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Let teenagers rock their room decor — within limits

One day they are 9-year-olds affixing Hannah Montana or Spider-Man posters to their walls.

Then they are teenagers.

He wants to paint his bedroom walls black. She demands a vampire-themed suite. Mom and Dad are bummed out and prepared neither to embrace nor indulge this evolving outlook.

Relax, say interior designers with experience negotiating parent/teen tensions over room decor.

Establishing independence is the very marrow of adolescence. And bedrooms are oases of autonomy. For most kids, it’s the only part of the house over which they — and nobody else — can claim sovereignty.

When it comes to children’s rooms, experts recommend giving kids some leeway. Work with — not against — them to change the space and make it feel like their own.

“I had a kid who wanted his bedroom black, and the mom was like, ‘What do I do?’ ” says Kristi Dinner, a Denver interior designer. “We compromised with a very dark chocolate brown with white trim and white built-ins. The mom was scared, but it ended up being beautiful.”

It’s just paint, Dinner adds. “There are a lot of things that would be a lot more permanent and cost a lot more money than paint.”

Another example: A girl who wanted the frilly Victorian canopy bed versus the mother with a refined taste for clean and contemporary.

“We ended up getting a custom upholstered bed with different fabrics,” Dinner says. “The daughter had her own taste and voice, but it was in the context of this very modern house.”

Negotiation is key, says Joyce Clegg, owner of Littleton’s Daydream Designs.

“Can we paint the headboard of your bed, instead of the walls? Can we give you a black bedspread? I had a kid who painted his ceiling purple rather than black” (after he talked about it with his parents), she says.

As kids age, some things remain the same. Teenage girls, in general, cling to their love of bright colors and shiny things, Clegg says. What’s in right now? Beaded doorways (the kind popular during the 1970s), and mirrors. The designer recently created a chair rail around a girl’s bedroom made entirely of small, round mirrors.

Boys have “very one-word- specific design inspirations,” she says. Like blue. They might want an entirely blue room, perhaps with some Broncos stuff on the walls. Boys, Clegg adds, value their privacy more.

“They want a dark room,” she says. “Heavy drapes (for) sleeping until the crack of noon.”

One thing that sticks with boys and girls alike as they grow older, Dinner says, is a reluctance to jettison childhood possessions. Kids tend to gather piles of stuffed animals, trophies or collectibles. When they are 15, they don’t spend much time with them anymore, but they still cherish them.

“They don’t want to get rid of them, but they don’t have room for them,” says Dinner. “So we tend to do very high shelving, sometimes on two or three walls, above the door height, where they can still see their stuffed animals and trophies, but it gets them up and out of the way.”

As tweens turn into teenagers, though, it’s not just wall colors and posters that change. Suddenly, their homework duties have increased dramatically. They want to hang out with friends in their rooms — not down in the basement “playroom” or in the kitchen with Mom.

Both factors influence how bedrooms evolve as kids march through high school.

“I divide rooms into different spaces: sleep, study and entertainment,” says Clegg. The “study” portion of the equation, she says, can foster the most changes.

“They need a lot of storage options. It’s important when they get into high school. More books, more research materials, and it has to include technology. Teenagers all study with music. They have to have their docking stations, they have to have the Internet, so they can do their research. It’s important that space is functional for them and that it has some organization to it.”

One difference from the recent past: The spread of wireless connections within houses, coupled with laptops, means studying has the potential to be more mobile. Some parents create separate rooms just for studying. Others turn quiet nooks or corners in their houses into dens for scholarship.

“Life has changed. You don’t have to be in a specific spot doing homework,” says Marjie Goode, owner of The Goode Touch Interiors in Littleton. “The old idea, that you have to have the desk in the room, especially for teenagers, has totally changed.”

The owners of one home she decorated removed all desk areas from the kids’ bedrooms. In their place, they had Goode design “socializing areas,” complete with couches and televisions.

“They became mini-suites,” she says.

Goode advocates putting study areas in places other than bedrooms. Kids, she says, should learn how to work in noisy environments.

“Look at how many people do work in coffee shops,” she says. “I think we have to think of our teenagers growing up and working in this world.”

It is natural for parents to lament the old days, when bedroom walls and shelves were spectacles of innocence. But in many ways, working together with teenagers on rooms is more rewarding than when the parents dictated the decor.

“This is a great opportunity for parent and child to bond,” says Clegg. “Remember that when you reach the point where you don’t want to talk about it anymore.

“Everybody gets frustrated, but it’s a great opportunity.”

-By Douglas Brown

Teaming up with your teen

For about a decade, Colorado-born fashion and home designer Mark Montano, above left, helped young people pull together their ultimate bedrooms as author of the “Cool Room” column in CosmoGirl! magazine. Besides being a regular host on the Style Network and We TV shows, Montano has written many decorating books including “The Big-Ass Book of Crafts” series, in which he sings the stylistic praise and accessibility of handmade projects. Here are Montano’s tips for parents who this summer will tackle a bedroom makeover with their teenager.

What to expect. These days, young people are sophisticated. Don’t be surprised if they request a room that looks like Carrie Bradshaw’s in “Sex in the City” or Tony Stark’s in “Ironman.” Most big-box home stores anticipate this by offering a “teen slant” on their product lines. Also, Montano says, “your kids are going to want color — colors that are altogether more vibrant than what’s in the rest of the house, and that’s fine.”

Open your mind. There’s a way to implement nearly every bizarre decorating idea a young person can come up with. “Think about the fact that your child is starting to make decisions and express their individuality,” Montano says. “This is not the best time or place to stifle that.” Allow them some freedom, and ignore the urge to insert your own tastes.

Research and development. Ask your teen to spend some time researching ways to implement their ideas. They can look at rooms on the Internet and print out pictures that they like.

Make a game plan. For instance, start with bedding, then pick wall color and lamps later. Another popular approach: Pick the rug or carpeting, then select other well-coordinated pieces.

Meet them halfway. When a teen requests all black walls, compromise by painting one wall black, or doing black and white stripes. Or, if a young person requests that an entire room be an intense purple, do one wall in that color, and the others in a matching but less severe shade.

Shop together. Besides being a chance to spend time together and learn more about your young person’s developing style and taste, this drives home the idea that the teen is spending someone else’s money and should take into consideration that person’s opinions.

Sleep on it. Montano points out that the teenage years are a time when young people are busy and growing and their bodies are desperate for recuperative sleep. A comfortable bed, nice bedding and pillows are a must. And since many teens sleep with their cellphones and will sometimes answer calls or texts in the middle of the night, consider creating a charging station away from the bed. It’s also OK to ask that electronics are off at night. “You can negotiate a little bit as you’re working on the room,” Montano says. “They’re basically learning how to create an environment where they can be productive and comfortable.”

– Elana Ashanti Jefferson

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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