5 tips to designing a timeless kids bedroom

It’s vintage inspired. It’s kinda grown up. It makes me want to be a kid again.

I go back and forth between which is better: boys or girls. I mean, girls are pretty awesome on all accounts, but with boys you can do really adorable things to their rooms and they barely look up from their transformers long enough to put up a fight. That goes a long way with a future overbearing (style-wise) parent like myself (KIDDING!!). With Graham’s bedroom below, he just wanted it to have some space/”Star Wars” references in it, and somewhere to put his toys. No problem, Mr. Graham. I got you.

boys bedroom emily henderson The main request from the parents was that it was timeless enough that they didn’t have to redo it in five years — sure, change out the textiles, have fun with the accessories, but the general design and the furniture should remain the same.

So I partnered with Land of Nod to fulfill that space bedroom mission — a room that is “boy” but could possibly morph into “young dude” in a few years. Here are some tips to help you create a room to grow, if you will … and I’ll understand if you don’t because that sounded like a Hallmark channel special on gastric bypass. But you get what I mean.

land of nod boys bedroom

1. Choose a color palette that is kid enough without being too “baby.” This room doesn’t get a ton of light,  (as you can see below) so I chose a medium tone on the walls (Half Moon Crest by Benjamin Moore). It’s something that isn’t too dark and won’t frankly frighten him, but would be darker then just white (because, I’ll say it again: white in a windowless space looks dead). Sure, you can have bright saturated colors in the room, but by keeping the main wall color more sophisticated you avoid having to repaint it in five years. A gray like this feels “boy” without feeling “baby boy.”

yellow and blue boy's bedroom

2. Choose furniture that YOU like, not just furniture that he likes. While he might be dying for a sofa that is in the shape of a Tella-Tubby or Jabba the Hut, he will get over that quickly … and then guess what you are going to have? A sofa in the shape of a Tella Tubby or Jabba the Hut (which I recently learned is not Java the Hut).  So when buying furniture make sure that YOU like it, and that after he gets sick of it or grows all old and goes to college, then you can incorporate the furniture into other areas of the house. Every piece of furniture in this room is cute enough to go in a grown-up room, so therefore it’s more timeless.

boy's bedroom star wars

3. Get cooky with the toys and accessories.  You’ve stayed grown-up with furniture, but he’s FIVE. Yes, trucks and cars can be styled to be objects on a shelf. Do it. The shelf is timeless, the chair is great for all kids spaces, but all the accessories bring in the child’s personality. Show restraint with the furniture, but go nuts with the accessories by styling it all playful.

The lucite box full of vintage toy planes is just that: a lucite box with vintage planes in it. I got them for $40 at an antique store and I wanted to put them under a glass dome — hello, I’m Emily Henderson and I struggle daily with how predictable I can be) — but you can’t put glass domes on shelves in kids rooms. They’ll pull them off the shelf, break the glass into shards of glass, tear open their tiny nimble fingers playing with said glass and then, GASP, get blood all over the textiles as they are feeling their way towards a Band-Aid. I shudder to think of the damage to the fabric.

No glass, so instead I bought this acrylic display box from The Container Store and threw them all in there. I told Graham he could certainly take them out and play with them, but he said, “No, I want them just for design,” and tears or joy, love, and mostly pride came to my eyes.

In case you are worried about that vintage shelf toppling down, we tied it back with earthquake ties, so it’s not going anywhere. I put the items on the bottom that he plays with and the items on top that are “more for design,” as he puts it.

vintage inspired kids bedroom

4. Mix two to three patterns in the room to avoid chaos. As a massive fan of pattern it can be hard for me to say this, but kids are already chaotic (no offense, parents). By mixing a ton of patterns in their rooms, you are adding so much busyness and chaos even before they spread their toys and socks and kid-like mess around. So I would limit the patterns to three in a room. In this case, we have one HUGE scale (the painting, stay tuned next week for the DIY of that!, by Orlando and his cohort, Alexis), one medium pattern (the rug) and one small pattern (the bedding). They all look really good together, totally intentional but not loud.

vintage boys bedroom

5. Add symmetry to help it feel pulled together. Non-symmetrical rooms can be more exciting, indeed, but symmetry is a funny thing — it really calms things down and is VERY easy for your eye to understand. It takes away a lot of distraction and contrast, and therefore is easier to interpret and understand. When your eye understands a space better, it feels calm and quiet. For a kids room, symmetry is more sophisticated but it also gives it a sense that it’s more pulled together, immediately. So even when it’s messy it feels less messy. In this case we used matching nightstands and matching lamps — it’s not always necessary, but it keeps things quieter.

