Choosing paint color for a child's bedroom, be it a toddler or a teenager, poses a somewhat different set of considerations than for adults. Should they be involved in this choice or not and what if they are? Certainly most kids gravitate towards different kinds of colors than many adults do. Tune in to find out how to tackle paint color for kid's bedrooms with Architectural Color Consultants Amy Woolf & Amy Krane.
Amy Krane: Welcome to Let’s Talk Color.
Amy Woolf: I’m Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.
Amy Krane: And I’m Amy Krane founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We’re both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.
Amy Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don’t because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.
Amy Krane: In each episode we’ll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.
Amy Woolf: Welcome back to Let’s Talk Paint Color. In this episode, we’re going to really focus on bedroom colors for kids, how to think about those colors, how to navigate the decision-making process with your little people, and talk about how to make that conversation successful.
Amy Krane: Sounds good.
Amy Woolf: So I have a hunch I do more kids color than you do Amy. Would you say that’s true? Do you do a lot of work for families and kids or… Second homeowners, empty nesters more?
Amy Krane: No, no. Families for sure. Yeah, yeah.
Amy Woolf: Okay, alright, good. And when you’re consulting with families and talking to parents, who’s in charge of the color decision? Is it the kids, the parent or you?
Amy Krane: Never me! I would say more often than not, the parent will say to me,” my child wants their room to be x.” So that’s more than 50% of the time. And if they don’t say it, I say, “Does your child have any desires?” Because I think it’s important that they ask and a lot of kids do have a preference, and so we definitely go there. I’m really happy to accommodate what they say, but sometimes I temper our response to their request. We do a “version of”.
Recently, I did a really beautiful historic home for a couple and they had one child home. He was probably about 13 or 14, and the parents had fantastic taste. This was a very upscale historic house. Everything was subtle, sophisticated, gorgeous. Super fun. Lucky me. And then we get to the kid’s bedroom, which is en-suite and they were trying to get him out of it! Because there’s was not. The kid wanted blue and yellow. In fact, I think they said bright blue and bright yellow.
Amy Woolf: Sounds like a sports team to me.
Amy Krane: Oh, I didn’t even think of that. I said, “blue is great. Bright blue can become a problem though. This room gets a lot of light and walls that are too bright for anyone, no matter what their age, could be disruptive in terms of sleep and rest and studying.” “So why don’t we consider an intelligent way to do this blue and yellow thing?” And we ended up with a sort of knock down muted, blue. Not light blue with a sort of a muted gold, yellow for the back of the book cases. So it wasn’t a bright blue and a bright yellow. I used the colors he wanted but came to them from a different angle. That’s why I’m there.
Amy Woolf: I think that’s great. I think when kids get wrapped up in the… Well, not even kids. I’ve seen it go on in the man cave as well. When clients get wrapped up in the sports team colors, and we end up with something like the big green monster, which is the green color that Fenway Park is painted. Yeah, Ben Moore came out with that color a few years… Oh gosh, maybe longer than a few years ago. But the sports team colors on the walls can be, well, not supportive, and you and I both know because we were trained regarding supportive color, color that’s physiologically easier to live with.
I think your path, your choice to tune things down and go with more muted versions of those colors was a good one. So in my experience, kids will always, always, always pick the brightest colors, if you give them a selection to choose from. So what I tend to do is, unless a child is really… Or a young person is really adamant about a specific color, what I will tend to do is talk to the parent who’s in the decision-making role and find the brightest colors that they can tolerate. Then we dial back down from there so that we can offer the kids, three or four choices, knowing that they’re always going to pick the brightest ones instead of giving them some colors that the parent likes and then one outlier. One bright one which we know they’re going to go with. It’s always gonna be the screamer color, the sort of color of the plastic toys out in the yard. Stuff like that. Disney colors. I think Disney had a paint palette, for kids colors that I thought were pretty strong and hard to live with.
The other thing I ask parents about, and I think about when I’m in the house, is where is that
room relative to the major traffic flow in the upstairs space. Because often bedrooms are upstairs. And as you and I discussed in the last episode, upstairs is a whole different world. We don’t worry so much about flow. The bedrooms can be what they want to be ~ kind of independent of the color scheme of the rest of the house. But if the bedroom is in direct view of the main passage way and the parents are gonna walk by it every single time, maybe they don’t want fluorescent color beaming light out into the rest of the space. So that’s another thing to consider.
But I think it’s nice to give kids choices. I have come across a number of design professionals, colleagues I’ve met over the years, who tell stories of their childhood bedrooms that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted, and sometimes it resulted in what is known as a color allergy where they can never look at that color again…
Amy Krane: Oh my goodness, guilty. I was about to launch into that, Amy…
Amy Woolf: Tell me more, tell me more.
