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Creating a room that offers an age-appropriate sleep and play environment and encourages your child’s development, can be challenging. But it can be an exciting and rewarding project.

When designing a suitable room for you child, it goes beyond your choice of fabrics, murals or the larger furniture pieces such as the cot or the compactum. You also have to consider comfort, safety and your child’s specific needs.

By understanding what décor and design will work best and why, you can make this an exciting rather than a daunting project.

Colour me happy

Colour is the most emotional element in any setting, so begin your decorating scheme by choosing the right paint for the walls. Psychological findings suggest that colour selection can influence mood and behaviour, stimulate the brain and body and even affect one’s health. Scientific studies based on Carl Jung’s research and writings on colour symbolism and its effect across cultures and time periods, have found that exposure to certain colours can improve sleep habits, increase memory and enhance academic performance.

Even at infancy, a child’s environment can enhance development. Dr William Sears, associate clinical professor of paediatrics at the University of California, says that sight can promote learning. Visual stimulation has a great influence on a baby’s nervous system. Always choose colours that encourage growth and stimulation. Be careful not to overstimulate with bright colours, but rather incorporate colour in subtle ways. Use neutral colours on the walls, paired with bright accents in the form of mobiles, linen, fabrics, furniture or rugs to create an environment that both soothes and stimulates. At two months, babies can differentiate between most colours and have preferences for certain colours such as blues and purples, with greens, yellows and reds being preferred less.

Pick a theme

Use decorative wall decals to introduce a theme or colour to a room. They are easily put up and peel off effortlessly without damaging the walls. Your children’s tastes will change as they get older and these stickers will enable you to alter the theme of their room without breaking the bank. You can also introduce other elements, such as a themed duvet.

Comfort, design and ergonomics

Physical comfort is all about getting a few basics right. Firstly, select a cot or bed to suit your child’s age. Then ensure that there is enough storage space, adequate lighting and floor space for play. Lastly, provide a reasonably sized work surface and a supportive chair for school-related tasks. Improve the room’s functionality by keeping it clutter-free.

Bed basics
  • Buy a cot with bars very close together so that your baby’s head cannot get caught. The decorative cut-outs on cots and beds should be too small to catch any part of a child’s body.
  • Make sure the cot’s latching mechanism is not within your baby’s reach, preferably on the outside of the cot, or requires a lot of pressure to release. Many cots convert into beds.
  • When they move from a cot to a bed, fit safety rails on either side. Choose mattress brands that are approved by the Chiropractic Association of South Africa.
  • If possible, invest in a three-quarter or double bed that can grow with your child.
  • Set beds at an appropriate height so that children do not have to jump or pull themselves up. Store frequently used items on shelves or in drawers that do not require stretching or straining. You can make use of additional storage space underneath the bed too.
  • Bunk beds for children of all ages must be sturdy, and come with safety rails and a secure ladder.

Sleep, work, play

Use design elements to create a room in which your child can rest and play.

  • Choose a room that does not face the street; or use acoustic lining in the curtains to block outside noise. Excessive noise can interfere with a child’s sensory development.
  • Always have enough fresh air flowing through the room, but make sure there’s no direct draft. Ventilation prevents a build-up of moisture in the air, which is often the cause of mould.
  • Keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Use curtains with a blockout backing to keep sunlight to a minimum. Alternatively, opt for blinds with wooden or aluminium slats as vinyl may give off organic chemicals.
  • Children with allergies are better suited to a room with blinds because curtain fabrics often attract a lot of dust. They are also harder to clean than blinds. Wipe wooden and aluminium blinds with a cloth.
  • If you do choose to have curtains, opt for a lighter material rather than heavy, thick fabrics.
  • Keep electrical appliances to a minimum with the exception of a baby monitor that ideally should be kept at its farthest effective range from the child.
  • Carpets are not ideal for babies and young children, especially those with allergies, as they absorb pesticides and attract dust and mites. Rather go for hard floors such as wood, cork or linoleum and, if needed, use rugs made from natural cotton and wool fibres with vegetable-based dyes. Clean carpets frequently and thoroughly.
  • Babies need indirect, glare-free light, which creates a soothing environment to promote sleep. Ceiling lighting with a dimmer is ideal and can grow along with your child. Night-lights for young children who are learning to sleep in a new bed create a sense of safety and are available in many themes and colours. For homework purposes, use adjustable desk lights that are glare-free.

