My dad was a man with a plan. Perpetually.
From the make-it-yourself root beer scheme (tasted like toothpaste) to the backyard hives filled with honeybees (ouch!) to the bottles of homemade sauerkraut that exploded all over the basement at 2 o’clock in the morning (I have no words), Jim Baker never met a DIY foodie project that he didn’t like. Or rather, love.
But not all of his plans involved comestibles. A father of four, my dad also had his fair share of parenting brainstorms, which usually resulted in a project or a purchase for each of us — one at a time, in order of birth. First my brother, Mark, would turn 10 and get a digital clock radio for his birthday. Then my sister Leslie. Then my sister Ramsay.
And then, six years after the scheme was first presented to us and long after I’d chewed off every fingernail in nervous anticipation, it would finally be my turn to receive the Holy Grail du jour.
Except when it wasn’t.
Turns out six years is an awfully long time for a parent to sustain interest in something as prosaic as a clock radio. Or Frye boots. Or tennis lessons. And this meant that, typically, by the time my number was called, everyone had already moved on to the Next Big Thing.
I tell you this not to complain. I honestly don’t know what my parents were thinking when they had four children.
I myself knew that I’d hit my mothering limit about 60 seconds after Offspring Number Two arrived. (Not her actual name, by the way.) So I bow in humble awe before any couple with the cajones to choose to be outnumbered.
No, my purpose is to explain how it came to pass that I never got to participate in the biggest Baker Family Big Thing of all: decorating my bedroom. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. The only sibling who wasn’t permitted to design her own room at the age of 12 now designs rooms for a living.
Pretty sure Uncle Sigmund would have a field day with that one.
Now, to be fair to my dad, the room-design project might have been Mom’s idea. She was the artistic parent, after all. And, as an educator, she was all about creating avenues for kids to express themselves. (Which tells you everything you need to know about the outfits I’m wearing in all of my elementary school pictures. Sigh.)
But Mom died when I was 10 — two years before it would’ve been my turn to give the whole decorating thing a go. My dad remarried not long afterward, and, well . . . let’s just say that providing teenagers with opportunities for self-expression in the midst of their OCD-inspired home was not one of this particular couple’s strengths.
So I only got to observe while my older siblings acted out every future designer’s fantasy.
To be honest, Mark’s mid-70s, Grateful Dead-themed choices weren’t at all envy-inducing for me. And Leslie’s Colonial-era canopy bed was a bit too traditional for my taste.
But then came Ramsay. Ramsay, who was all things blonde and beautiful, as far as I was concerned. She was the sibling with the unique name, the golden tresses, and the easy conversational style of a born extrovert — not to mention the most amazing possession of all: a three-piece mint green polyester pantsuit in which she captured first place at our school’s disco dancing contest, while I watched admiringly from the dimly lit safety of Wallflower Land.
But I digress.
Among all of her other enviable traits, Ramsay was also forward-thinking when it came to interior design. Because, when my dad took her down to the furniture store to make her selection, Ram decided to get a jump on the 80s. And boy, did she go all out: A contemporary, white, faux leather bedroom set — low-profiled, accented with shiny chrome hardware, and featuring that ultimate ’80s tribute to hedonism: a queen-sized waterbed.
Even more fabulous was the room that Ramsay got to put all of this in: our house’s former master bedroom, where my crazy-talented mother had painted a floor-to-ceiling reproduction of Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock masterpiece, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”
You have to understand that this was all happening in Connecticut, land of the Center Hall Colonial filled with Shaker-inspired furniture. There was no HGTV, no Apartment Therapy in those days. Nobody I knew had ever heard of shiplap, much less a mural-sized replica of artwork hand-painted on a wall by a member of the family. It left everyone who saw it gobsmacked.
It also left quite an impression on me. This, after all, was my very first feature wall. And what a feature wall it was! Thanks to Mom, my standards for this particular design element have been unusually high ever since. And she is definitely more than a little responsible for my life-long love of Japanese woodblock prints.