Amy Krane: So when I was eight, we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island and I got my own bedroom, which I didn’t have when I lived in Brooklyn. And my mom and my grandmother decorated the room. The room had new French provincial furniture, white with painted hardware and a deep red carpet. Deep red, and it had bright white walls. The centerpiece of the room was the bedspread that they had custom-made. It was a 4 poster bed and the bedding was a white, red and pink floral, and I couldn’t stand it. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how people could combine red and pink because how could that go together? What did I know? How did I not know that pink came from red? I thought it was horrible, and it had long-term repercussions for me.
When I was allowed to do my bedroom myself at 12, it was already the 70s, and so I chose a rust shag carpet and wallpaper which was a giant plaid. The background was glossy white, and the plaid was navy, light blue, yellow and rust, which started my life-long love of tartan. But it was 180 degrees away from the girly red and pink floral fabric. I had to keep the French provincial furniture, unfortunately. It was anti-feminine, you know? Don’t give me those pink and red flowers! I think it’s not true for every kid, and this might be more of a girl thing than a boy thing, but I think if you end up being a person who’s sensitive to visuals, to color and into design, then you are very affected by the colors of your youth and… you know, I rebelled What can I say? How about you?
Amy Woolf: You know, the first house that we spent a significant amount of time in as children, my parents also spent a significant amount of time stripping multiple layers of wallpaper off the walls. So I can promise you there was no further application of wallpaper going on in my childhood. And I think my bedroom was like a peach color. I don’t really remember getting a chance to decorate and make those choices. What I do remember is moving my furniture a lot. Shoving my furniture in this corner and that corner. And my bed was on wheels, it was an antique four-poster bed. I would take a sheet and put it on top of the four posters and attach it with little hair bands to pretend that I had a canopy bed. So there was some decorating with the rearrangement by the time I was 16 or 17.
By 16 or 17 I was actually decorating living rooms and helping my parents buy furniture and selecting major pieces and colors for actual living spaces. So I guess that’s kind of where I cut my teeth. But I think all those walls were white though. I don’t think my parents were doing a whole lot of color on the walls. That’s since changed. Both of my parents are really into it. My mom on her own and my dad with my help.
But anyway, so getting back to kids though, it’s funny, but the last couple of jobs… You know me and my accent wall thing, right? But the last couple of jobs I’ve done for families, we’ve been working in rooms where the kids share the space. So in both cases, there’s a boy and a girl in both of the last two kid bedrooms I did. And there’s two bedrooms. They sleep in the same room, and
then they have a dedicated play space, which I think is really neat.
Amy Krane: How old are they?
Amy Woolf: They’re little. They’re little people. They’re like four, five, six, seven. Pre-school and early elementary, right before they grow into having cooties or whatever… Anyway, in both cases, and I just realized this thinking about it, we did multiple colors in the bedrooms. A different color on the ceiling for the first one, and then sort of a violet and yellow on opposing walls. And then in the most recent one, we did four different colors. One on each wall. Well, they were different hues. You know one was pink, one was blue, one was yellow, one was green. They were really dialed back, really soft, really balanced. There were bunk beds, a lot of windows and a lot of doors. So there wasn’t a ton of wall space and the colors were really, really soft. But it was an interesting way to not have to pick. To deliver to the kids exactly what they said. We want this, this, and this. And instead of saying, “Well, you have to pick one.” We picked it all. They’re really excited and really happy about it. I haven’t seen it in person, but it was an interesting problem solver.
Amy Krane: That sounds fantastic. I mean, I did twin girls when they were young, maybe six, and they picked green and pink, which are terrific together. This was the grandparents condominium, but in it was a bedroom for their granddaughters to sleep over. They asked the girls “What colors do you want?” Because they were going to share the room. And they said green and pink. So we made the room a light green, and the grandmother, who was a fine artist and an art teacher, painted sort of moon shaped headboards in pink on the walls. Yeah, so she painted those headboard shapes in ovals behind each bed and that’s how we did it. You need someone with skill to do curves like that, but she had the skill.
Amy Woolf: That’s completely charming. I can’t wait to see.
Amy Krane: And you must get pictures of that multi-toned room because that
sounds fantastic. Would you say that they were pastels?
Amy Woolf: Yes.
Amy Krane: Beautiful.
