Kids' Rooms: Zone-by-Zone Design

Define activity zones for sleep, play and reading time.


By: Amanda Lecky

A child's room is much more than a place to sleep: It's a playroom, a craft center, a homework space, a changing room and even more. Accommodate all those activities by beginning with a focused, need-based space plan. "A lot of my clients come to me with their kids' bedding already picked out, or a favorite furniture piece they're dying to use," says Houston-based decorator Christie Chase. "Knowing your style is great, but that’s all icing. You need to know how you’ll actually use the space. Bake the cake first. Then ice it!"

Thinking in terms of zone — sleep, play, change, work and reading — can help you organize the floor plan and figure out what features you should include for each function.


Your baby will spend a lot of time in this zone, particularly during the first few months of life, but at this early stage all that's really required is a safe crib and some light bedding. Resist the temptation to position the crib under a window. "It may seem like a great spot for the crib, because you're not wasting wall space and the window creates a natural focal point," says designer Nancy Barrett, ASID, of Decorating Den Interiors, "but windows can be drafty, and when the baby can stand he or she may be able to grab onto window treatments, which is dangerous."



Design by Brian patrick Flynn

Photo by: Photographer: Christina Wedge

Photographer: Christina Wedge

Design by Brian patrick Flynn

It's very important to consider what your baby will be able to reach from the crib. Those sweet pictures you’d planned to hang above the crib will most likely end up in the crib once he or she begins to stand and reach curiously to touch anything and everything.

Setting up your older child's sleep zone is a slightly different process. Begin by deciding what type of bed will work best: One bed or twin beds? Full or queen-sized bed? Bunk bed? Loft bed? Which one you select will depend on how you’ll use the room. If it will double as a guest room from time to time, it’s best to include a pair of twin beds or a queen-sized bed. If you’d like your child’s friends to sleep over, consider twin beds or a bunk bed. If space is at a premium, a loft bed could make sense, because you can fit a desk or dresser underneath it.

Next, select the bedding. This is a great way to involve your child in the design of the room. Think about use as you make your choices. For example, you may want to order extra pillows to cushion a bottom bunk or daybed that will serve as a lounging zone. Babies don't need bedside tables, but an older child probably does. Make sure it's sturdy, big enough to hold a reading lamp and, ideally, that it provides some storage, at least for a favorite book or two. No room for a bedside table? Install a wall-mounted swing-arm reading lamp or buy one that can clamp onto a headboard. Add a small shelf to hold a book and a glass of water.


"Parents make a big mistake by filling their children's rooms with too many toys," says Susanna Salk, designer and author of Room for Children. "They're hard for anyone to keep neat, and the jumble is distracting to children." So, resist the urge to bring home every cute rattle or truck you see, and be sure to plan kid-friendly storage for the toys that do find their way in.

"If you have the space, it's great to create toy storage right by an open area of floor space," says Salk. "A bookshelf with open bins on each shelf is ideal for that, since kids are much more likely to put things away if they don't have to lift a lid to open the container first." Since young children often prefer to play on the floor, select an area rug that's both soft on little knees and durable, since stains and spills are inevitable. But don’t go too plush: It’s hard to race a toy car and all too easy to lose a Cheerio or six in a deep pile.


In a baby's room, the changing zone is more about your needs as a parent than your child's. Your main goal is to make sure everything you need is close at hand. If you can, position the changing table near the dresser and closet, so you can pivot between them. Your changing table should have plenty of room for diapers, wipes and other essentials within reach.

When it comes to making it easier for older children to dress themselves, "access" is the name of the game. Don't overload dresser drawers, or they'll be difficult to open and close. Make sure children can reach hanging clothes. If you don't want to install a lower rod, consider adding a few child-height hooks on the wall. Low racks or bins will help keep shoes from covering the closet floor.

12 Can't-Miss Nursery Ideas

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Serene Colors

New mom, Kelle, created a peaceful nursery for son Xavier, using a gray-and-white color scheme. She carried a butterfly theme throughout with white butterflies in a wall decal and in a light-as-air mobile over the crib. Photo courtesy of Kelle Howard-Dean

Relaxing Sitting Area

A white-washed chair makes a comfortable place to snuggle. Kelle used a budget-friendly replica of a Marcel Wanders stool as a side table, perfect for an extra baby bottle or a mug of tea. Photo courtesy of Kelle Howard-Dean

Include Unexpected Elements

The driftwood rod Kelle used for Xavier's wardrobe acts as a rustic focal point. Hung by fishing line, it floats under a crisp white shelf. Photo courtesy of Kelle Howard-Dean

Personalize a Wall Mural

Interior decorator, Annie Wise, and her husband Eric, welcomed new baby, Victor, to their Portland home. They celebrated their city's unique history and their love of midcentury architecture when designing Victor's nursery. They painted the 1950's alien-invasion mural, complete with Portland's most iconic buildings. Photo courtesy of Annie Wise

Go for Vintage Furniture

Annie chose a vintage dresser as a changing table, adding to the room's midcentury flavor. The chalkboard wall anchors the corner and offers a spot for love notes from mom and dad. Photo courtesy of Annie Wise

Color Harmony

When choosing colors, consult the color wheel. Complementary colors, those opposite on the color wheel, like green and orange, make for natural partners. Annie and Eric made the adorable alien pillows. Photo courtesy of Annie Wise

Layer Patterns

Designer Shirry Dolgin Fulton had a great starting point for this feminine nursery: the Graham and Brown wallpaper requested by the mom-to-be, who wanted a timeless, feminine look for baby Ella. Design by Shirry Dolgin Fulton

Mind the Scale

Fulton suggested framing the wallpaper to create a focal point and balance the room's large proportions. Shirry Dolgin Fulton

Charming Accents

The chocolate-colored glider and paper lanterns create a cozy corner for reading books and rocking Ella to sleep. The round lamps soften the nursery's traditional style. Shirry Dolgin Fulton

All Natural

It took Lauren and Miranda's parents 12 tries to settle on this crisp apple green for their twins' modern-safari nursery. Without the white and brown accents, the green might have been overwhelming; instead, it's charming. Photo courtesy of John Burton Brown

Creative Lighting

The most magical element in this nursery is the starry ceiling, created by fiber-optic LED lights installed in the crawl space. Miranda and Lauren fall asleep to their soft glow. Photo courtesy of John Burton Brown

Display What You Love

A simple bookcase holds the girls' toys, books and memorabilia. Picture frames and larger books are stored out of reach. Photo courtesy of John Burton Brown


Reading to your child is one of parenthood's greatest pleasures, especially if you take time to create a reading area that will be comfortable for both of you. Choose seating that will fit two, such as a roomy armchair, chair-and-a-half, loveseat or daybed. Any of these may be a better long-term choice than the rocker or glider parents typically opt for in a baby's room.

Encourage an older child's love of reading by creating a reading nook with pillows or beanbags for sprawling with a favorite book and easy access to beloved titles. And, don't forget lighting, but do remember safety: A floor lamp may seem like a great idea, but it's easy for a crawling baby or toddler to knock over.


It's important to provide school-aged children with a quiet, dedicated place to do homework. As in any adult work area, a child’s desk should have plenty of space to spread out papers and books, good lighting, storage for supplies like pencils and papers, and adequate outlets for essentials like a pencil sharpener or a phone charger. Even very young children can benefit from a workspace in the bedroom. Since they’re more likely to use it for artwork than homework, make sure its surface is protected against damage from markers, paints and glue, and plan easy-to-access storage for arts and crafts supplies nearby.

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