Designing a Shared Space for Kids

Try these decorating ideas to create a conflict-free zone in shared bedrooms — without compromising on personal expression.
By: Alyson McNutt English
Kids' Bedroom With Storage Divider

Kids' Storage Divider

Open shelving is one of the easiest ways to divide a shared space without closing off the different areas completely. Buy a pre-made shelf and paint it a playful color that complements the room's palette.

Designing a child's room is difficult enough when there's only one imaginative inhabitant. But when children must share their most private space in the home, the chance there will be conflict — along with cluttered chaos — increases.

The solution? Create personal spaces in the shared room. While parents dealing with design drama between two night-and-day personalities may think one space will never make both kids happy, the truth is that getting to that shared utopia is simpler than you think.

Interview the Kids

Designer Becky Najafi, of De Atelier Design Group, says one of the keys to good design in any child's room is identifying what they want for their space. Even if you think you know what your children want, Najafi says to "Get down on their level. Sit on the floor with them, and just hang out." Do this with both children to get your own ideas about what will work for each child. Even if one sibling is more outspoken or opinionated, talking individually will allow both children to have a say in the design.

Designer Mary Wadsworth, of Blooming Ideas, LLC, says the interview process is essential for parents to begin to understand what will work in the shared space. And if a child isn't forthcoming about what he or she would prefer, Wadsworth says by asking fun questions, parents can get a better idea of what their child will like. "I always like to ask what a child's favorite ice cream is," Wadsworth says. "Often, children's favorite ice cream flavor is also their favorite color."

Don't Divide and Conquer

After parents have "researched" their children to get their design ideas and preferences, it's time to think about how to practically apply this knowledge in the given space. Designer Tina Barkley says all too often, parents want to do something drastic, like physically divide a room with a barrier. "Parents shouldn't try to cut a room in half," Barkley says. "Try to keep the room as a unified place and just create small areas within the room for each child."

Instead, use color as your divider. Wadsworth says complementary palettes can bring even the most divergent decorating preferences together in one space. "Say you have one child who's into soccer and another who is still in that princess stage," Wadsworth says. "Using black, white and pink as the basis for the colors in the room will give each child what they want, and you're still using colors that look great together."

Bring Harmony With Paint Colors

When working on a shared room, Wadsworth says one simple factor can make a huge difference in the use of the space. "Color is the key to creating a cohesive environment," she says.

While Wadsworth says colors can complement and create a cohabitation-friendly palette, she adds that using paint to create separate areas can also be an aesthetically attractive idea. "Parents might think about using accent walls in the children's favorite colors," Wadsworth says, noting that even if the colors initially seem to be too different to work, parents can choose complementary shades. "If you look at paint chips at the store, you can find greens and blues in the same color family that will be very different, but will still look good in the same space," she says.

Barkley's advice for tweens and teenagers is to "think bold with a wall color: orange or bright blue, and then build up each individual area." For parents who don't want to paint wild colors on the walls, consider murals. Murals Your Way has many artistic impressions that can be customized for individual areas. There are many child-friendly designs to choose from, but you can even upload your own art and the company will create a mural just for your space. And when it's time to take it down and move on, your walls will be left intact, unlike with wallpaper.

Let Kids Express Themselves

Giving kids a place in their bedroom where they can express their personality is important, particularly in shared rooms, says designer Jennifer Delonge, who shies away from bunk beds for that very reason.

"Bunks just don't seem very individual to me," Delonge says, adding that when you choose twin or double beds, you can create unique spaces within the room by tailoring design for each child's sleep area. For example, give kids an area to express themselves with a corkboard above their bed, she says.

Giving children a place to display their own photos, artwork or posters is an inexpensive and easy way to pump up the personal style in a room, Barkley says. "Creating a 'brag' space for each child, like a wire clothesline to hang the day's artwork, can be the ultimate in personalization," she says.

Separate Study Spaces

When it's time to pause the playtime and buckle down on homework, kids who share a room can benefit from having individual study spaces. Delonge says when parents add a desk near each child's bed, they're really giving their kids their own mini-room without resorting to dividers. "Even just a light and a desk at the end of the bed gives it more of an intimate touch," she says.

If space in the room doesn't allow you to create separate desk areas, using one unit with designated areas for each child can be a good compromise. The Galant desk system from IKEA can be customized with different legs, end caps and desk pieces to create a workspace that will address individual needs.

Encouraging Clean Cohabitation

When one child wants to stay tidy and the other makes a mess, creating a "clean consensus" can be difficult in shared spaces. "Good clean use of space will always help limit conflicts," Barkley says. "The more things that are strewn around, the more chaos there will be."

Barkley says parents can address this conflict by making it as simple as possible to keep the room clutter-free. Creating a place for everything will help children learn to keep everything in its place. "Have lots of small- and medium-size storage baskets and bins," she says, which will make putting away toys and other items easier and less stressful for busy-bee kids.

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