Conventional ideas about children die hard – none harder than the ones entertained by almost every expectant mother as she plans the room for her first baby.
A nursery can be very pretty indeed but if you have to organize your home on a tight budget and have a limited amount of time to spend on housework it is as well to realize that baby equipment will be unnecessary within nine months of birth and the decorations will look extremely shabby after a couple of years.
If you want to avoid the expense of constant re-furnishing and redecorating, rooms for children of any age must be planned cleverly to cater for future developments.
The first difficulty in creating such a room is that an inexperienced parent has very little idea of what a child’s requirements are likely to be at any given stage. Here are a few guidelines and suggestions.
PLANNING ROUND A BABY
A new-born baby needs a room which is within earshot both day and night. Ideally it should be near his parents’ bedroom, the bathroom and the area most occupied by his mother during the day. This is simple enough in a small or one-storey home. In a large house a microphone can be placed near the baby to transmit sounds elsewhere. Strictly speaking a young baby does not need a whole room to himself: a draught-free corner at the end of a passage or under the stairs is quite big enough. Expense and space can be saved by investing in a light pram consisting of a lift-out carrycot and fold-up frame. Nor does the baby need much storage space for clothes. He needs very few and these are speedily outgrown. The necessities are best kept on a mobile shelved unit which accompanies the baby wherever he is washed and fed.
If you intend to wash the baby in a portable bath, you need sufficient space in the bathroom to take the bath and its stand. When filled, these baths are quite heavy and easily spilled. For this reason, a babv bath for use in the nursery must be fitted with a removable plug, so that it can be emptied by means of a bucket. Quite frankly, it is probably quicker and easier to bath the baby in the kilchen sink.
It is equally important to feed the baby where you feel most comfortable. A restful, upholstered chair – the one you choose to knit or sew in – is better than a conventional armless nursing chair which is fit only for a spare bedroom when it is no longer needed. Instant heat during the night or at dawn is most quickly provided by a portable fan heater. Once the baby begins to crawl, every potential danger below waist level must be removed. Trailing electric flexes and heavy objects which can easily be pulled over should no longer be within reach. Fix guards at the top and bottom of the staircase and in front of open fires. A play-pen with an integral floor – so that the baby cannot push it around – prevents him from getting into mischief and from spreading his toys all over the place when you cannot watch him. A baby makes an indescribable mess when he is learning to feed himself. He needs a high chair placed on flooring that is easy to clean. Usually, but not always, it is most convenient to feed him in the kitchen.
By now quite a lot of baby equipment is being amassed. While choosing it remember that it cannot be sold profitably when outgrown and should, ideally, occupy the minimum amount of storage space if you intend to save it for another child.
CATERING FOR THE TODDLER
By the time a baby is walking well – at around two years old – he becomes very energetic. He climbs out of his cot, prefers toys which develop his physical and mental abilities, builds with bricks and, given the chance, produces paintings with poster colour and drawings with indelible pens; books accumulate.
Buy a bed of standard length which will suit the child until he grows up rather than a so-called junior bed of lesser dimensions which will become just another item of outgrown equipment within a few years. If floor space is limited and you hope for another child, choose bunks which can be separated later without looking too child-like. Invest in a flexible storage system with units for clothes, books and treasures plus a roomy locker in which toys can be dumped. If the system does not incorporate a suitable unit you will have to buy a table and some chairs.
This is the stage when walls and furnishings take a knocking. Choose tough finishes and fabrics which will not advertise dirt and are easily cleaned. Arrange the room so that it is easy to tidy. Picking up and putting away clothes and toys becomes a major occupation.
REQUIREMENTS OF THE OLDER CHILD
At around nine years old a child begins to value a certain amount of privacy. Soon – if not already – he will be burdened with homework and will need the facilities to get on with it. By the time he is a teenager, he will enjoy sitting in his room reading, listening to records, pursuing a hobby and entertaining his friends.
The adolescent appreciates a bed-sitting room. If there is not enough space in the room for more furniture, the bed can be converted into a settee by placing it beside a wall and adding wedge-shaped backrests or a quantity of cushions.
With a realistic idea of the equipment needed for a child’s room from birth onwards, it is possible to plan further.
Heating and lighting cannot be installed until you have selected – not necessarily bought – equipment and know where it will be arranged. If you have complete freedom of choice – in a newly built home, for example -choose a ceiling, underfloor or ducted warm air system. These leave the floors and walls free for furniture and present nothing on which a child can burn himself. Radiators and storage heaters are not so safe, can be unattractive and occupy valuable space. Radiant heaters, whether gas, oil or electricity should be avoided unless they are inaccessible to a child. It is better to have a fan heater, provided it has no trailing flex. Whatever the system, it should be able to produce a temperature of 22°C which can be graded down to 16°C. All power points must be of the safety variety which.are impregnable to probing fingers.
Table lamps are unsuitable for children’s rooms because they have dangling flexes and are easily overturned. A pendant lamp is safer but compares unfavourably with an adjustable spotlight – or several – which can slide along a track spanning the ceiling and may therefore be focused on any part of the room.
