoned for almost a year before we bought it and expenses were everywhere!  New appliances, new paint, new wiring, new fencing, etc just to get the home to code. We even had to pay for the previous tenant’s outstanding water bill just to get the bank to approve the loan. The baby’s room wasn’t as Dwell perfect as I hoped but the woman was right.  The first three months of P’s life were spent either, on the couch, in my bed or on a walk. 

She wouldn’t be the last person to give me that same advice.  Years later when searching for a bunk bed all my friends with older kids said “don’t spend a lot!”.  They warned me that within the first week I’d find boogers and sticky finger prints on the bed and walls.   They were right and I was glad Walmart stepped up with cheap and modern design where Ikea couldn’t. My friends with tweens and teens said “save the expenses for 5th/6thgrade, that’s when they’ll want their rooms redone”.  And so I waited.  And now I’m here! I have a 5thgrader. I have a 6thgrader! 

The redesign did not start out intentional with a big plan.  It evolved out of need.  I don’t want to turn this into a statement about sleeping habits;  co-sleeping vs crying it out so I’m going to keep my theories to myself and hope the sentiment can be reciprocated because I’m sure some will be shocked by the next paragraph.   

After my ex and I separated four years ago the girls started sleeping in my big king size bed.  Again, it started out of need;  a need for safety and then a need for me to get work done. I could read to the girls and then easily transition to editing on my laptop in bed.  With me beside them they fell asleep smoothly and on the rare event that they didn’t, I wasn’t stressed about the minutes ticking away. I didn’t have to read “Go The Fuck to Sleep”. That book still cracks me up.  

Months turned into years and before I knew it I had an 11 and 6 year old in bed with me. I knew the 6 year old was not as comfy as she claimed to be.  I wondered if I was stunting her growth because she wasn’t able to spread out the way kids naturally do, shoving anyone in their way right off the bed!  Instead, she molded around me and her big sister. I tried to move them to their own room and their own beds but they preferred sleeping together on the bottom single bunk.  That comfort level had to be even less but they didn’t admit it.  

I found out the reason the girls had no interest in sleeping in their own room was because neither wanted to sleep on the top bunk.   They wanted to sleep together, in the same bed. So, for Christmas I bought a queen size bedframe and put the queen mattress from the 3rdbedroom into the 2nd room and switched the bunk bed into the 3rdroom. I call them room 2 and 3 because at this point neither girl was claiming either room as theirs. It was the “bedroom” and the “playroom” and both were shared.  

When I moved the beds I found a pattern of filth on the walls, the one I was warned about from all my friends when I bought the bunk bed originally.  I tried cleaning, but it ruined the paint.  In the 2ndbedroom, I decorated as best I could and tried to make it appealing. I used twinkle lights and a beautifully embroidered duvet cover I still had from my single days in my Santa Monica apartment. I loved that duvet! It’s design was gorgeous, I can picture Frieda Kahlo with it on her bed, that’s how cool it was! But, I also think, for me, it held the memory of a previous life so different from my current one.  


My current life requires function to be considered before design.  It wasn’t long before the embroidery ripped from two girls “not jumping” on the bed.  The rips and dirty walls took the room from eclectic to third world unchic and that was it for me.  We needed new paint and bedding ASAP. It became our Spring Break project I thought I could complete in a week! 

A month before starting I asked P what she wanted her room to look like. I started showing her different looks and ideas.  She had no opinion real opinion. I got a lot of “ok”.   I had a general direction in mind and then I saw the Netflix movie “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and Lara Jean’s room was it!  Off I went like a dog with her bone, full tilt into research. Wallpaper, paint color, duvet selections, wall hooks etc.  I even started buying design elements here and there.  P said ok to it all. And then the night before the first Home Depot run for paint samples she says “I don’t like it”. 

WHAT THE……???? What do you mean?  Why didn’t you say so before?  What do you want then? She went to Pintrest and showed me two images for the overall feel she wanted and it was nothing like what I had!  It was beautiful, but it was in a completely different direction. Sometimes my girls don’t interrupt my design process because they don’t get what I’m doing. Other times, I’ve come to realize, they don’t interrupt because they just aren’t into it but don’t want to interrupt.  From now on I need to identify the meaning of their silence.  

P’s idea for the overall feel of her room
She had big ideas for the pillows and the bed.