Amy Woolf: Definitely, definitely. Soft colors, I guess that’s my euphemism for pastel. But it’s also interesting to note that I think those strict rules that blue is for boys, pink is for girls is kind of fading. Traditionally, pink was a boy color and blue was a girl color. These things have changed over time, and I think as our definition and observation of gender becomes more fluid, there’s a lot more room for boys to love pink and girls to like blue or whatever. I don’t think it was ever an issue for girls liking blue, it’s interesting to see how kids are embracing things all along the continuum, whether it’s gender or color, or clothing styles or whatever, so…
Amy Krane: Well, I think it’s time for a bit of history. This is a good time to interject a little bit of history here, because the pink and blue thing is post- World War II, and I don’t think everybody knows that. So if you looked in a trade catalog for kids clothes back from like 1910, 1920, you would see that often pink was recommended for boys clothes and blue for girls. It was said because pink came from red, a more passionate and strong color, it was better for boys, and light blue, like the sky, was sort of delicate, like girls.
They were assigning color attributes with supposed gender attributes, but it was switched after World War II when Rosie the Riveter came home from the factory and hung up her blue dungarees and was given June Cleaver’s pink apron. Marketers started wrapping femininity in pink, and so in the years following World War II, marketing just assigned pink to girls and blue to boys, and hence we see this to this day. Gosh, if you were to ask me of all the colors that parents say their kids want for their bedrooms now, number one for a girl is pink, but usually when they’re younger girls.
Number one for girls, pink, number two for a girl is purple. And number one is blue for a boy. So
we’ve all absorbed it, they’ve absorbed it, and even young people now in the year 2022 are still kind of, to some degree, marching to that tune, which is kind of sad. I mean, you can go back to the 1700s and many, many centuries back and look at men’s clothing. The britches and waist coats and velvet jackets and silk and brocade and there was plenty of pink for men. So it’s
really amazing. It’s changed. Amazing.
Amy Woolf: I think what’s interesting also, thinking about the pink for the young girls is, and this is something I tell parents, is that girls tend to want to re-decorate at about age 11 or 12… I did. So that pink that may work for a six-year-old probably is gonna get pushed aside by about age 11 or 12, and boys on the other hand, and of course, every kid is different, everybody is on a different timeline and a different continuum. But what I will say is boys generally don’t seem to care until they’re about 14, maybe 15, and sometimes they don’t care at all. But usually when we’re re-decorating a boys room at about age 14 or 15, I’m gonna want to pick a color that’s gonna carry them through into adulthood and college, if they’re returning home in the summer.
So I’m gonna pick something a little more sophisticated, a little more adult. Like grown up dark blue, and I will also say that when I’m doing consults for children, I always ask the parents about the temperament of that child. You know, I really want to honor the temperament of the kid. Sometimes somebody says to me, “Oh, my kids really quiet and kind of introverted, and I’d like to have them be a little more cheerful so let’s do a happy color in that room.” But I think it’s really important to honor the kid. The color should suit their needs and their nature…
What made me think of that was navy blue. My daughter, when we moved into this house was 13, 14, and we painted her bedroom. It was navy, blue walls and ceiling, the whole thing navy blue. South facing. Lots of skylights, so we could get away with that or color. But truly, at the end of the day, she was the kind of person who needed to come home and be in a cave and really unwind and regroup herself at the end of every school day. So that blue cave really suited her personality.
And in the same way that means maybe some kids do really want fluorescent pink and should have it. I’m here to say that I don’t think it’s good physiologically, but if it’s the emotional… And the personality, yeah. And the personality of that kid, then that’s okay.
Amy Krane: Well, Amy, I remember in our training, there were some kind of personality profile, profiling. Geez that’s got such a bad connotation, that word. We used questionnaires and profiles to determine the appropriate kinds of colors for certain personalities. And I remember also talking about introverts. Introverted colors and extroverted colors. And in our training, they did say to honor the temperament of the person. Your bedroom is your sanctuary, and if you’re not sharing it with another person, another kid, then it really can be and should be nourishing to you. It should excite you if you want that, it should calm you if you need that. So… I agree, I don’t think that one should employ wall color to fight the nature of a person.
Talking more about color for little tikes, sometimes you see in magazines, but I think it happens also in life, you see parents wanting to take sophisticated muted neutrals, often greys, either cool gray or warm gray and put it into young kid’s rooms. Like toddlers bedrooms, babies bedrooms. And I have to say, especially for a super young kid, you should decorate for child development, not for trends. I really don’t believe that’s the way to go. And if you look at studies that are done about kids and how they see, when babies are born, all they can react to is contrast in the very, very beginning. And the color vision isn’t fully developed until they’re five or six months old, and then it’s excellent, they can see all of the colors. So it’s really advisable to… Keeping in mind, your kid’s personality, is to decorate with cheerful colors, and cheerful doesn’t mean screaming bright. It doesn’t mean Chroma yellow.