Almost all items in this post are Land of Nod, listed below. Anything else is vintage or antique.

Hanging Around Pendant Lamp, Faculty Mixer Graphic BeddingBlack Isosceles Table LampBoom Box Throw Pillow, Globe nightlight is no longer available, but I love this Elephant Nightlight, Three Cube Storage Bench, Pastel Plaid RugBlake Nightstand.

All incredible photographs are by the even more incredible David Tsay that I somehow convinced to shoot with me again. :) Thanks to Land of Nod for helping me with these lovely kids bedrooms.

vintage boys bedroom

This post was in partnership with Land of Nod, but all designs, thoughts, ideas, words, and general ramblings are my own.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the behind-the-scenes video, and next week for the DIY post of the headboard painting. Meanwhile make sure you’ve seen his sister, Grace’s room that I also designed with Land of Nod.

So what do you all think? Do you approve?

  1. Gorgeous room. Perfect for a little boy. Absolutely loved his sister’s room, too. Where did you get the globe mobile? I’m kind of obsessed with it and I want one for my daughter’s nursery.

    • Emily

      I got it from a store in LA called New Stone age, but i think if you google it you can find it online. It was $75

      • Oh my. I didn’t even think to Google it. Duh. I did find it a few places. Thank you so much! And thank you for continuing to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration. You’re going to make a great mom. :)

  2. Great tips and the room looks amazing. Can’t wait for the painting d.i.y. next week {loved it!}

  3. Alisa

    Love it, and the tips are spot on. ITA with the subdued wall color suggestion in particular. The gray you used here is lovely. Ironically, I just blogged about vomit and kids rooms this morning ;) but I see you are too highbrow for that. hahaha…

  4. Ann Boughton

    Great room! But, Emily, what you are spelling as “cooky” should be spelled “kooky.” Just thought you’d want to know.

    • Emily

      thats hilarious. i spell kooky VERY cooky. xx

  5. Diana

    Emily…you CRACK me up (in a most amazing, hilarious way). I love the bedroom and all your great tips. Awesome job!

  6. Erin

    Totally love it! But, I’ve been patiently waiting for this room reveal for one reason, window treatments!! You see I’ve got the same bedding for my son’s room and I’m stuck on what curtains might go with the bedding. I’m looking for something with a golden yellow in the pattern. So I kept saying, just wait and see what Emily does for curtains with that bedding, and then… no windows in the room (dun dun duuuun)!!!! :( Any suggestions oh wise one?

    • Ahh! I’m so sorry. We did white Romans in there and there was a more pulled back shot of that I didn’t get from the photographer but ill see if I can!

    • I was about to ask the exact same question!

  7. JJ

    Lovely! Where is the hanging planet system from?

  8. Eileen

    So spot on. Love it. Feeling slightly guilty for the hand me down furniture and dark green walls in my 12 year old son’s room. Jr high is tough. Hopefully this will inspire me to do something, but where to start?

  9. ketti

    I have a 6 year old who requested a Star Wars themed room and he has one lonely, oddly-angled window that offers no light. Your paint advice makes me very happy and I will be using this room as my inspiration, thank you very much!

    • Emily

      Yes, LETS!!

  10. Great job Emily! Looking at the pictures of this room I’d say that Graham would be just as happy as his sister with the new room. You’ve inspired me to tackle my boys room! They would love something sports/football inspired. I want to oblige but don’t want to get too themey! Any thoughts?

  11. Kimberly

    The painting is amazing! I would never, ever think of something like that for a kids room and it really makes the space. The headboard looks even more beautiful against it. I wish more of my friends were interested in design. Their kids rooms all look like ‘kids rooms’…nothing they could grow into. Just because they’re little people doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have style like big people!

  12. I hope that one day I have a 5-year-old son who understands that certain accessories are “more for design.”

  13. lamamatogng

    I will say it again, Emily: YOU ARE AMAZING! #solucky

    • Emily

      AHHH, thank you so much. xxxxxx

  14. Jihane

    Aaaaaaaaah I love it!! BUT Emily, be careful, a 5-year old kid who wants planes just “for design” might just be your next rival :))

    • Emily

      He already started playing with them, i think he was placating me. :)xx

  15. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room you’ve designed that I didn’t like. You did it again, Emily Henderson. I love it!