As for “The Great Wave,” I keep a postcard-sized reproduction of it on the bureau in my bedroom. Now, every morning, while choosing outfits that are significantly more attractive than the ones I wore for school pictures, I get a beautiful reminder of my sweet, sweet mom.
There’s more where this came from…
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A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
It is my personal belief that people under the age of 18 are humans. This is controversial, I know. But think about it: They eat, they sleep, they breathe, they think. They have opinions and preferences — even as babies.
So when you consider how infrequently children are allowed to act on those preferences, it’s kind of shocking. For the most part, they’re told: When to get up, what to eat (typically), what they can and cannot wear, what to do all day in the classroom, what position they’re going to play on the soccer team, what they have to do all night (homework), and when to go to bed.
For all the talk about a “carefree” childhood, it’s actually pretty oppressive.
That is why it’s so important — in my opinion, anyway — that kids have a place where they get to be the boss. The obvious location? Their bedroom.
This is not an easy step for many parents.
Some worry about cost. Others are wary of catering to people whose tastes change more frequently than Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff. And what if you just can’t bear the thought of walking past a hot-pink princess-themed bedroom sixteen times a day?
Not to worry, my friends. Auntie Amy is here to help.
Allow me to share with you the secret to kid bedrooms that won’t have you tearing your hair out: A versatile “base.” By this, I mean classic pieces of furniture and basic colors that anchor the space and don’t need to change every time The Fickle One decides on a new favorite color.
On top of these, you layer personal, fun, and age-appropriate components that make the room just right for that super-girly 5-year old . . . I mean, sport-obsessed 9-year old . . . Er, um, temporarily Goth-inspired 14-year old. Well, you get the picture.
I know it can be tempting to go for the sports car bed or an 8×10 rug with oversized fuschia flowers. But unless you’re made of money and actually enjoy the treadmill-like experience of redecorating every two years, DON’T DO IT!
Instead, invest your hard-earned salary in good-quality, adaptable pieces that can take your special snowflake all the way from elementary school to the “You don’t understand me!” years to those delightful college vacations when they ask you to do their laundry. (Insert eyeroll here.)
Purchase big pieces — beds, dressers, nightstands, rugs — that can go the distance, and save the age-specificity for finishing touches.
Instead of the sports car bed, try sports car bedding. And put the gigantic fuschia flowers on a wall (decals, anyone?), not the expensive rug.
For example, this is a room I designed for a second grader with a big personality who knew what she liked (the color green, sports, and rock ‘n roll) and what she didn’t (anything pink or “girly”). More than anything, she wanted her room to look “cool.”
We started by anchoring the space with a full-size bed with classic lines that matched the white of her existing dresser. We added a desk, chair, and nightstands in mid-toned wood. And for a neutral color base, we used a soft gray on the floor, the duvet cover, and three of the walls. I chose navy for Color No. 2 because of its versatility. It shows up in lamps, a quilt, and a velvety swivel chair that makes a perfect spot for reading. These are the basics that will work for Lil Miss Spunky until it’s time to fly the coop.
Now it’s time for the frosting. A vivid green accent wall ($25). Custom guitar art from a vendor on Etsy ($50 per canvas). A pair of colorful shams. (On sale for $15 each). (Mom and Dad provided a framed sports jersey as a Christmas present.)
And voila! A super cool space that reflects everything its occupant loves. This year. And when she decides that Boho is the way to go, repaint the accent wall, swap out the art, throw a tapestry over the bed in place of the quilt and shams, and you’re good to go. You can even switch out the lamps if you’re feeling extra frisky.
There now. Do you feel that sense of relief washing over you? Well, enjoy it. This will probably be the only kid-related issue you face that will be this easy to solve.
As for that last concern: “What if I can’t stand the way my kid has chosen to decorate their room?” Not to worry. I have an amazing design-insider answer for that:
Close the door.
It’s not your room. It’s theirs.