But to have the room be colorful, so it’s interesting for them to see… To have colorful art, have colorful things so there’s always new visual interest. And if your kid’s a poor sleeper, maybe you should have the calmer colors in there. Or if they have some kind of… I don’t know if you’d consider it a neurological disorder or not, but if they’re more of an ADHD kind of kid you probably should not have really bright colors in there. I’m not a physician and always check with them but think about the development of your child. You want colors, which help them along the way to develop into a well-adjusted individual. And if you really have to do the neutral wall, make sure there’s other colors in there because there’s a way to do that. Put color on a crib, a chair, a toy house.
There can be patterns on the walls. The light fixtures can be different colors. You can add color and pattern to the room tastefully without, again, it being screaming bright so that you still create visual interest for the child. But personally, I think it’s better to stay away from neutrals. What do you think?
Amy Woolf: I think I’d like to see the end of the gray nursery.
Amy Krane: Yeah, baby, that’s what I mean.
Amy Woolf: No more gray nurseries. Going back to that idea of what they see early on… What they see is contrast and so often you’ll see in very early developmental toys black and white. And then they introduce a little bit of red. So one of the things to keep in mind also is to have a variety of values, and when I say value, I mean lightness to darkness. So some lighter colors, some darker colors. One way you can check your values in your room is to take a photo in black and white, and you can start to see what comes up lighter. What comes up darker.
So that’s also a way to bring some variety in, some contrast into the space. I do think that nurseries should be stimulating, but not over-stimulating as you said, for kids who may be neuro-divergent. All of us are kind of over-stimulated these days anyway by the world around us, so I think having a nursery that’s peaceful and yet inspiring. I mean, it’s funny. I think… Of course, we wanna be inspired by all of our rooms, but it seems like there’s nowhere more important to have some inspiration than in the kids room, a growing mind.
Amy Krane: Function first in these rooms because you can always cater to beauty after you cater to function first. Make function the focus.
Amy Woolf: Right, right. Another interesting thing I’ve done in the past, that I’ll mention here is when I’ve worked with families who are moving to a new house. In the case that comes to mind was a couple who were separating and they were gonna live close to each other. They maintained a really good family unit in a way, only under two separate roofs. We painted the new bedrooms for those kids, the same colors as those that we had chosen for the original project, so that there was some continuity there with so much changing. Color does signal where we are in our lives, where we are in the world.
Amy Krane: That’s great.
Amy Woolf: It’s kind of like me bringing my bedroom color from my last house up to this house. You know, I used the same color in both houses to kind of ease my transition, and I think the same can be true for children. You know that if we can sort of pick up and move to the new house with a very similar color that that’s going to help ease the transition and help the kid feel more settled in. For some kids that’s important, other kids, you may want brand new fresh, change it up. And again, depending on the personality of that child and what their emotional needs are in that moment, we can kind of use that by bringing comfortable, familiar colors when we talk about bedroom colors.
For adults one of the first questions I have is, “tell me about your bedding, tell me about your art work, tell me about all of those things.” And I think one of the reasons why we can get away with doing four different colors on the walls for kids is because there isn’t a really strong color direction in a kids room.There’s usually kind of a cacophony of color because of their toys and their sneakers and their clothes on the floor, and whatever else. I think about your grandma’s pink and green bedroom, which I would love to see a picture of now, that’s a more controlled environment. My bet was that room was decorated with good bedding and everything. Kids just aren’t that way, so I think to sort of surrender to that, at least for little kids, to surrender to that reality and just be realistic about it is a good thing.
And so, I guess one parting shot that I will share is that a bedroom is actually a great place for an accent wall, a feature wall, when a kid really, really wants a bright color, and you feel like it’s just too much and it’s not gonna work. I think the accent wall is a great peace keeper and problem solver. Paint it the fluorescent pink or the bold blue and gold or whatever it is that they’re really adamant about having… Put that on a single wall that maybe isn’t the biggest wall. That isn’t the most visual wall. Away from the hallway. And deliver the color that way. Then in that case, I would say maybe a neutral on the other walls.
Amy Krane: I’m in agreement. Or put it on the headboard wall because when they’re lying in bed asleep, they’re not looking at it. And I don’t know, Amy, would you go as far as fluorescent? You don’t really mean that because that’s just a step too far!
Amy Woolf: I’m not using fluorescent in the most technical scientific way. It just means too much. Stop it. Make it go away.
Amy Krane: Yeah, alright. So thanks, I hope that you’ve learned a little bit about choosing colors for children’s bedrooms and come back and see us next time when we talk about another aspect of color for the built world.
Amy Woolf: And if there’s something you’d like us to talk about… Please write to us. You can find us at www.letstalkpaintcolor.com. We’d love to hear from you, hear your comments or your feedback, and tell us what you want to hear more about. Thanks so much for listening.
Amy Krane: Bye.