  16. Tasha

    Love it. I’m dying to know more about the globe mobile.

  17. Loved all your tips. I love how the rooms are kid rooms but in your style. You inspired me to redo my daughters room.

  18. Sarah

    Amaze-zing!!!
    Thank you for generously sharing some of your knowledge and talent with us!

    • Emily

      Well, thank you VERY much and you are VERY welcome. Thank you so much for reading and especially commenting. It makes it worth it. xxx

  19. Lo

    Totally adorable. Love it!

  20. Dana O.

    Emily,

    All I’m saying is that the white chair looks very similar to a toilet. And that if I were 5, it would be THE COOLEST CHAIR MY PARENTS EVER BOUGHT.

    Kudos for inadvertently incorporating captain underpants.

    -Dana

    • Hillary

      Toilet chair was my first thought too! Apparently I am a five year old boy, ha ha!

      I really love this room, how it is boyish without being overly macho, themed without being cheap-looking or saccharine, and practical without being dull. I am just about to redo my girls’ rooms (well, convert the guest room into a nursery for the six month old and update the seven year old’s little girl room) and your kid room posts are really inspirational!

      • Emily

        That is SOOOO funny. One of my assistants, i think Alexis, thought that and i didn’t see it, but clearly other people do. Luckily he’s 5 so he’s potty trained.

  21. Lindsey

    great job!! kids rooms can be tough, but you hit the nail on the head with this one. i was wondering what color is that dark blueish/teal color? its fantastic!

    • Emily

      Orlando will get into that color next week during the DIY. Thanks!

  22. This is PERFECTION. I absolutely love doing kids rooms- they’re probably my favorite. These are wonderful tips. The bookshelf styling is spot on.

  23. gwendolyn

    i love this! i will say though, i do have a big glass dome in my 3 year old son’s room. but it has a plant under it and he’s a pretty cautious kid. i could never have that in my daughter’s room though. :) looking forward to the art tutorial next week!

  24. Kirsty

    That painting behind the bed is genius! It looks amazing and I will be patiently waiting for the tutorial…

    • Emily

      Stay tuned. Orlando is writing the post right now, next to me on the way home from DC. Right, Orlando? Cut to him sleeping ….

  25. Debbie

    The room is, of course, fantastic! Two quick questions: Would it be possible to show a picture that shows the wall with the white dresser on it? And your sneak peak showed use of star wars wall decals. Did you end up using them? If so, where? Thank you so much! You are wonderful!

    • Emily

      Hm, no white dresser in this room. But the decals ended up in a corner that need to be ‘engaged’ and they are awesome but we couldn’t get an angle on them. I so regret not snapping a photo of that corner just to show how cute they are but we were trying to shoot three projects that day so sadly we didn’t prioritize it. But yes! they were awesome and i totally recommend them. xx

  26. patty blaettler

    LOVE IT! Question: I am doing a guest room white/cream/black. I have a 72″ midcentury modern dresser taking up one wall. I think those black lamps would look cool, but I can see the cord. Will that drive me bonkers? please advise

    • Emily

      I don’t think the cord drives me nuts at all. So no, i don’t think so. I think these lamps are totally awesome – architectural and masculine and they look way more expensive (especially with those shades that come with them) than the $100 they are (or maybe even less, i forget.) I say get ‘em. xx

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  28. Erin

    I am so excited that you did a boy’s room. I’m collecting inspiration for my son’s big boy room, and have saved all your pictures. Bin o’ airplanes = genius!

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  30. Nikki

    What a handsome room! I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I plan to stay far, FAR away from any and all cartoon/character furniture. It makes me cringe.

    P.S. Thank you for giving reasons as to why you do things (i.e. the tip on symmetry). I know that I appreciate well designed pieces, but sometimes I don’t know the “rules” for placing them in a room to make it look put together instead of chaotic.

  31. tata

    amazing room. so jealous that this 5 year old have a nice room than me!! totally amazing and i love every bit of it… and by the way, whatever happend to little children sleeping in twin size beds? am i the only poor kid that had to sleep on those all the way till highschool?? jeeez so jealous.

  32. JEN

    LOVE it!!! Thanks for sharing this awesome room!

