by Pat Stelzer
“To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which all enterprise and labor tends.” This beautiful sentiment was penned in 1750 by British author, poet and essayist Samuel Johnson. Much of his work was thought to be difficult to read and moralistic, and much of it only became valued many years after his offerings were published. Yet the truth in this one statement alone carries deep meaning and undeniable insight into the human heart. Perhaps the equivalent to Johnson’s thoughts about home have been summed up in modern times by the saying “home is where the heart is” used on signs, decorative items for the house and on greeting cards.
The question then becomes one of how to put ‘heart’ into a home for all the residents, not just Mom and Dad. Too often parents have a particular agenda all their own when it comes to decorating a home and fail to realize that their children may not share that agenda. This is not to say that children should be given a free hand when it comes to decorating, nor that they should have the final say in the total décor of the house. They should be given a chance to pick and choose for their own rooms and to have some input into those rooms that are considered ‘family rooms’ or ‘game rooms’.
The idea isn’t so frightening when the results are considered. In a kid’s mind, the house goes from being Mom and Dad’s to being ours. They gain some sense of ownership even if it is a miniscule part of the overall dwelling. Keep in mind that someday they will be leaving and then the house does become Mom and Dad’s to do with as they see fit. But the benefit of sharing with children while they are at home is a raft of special memories and lessons the younger members of the family will carry with them for a lifetime.
Every person deserves that sanctuary where they can withdraw from the world at large and exist for a short while in their own little world, their safety zone away from everyone including other family members. What better place than their own room at home, so much safer than other places they might choose in today’s world. To make it truly their place, younger family members need to have some say in the way the room is decorated so that it reflects their personalities rather than the decorating nuances of Mom and Dad. Allowing them, within limits, to make decisions about color, bedding and window treatments, furniture styles and wall hangings gives them a sense of empowerment and the feeling that they are valued members of the family.
Not all items need to be purchased new, and not all changes need to be expensive. Working within a budget is a valuable lesson to be learned. The child should be allotted so much money to be spent in decorating his or her room. They can maximize that by using creative ideas to achieve the effects they want, be it through visiting used furniture stores, garage sales, Goodwill stores or attending an auction. How many kids ever get to go in search of treasures with Mom or Dad in places other than The Mall! What a great new adventure for them, and what a way to broaden their knowledge of what is actually available to them with just a little effort.
Set a limit, beyond the cost of paint or wallpaper, of approximately $200 to $300 dollars to be spent on any other changes the child wants to make, less if furniture is not a part of the project. Let them shop for items to turn their room into ‘their’ room. Shopping with them and helping them learn to work within certain limitations is great experience for them. For example, say one of the kids wants a desk. The best desk for the money is often found in a used furniture store, something that is made from solid wood. It might old, it might be slightly damaged, but with a little TLC and a new paint job, it may be the best buy for the money spent. Let the kid do the work on repairing the desk, with a little help from Dad or Mom, and let the kid paint the desk, again with a little help to learn the right techniques. Other pieces of furniture can be added in the same way, and the child will learn to make choices, manage money, and shop judiciously, not take the first thing they find.
An old piece of furniture be it a chair, bedside table, dresser or desk is not necessarily an antique, and one that has been abused will retain little value on the antique market. That being the case, the piece can gain new life with a coat of paint or a little creative artwork. If the child has a particular interest in a sport, paint the piece in a way that reflects that interest. The top of a desk would make a great football field or basketball court, but that takes a little artistic ability. An interest in cheerleading or soccer also offers possibilities to individualize not just the room, but pieces of furniture. Any interest the child has can be made a part of that child’s private world. If a child has no consuming interest, just paint furniture pieces in a corresponding color with that chosen for the walls. The color can be lighter or darker, but darker is usually the safer way to go, as it will show less damage over a longer period of time. The secret is in choosing good paint, either semi-gloss or high gloss that will withstand years of use.
Bookshelves are great for displaying collectibles, and these could be salvaged from a used furniture store or purchased in a kit from one of the discount stores. Again, painting them to match the room’s décor enhances the overall results of the child’s decorating adventure and offers a place for the child’s most valuable ‘things’. Wall hangings are a great way to give the room a feeling of individuality. Something kids really like is an autograph section on one wall, a framed section of wall on which their friends can sign their names. Remember, someday it can be painted over when the kid leaves home. Let the kid pick the pictures or signs, and if tape on the wall is intolerable, let them use pin tacks to hold unframed items. Let it truly be their hideaway.
So much for the child’s room and now for the ‘family room’. Give over one corner or one wall to the kids in the family room and let them use it to display things that are of importance to them. All sorts of neat things can be done to make it unique and attractive. Again, like the autograph wall in the child’s room, take strips of wood and paint them a contrasting color from the wall making a framed section where the kids can mount their special items or things they want to share with the family and with visitors. This also offers an insight into what’s going on in your child’s life and makes them aware that they are important enough that visitors are welcome to see what they value and that you value your child’s interests.
As for memories, time-shared with children in these endeavors create memories for both parents and their offspring. How great to hear the adult-kid say, “I remember going to that funny little store that sold junk furniture! What a great time I had.” Guide gently as the child makes choices in decorating the room and exercise patience in living with some of their less desirable choices in colors and patterns. Remember, you can close the door if you can’t stand looking at it. Someday you can redo it, but the kid will appreciate the fact that Mom and Dad cared enough to give them that special place where their heart felt at home.