Lighting requirements differ at each stage: indirect light which will not hurt the baby’s eyes is needed in the beginning. A very dim light will comfort a child who is frightened to sleep in the dark. Direct light that does not dazzle is required at the head of the bed, on parts of the storage system and on play or work areas. A dimmer switch, which is easily installed in place of the standard switch, allows for a fine adjustment to be made to the quality of the light.
Flooring should be easy to clean. It should also be hard-wearing, comfortable and not too cold for a baby to crawl on or for older children to sit on ; smooth and firm enough to present a satisfactory track for wheeled toys. Carpet or matting does not fulfil these requirements. Vinyl tiles or sheeting or cork tiles do. Vinyl sheeting with insulated backing will deaden the noise made by running feet, bouncing balls and toys of all kinds when they are dropped. Alternatively, since most children enjoy the comfort of a carpet, it may be possible to cover part of the floor with a firm, smooth surface and another part with carpeting.
As has been said before wall finishes should be hard-wearing and – as washing walls takes almost as long as decorating them – should disguise stains and dirt in general. Children lie on the floor or on their beds and put their feet on the wall. They lounge and bump against walls. They throw balls and other missiles at them, stick things on them, and, even if usually well-behaved, draw on them occasionally. Pale emulsion paint was not formulated to withstand treatment of this kind; the dark shades are also unsuitable as they develop shiny patches when rubbed. Gloss paint is certainly tougher and easier to clean but, from an aesthetic point of view, is not always satisfactory because it tends to make rather a hard impression on the walls. There are many other wall finishes to choose from but if you do not want to invest in a robust permanent one such as wood panelling there is little doubt that a vinyl covering, patterned or textured, fills the bill perfectly.
It is reasonable to expect wall decorations to last five years and flooring to last twice as long. Before exposing yourself to tempting designs decide where you intend to add pattern. Few people can mix different patterns successfully. It is safer to stick to patterned walls and a plain floor and coverings or plain walls and a floor with patterned coverings. It you decide to cut down on bed-making by investing in a duvet with a pretty cover and matching pillow slips, choose a set which has matching fabric sold by the yard so that it can be used at the window as well. Such material will not be sturdy enough to upholster a chair but would be suitable for a cushion. With this you will need to find a plain vinyl paper and flooring that harmonizes with some colour in the pattern. Do not make your final decision until you have seen samples assembled together in both natural and artificial light. Following a five-year plan, you might decide to start with gently patterned walls then, for the next period, to switch to plain ones in a fairly strong colour which relates well to the original flooring. When the child is ten you will probably have to renew the floor and may be inclined to hang a more positive pattern than the first one on the walls. Avoid the large, harsh, would-be cheery designs that are produced in such profusion for children: they are unattractive when seen over a large area and the prospect of living with them for a long period is daunting. Nor should you try to duck the issue by choosing a washy, uncommitted design – these simply cease to register after a short time. Get your money’s worth by investing in a really interesting design. By fifteen most teenagers have a pronounced sense of style. Any plain colour or pattern chosen is likely to be pretty sophisticated. Before you unthinkingly hang curtains at the windows pause to consider a baby’s requirements – you may have forgotten that in the beginning he is 22¢ unable to turn away from the light. Curtains, unless drawn completely, are not so effective as blinds in shading the sun from his eyes.
The storage system may well be the most expensive item on the agenda. If you choose a firmly established design, however, you can buy units as you need them. Look for a system that incorporates a mobile shelved unit to hold toilet necessities during the first stage – this will later prove invaluable as a bedside table or for holding such things as writing or painting materials, reference books or records and a record player. The system must also include capacious locker units for stowing away toys, a desk unit and, of course, cupboard and drawer units plus top storage. Do not be. persuaded to invest in units less than 53 cm. (21 in.) deep; hanging space of adult proportions can be needed by a child of twelve nowadays. You will find that only a system designed for living rooms and bedrooms is likely to contain all the units you need. Those intended for children’s rooms look too juvenile to suit a child over ten and, being low, waste valuable top space which can be used to store such things as bedding and holiday clothes. Near-indestructible finishes such as melamine have a definite advantage over more vulnerable ones but, unlike whitewood, they cannot be redecorated to blend with the rest of the room. Children stick painting, posters, photographs and postcards on walls with glue, Sellotape, drawing pins or anything else which offers a fixing. Provide a really big pinboard and set an example by organizing all pictures on it from the beginning.
ARRANGING THE ROOM
If you follow the suggestions we have made, arranging the room should not be a problem because you will not have innumerable pieces of free-standing furniture to include. Most small rooms arrange themselves: owing to the position of the door and window there is probably only one draught-free place for the bed and one free wall against which to install the storage system.
Complications arise when two or more children must share the room. All is simple while they are young. Trouble starts when they begin to want a little privacy, often leading to a request for their own rooms. If this is not possible, peace can only be preserved by dividing the room into well-defined areas. This can be achieved by either decorative or structural means.