  33. Well done, as usual, Emily. These kids are too cute. And those black lamps – pretty awesome. I might just need to use them in an adult room soon : )

  34. Jandy

    Great room , Emily!!….I have a question: I hear you about the deadness of white walls in a low-light room. I have a room that stylistically cries out for white walls (neat & organic-y–rock fireplace, black wrought iron banister, warm woods, etc) BUT light is low. The gray you used looks great, any other ideas? (I know people pay you for your ideas, so no specific shades required, just your general thoughts)….

  35. Melody

    Where is the framed map on the wall from? I love the colors in it. Also, Is the frame from Ikea?

  36. Kristin

    You are amazing, a real inspiration! I absolutely love this room! I have one question…what other color bed could you have used?

  37. Cassie

    Where did you find the pillow with the ship blue prints on it? It looks vaguely like the Titanic. It would be perfect for my livng room couch as I am trying to work in some more interesting masculine touches to please my husband. That pillow is just cool!

  38. carol

    this room is perfection. what color gray do you use on the walls? it’s so warm. thank you!

  39. Tabitha pacheco

    Love the room, but can’t get stop laughing at the chair. It looks like a giant toilet! I’ve been potty training so I guess that’s on my mind…

  40. Julia

    No opinions from boys?! You haven’t read ManhattanNest’s post about his childhood rooms, right? Or plenty of other men writing about their childhood rooms (I think David Sedaris has a hilarious bit about his own childhood room designs, but I could be getting him mixed up with someone else)…

    I think the room looks good, but I also am very wary of designing kids’ rooms. Growing up, there were lots of limitations on what I could and couldn’t do in my room (basically no money (so this pink blanket from a garage sale will have to work!), rented so no painting/nails, and shared with siblings) but outside of that I had pretty much free range. I wasn’t technically supposed to rearrange the furniture without help, but I found out early that my parents lacked my vision for a new layout while my younger siblings were fine helping move stuff as long as I took any potential fall.

    I feel like this freedom to control/determine my own space was a really important part of my development and I see friends who weren’t allowed to control their own bedrooms at all who are unable to envision spaces/improvements (which is sad for them, but I love being able to live vicariously through friends’ spaces). I also babysate for some upper-middle class/wealthy families with very designed rooms that were clearly about the narrative of childhood that the parents had for the kids. Unlike me, however, my siblings never expressed the same interests as me and I can’t imagine living in their spaces (I visited my brother for five weeks when he was working in another country; he didn’t see a need for beds or any tables besides folding ones yet in a year and a half in a luxury apartment).

    So my question for you is one I’ve often felt when I see cool designed kids’ bedrooms: how are kids supposed to experiment with and develop a sense of design (esp. if we accept that failure is part of the learning process) when they are not given control over their own space? And related, regardless of a kid’s desire to design a space, what about the benefit to a child of having control over some space in their life? Why do parents get to design not just the rest of the house, but the kid’s room as well? How does a designer of kids’ rooms balance childhood development with what magazines consider pretty (e.g. Montessori stuff often runs really low and has a very recognizable look)? I feel like you had pretty similar parents to mine (very child/family focused, creative, willing to step outside the box) and you clearly developed a strong sense of design. If you get a chance to share your thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

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  45. Jennifer

    Love everything about this room. Amazing job as always! I don’t see a source for the white bookshelf and it’s not on the Land of Nod site. Can you advise on the source? Thanks!

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  47. Kristin

    Emily,
    Please, pLease, pLease help! I have incorporated much of your ideas in my son’s room. It is very similar to this room except my room in MUCH smaller. Can you give me a suggestion of another bed (possibly with a trundle)? I have to use a twin size bed due to space. i would greatly appreciate your suggestion!
    Thank you!
    Kristin

  48. Kata

    Emily, this is great room. Thanks a lot for yours ideas. =)

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  51. Tracy

    Hi,
    I love the bed and am looking for something exactly like it for my 7 year old’s room – he’s a wild sleeper but it’s time for bed rails to come off and his current bed is too high, so looking for something like this – low profile, no high wooden footboard etc. Is it from LoN too or somewhere else?
    Thanks!
    Tracy

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  53. This is a great post and shows that by applying a few simple rules, everything else will just ‘work’. Thanks for sharing.

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  57. Ariel

    I really am surprised at the quantity of big brands and designers which were doing clothes for children and also toddlers…I simply need
    to make sure she doesn’t start asking for super trendy outfits or I am going to end up a lot poorer

    my website :: Ariel

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  59. The Boy Have To Wear Wite Socks Not Red Socks in Bed Room

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