Storage solutions

Children’s storage needs to be functional and sturdy, but at the same time appealing. American designer Susie Fougerousse says: “Every child’s room should be equipped with a sturdy bookshelf for displaying treasures, books, pictures and more. Selecting a basic style in a neutral colour will allow parents maximum versatility for use over the long term.” Storage solutions for odds and ends that can easily become lost look great in different sized plastic containers. Take advantage of a spare wall by furnishing it. Cover it with a shelved storage unit that fits the entire length and width of the wall. If you have space, under-bed storage is a clever way to store boxes and containers so that they are easily within reach and look neat and tidy.

Tricky spaces

Small bedrooms need very creative storage solutions. Consider a captain’s bed, which has drawers in the wood cabinetry under the mattress, or choose a bed with height, known as a high-sleeper, that offers ample storage space. Stackable storage bins against a wall are also a way to incorporate storage space into a small room. Shelves can help declutter a bedroom. Use low shelves that are within your child’s reach for books, games and dolls, while higher shelves can be used for displaying photos and breakables.

Budget bedrooms

There are many ways to transform a room without spending a lot of money.

  • Preserve your child’s artwork in differently sized ready-made frames. This adds colour to the room while giving the space a personal touch.
  • Paint, stain or even distress existing furniture to give it a whole new look. Compactums can be transformed into desks or shelves for toys, books and treasures and cots can be turned into a cosy alcove or reading nook, or even a chalkboard.
  • Paint one wall in a different colour or wallpaper it. This creates colour, visual texture and changes the entire feel of the room in one easy step.

Design basics

Follow these basic design concepts to ensure that you don’t end up with styles that your child will outgrow quickly.

  • Choose flexible furnishings with simple lines.
  • Select a bed made of oak or pine – they work well with any colour and will stand the test of time as your child grows.
  • Create a mood board – collect fabric samples, pictures from magazines and paint swatches to keep your vision on track.
  • Give your child room to grow. Always design with your child in mind. Children need space to move, play, store toys and entertain friends.
  • Let your child have a say. A bedroom is a private space that should reflect their personality and act as a sanctuary. By involving them you promote their sense of individuality and creative thinking, which is crucial for their development.
  • Embrace your child’s strengths and talents. If your child is musical, allow them to bring elements of it into the bedroom with musical notes on a wall decal, wallpaper or even prints on cushions and linen.

Room for two or more

Don’t despair if you have to accommodate more than one child in a bedroom. Less space need not curtail your creativity. Here are three clever tips that will help you make the most of the space you are working with.

  • If the bedroom is small, take advantage of the horizontal spacing and opt for bunk beds. This leaves space on the ground for a play and work area. Go for bunk beds that have built-in storage units.
  • If you have two beds, set them out to meet in a corner with a side table or nightstand in the middle. This perpendicular formation opens up the space.
  • If your children need their space and want the illusion of a separate room, you can divide the space with a high open shelf. This serves as a room divider and a storage unit in one.

Pick a colour

Warm colours elicit happiness and comfort. Bold shades can be stimulating and energising, which is beneficial for growth and development, but less advantageous for an overly energetic toddler.


Excites and energises. Don’t go too bold and bright; it can be overwhelming for young children. Red is also associated with an inability to focus, so it is not suitable for children who have trouble concentrating.


Evokes empathy and femininity and creates a calming atmosphere.


Associated with happiness and motivation. Subtle yellows promote concentration while brighter yellows stimulate memory.


A friendly, welcoming colour that inspires creativity and communication. Use bold shades sparingly.

Cool colours have a calming effect on the body and can make a bedroom feel relaxing and spacious. Pair then with creamy neutrals and use with soft fabrics.


The exact opposite of red, it calms the mind and body, lowers blood pressure and decreases feelings of anxiety and aggression. It is the perfect colour for children who have trouble sleeping or who are prone to tantrums. Be sure not to use dark shades as these can have a depressive effect.


Combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Pick a purple in a light shade so it is not too overpowering. The colour is popular with girls, and is thought to stimulate inspiration and intuition.


Promotes a serene, calming environment. It has a soothing effect and is known to reduce anxiety and promote concentration. Green is also said to reinforce self-esteem.

Heidi Janit