We were officially on Spring Break. I had a deadline, a week to complete the room. I went into warp speed design and research mode, this time with P by my side also picking things out on her ipad.  G asked what about “her” room?  HER room! The girls had chosen.  One room redesign, turned into two.  For now I’ll just tell you how P’s room turned out.  Although, the process of doing two was interesting and I’ll share that at another time along with G’s look.  

The smartest thing I did was hire someone to patch the walls.  I’m not the greatest at it and there were too many little holes in the walls from too many years of living.  Our rooms are not big.  In a smaller space, repeated imperfections like a bad patch job can cause the space to look smaller.  Plus when I removed a tree and flower petal decals from the wall they tore off a good part of the drywall.  It would have taken me longer to do it myself and the job would have been half as good. 

The new paint went on. The new colors looked good, just like P wanted it, clean and elegant.  The furniture went back into place and I started to cry. It looked like an adult lived here.  The childhood portion of the room was gone.  All of it gone!  Not one element of pink, yellow or orange to be seen. Nothing girly either! It looked like the room of a 27 year old not an 11 year old.  P was excited! She loved it and I had to respect it.  But I cried when she wasn’t looking. 

So stark and serious.

What made it worse was my ex said the entire thing was my idea. He said I took over and “gerrymandered” the room to look how I wanted it, not how she did.  My entire motto is to respect the girls’ spaces and design so obviously it was hurtful to hear this.  Which I think was his reason to say it. Thanks to my therapist I see this clearly now.

Then something interesting happened.  The bedding was in and pillows were in place but other small details were not.  It’s amazing how small details change a space. Two of the four pillow cases were just place holders, ones I grabbed from my linen closet that best matched. I purchased new ones, still navy and white but with a pink embroidered accent. It changed things. I added ceramic flowers to the walls and that changed the feel.  I made the canopy over her bed and added a pom pom border at the top, that definitely changed the overall feel of the room.  The hooks were up but when she added her bags and hats that changed things.  She added a poster from the LA March for Our Lives and instantly it became a teens room. Her books, candles, plants and water mister all changed the room from an adult room to an 11 year olds room.  A mature 11 year old’s room but that is who she is, wiser than her years.  

I bought her a dry erase board for her weekly goals and quotes.  Her writing along with the pictures she added have softened the room and made me breathe easier. There’s my child and she’s still a child.   

Then the one thing to make it more of a teen’s room is the mess.  Just like Lara Jean’s room P’s room has clothes, towels, books, and stuff laying all around.  But maybe because I saw how sterile the room looks without her in it I don’t mind the mess as much.  I welcome it…some of it.  

I am grateful I waited for this moment to spend extra money on details and to make the room just how she likes it.  It has a beautiful feel, so much so I spend time in her bed reading when she’s not around. 

Here are more images of the room and it’s details:

Elements like these, the Percy Jackson series and the Beatrix Potter tea set are what brought the room back to an age appropriate tween. The tea set I bought for my children to be when I was in London at 17. It melts my heart to see it in her bookcase.

In case you are interested, here is a list of the things we purchased. I prefer to shop the local stores but with my lack of time I felt I had to do it all online. I also tried quite a few places for hardware but didn’t find what I was looking for. Amazon ended up having almost everything I wanted.

I used Behr’s Paint and Primer with zero VOC, however for the girls’ rooms I chose to use Eggshell instead of flat as I used in the rest of the house.

For P’s room I used Compass Blue. It’s a pretty beautiful dark navy. We love it.

For all the new wall switch plates I went to Wallplate Warehouse and chose this style from the bronze selection. I searched all the hardware stores for something elegant and simple like this but found nothing. I thought this site had the best prices. Most design sites run around $15-30 a switch plate.

This magnetic dry erase board is simple chic. I picture it in a tech or dot com office it’s so streamlined. It cost more than a standard dry erase board but I really wanted the simplicity of it for P’s bedroom.

Love these hooks! Easy to put in, the come with all the necessary screws and so far they hold really weyll.

Kind of an upscale purchase for a garbage can. However, in a room this small it’s these details that just make it so much more elegant. The room redo came right around Easter so instead of typical Easter baskets this year I used their new garbage cans as the baskets and the goodies inside were switch plates and other things for their rooms.

The duvet came from Crate and Barrel but its been discontinued. A few other details that made a difference were this terrarium and this watering mister. P is really into plants. I’m trying to keep the interest looking good and both of these things helped. Her pots at the top of the bookcase came from Home Goods and the intent is to have plants that grow like vines and droop over the bookcase.

The one element still in the works is a picture I am enlarging and framing and placing over her dresser. With that one piece the room will be complete! It feels amazing now!

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