I can almost script every little kid’s response when I ask them what color they want their room painted. When I hand them a fan deck, they usually flip to the brightest and most saturated paint chips of pink, purple, turquoise, and blue. As an interior designer who wants to bring everyone’s story to life through the interior of their space, it is one tall order to have to design a stylish room for four, five, and six-year olds who want their room to feel like sunshine and rainbows.
The case was no different when I asked five-year-old Amelie what color she wanted her room. She responded with, “These colors…all of them,” as she pointed to the entire strip of the Sherwin William’s fan deck of Vivacious Pink, Capri, and Framboise. “Also, I want it to look like this,” as she glanced down at her Polynesian printed halter top and seashell necklace. After Amelie’s diagnosis of a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma, Amelie dressed like a different princess every day so that she (and others) wouldn’t take life too seriously. Today, she was Moana. Since she was no longer able to attend her public kindergarten class, I wanted to turn an oversized toy storage closet in her basement into a chic homeschool room.
I asked myself, “How do I keep this theme room classy, but still incorporate the twenty-one various shades of pink, purple, and turquoise, and not have it end up looking like a movie set for a Disney film?”
The key to keeping a theme room sophisticated is to think of it as a concept that is up for your own interpretation, while also keeping current design trends and timeless design rules in mind. For example, I saw Amelie’s 21 choices of color as an opportunity to implore one of my favorite tricks in designing—tone on tone color. You can use seven different shades of turquoise in a small space if you go lighter for the overall color and choose intense hues for the accents. I chose one of the softest shades of pink (Benjamin Moore’s Pink Damask) for the wall, trim, and ceiling color. Because I paired it with deeper shades of pink, Pink Damask read more like a white than a pink. Using tone on tone color allowed me to put sophistication into a colorful space without sacrificing bright and saturated colors.
Another important design element that needed to be addressed was how to incorporate an island and beach style in a chic way. Instead of literal copies, I chose to use pattern in an abstract way. Oversized palm leaves on top of the soft pink walls created a great accent wall. I selected several different patterns that all worked with each other, but I didn’t use just one pattern and match everything to it. It was important to me that one of the most impactful patterns in the room harkened back to traditional Tahitian tapa cloths. These historic patterns were the perfect backdrop to create this little oasis, so I found a rug that not only brought together all of Amelie’s color choices, but also the beauty of the traditional Fiji patterns.
Using playful furniture—like a swing chair, a floral-inspired light fixture, and a long mirror for dress up—helps incorporate the concepts of whimsy and bliss into the room. I used materials inherent to the theme—like bamboo, light wood-like floors, and tropical plants like cactus and palm—to evoke beachy feelings. While the room had a lot of child-like features, it still felt sophisticated and chic so that both Amelie and her parents could enjoy it.
Overall, the tone on tone colors, the pattern play, and not-so-serious furniture and furnishings created a little slice of Tahitian paradise for sweet Amelie. By keeping in line with a few key elements, creating a theme room is easy. The most important piece of advice I can give someone is what I learned from Amelie—dress up, have fun with it, and don’t take life so seriously.