Elizabeth Mayhew on kids bedroom design ideas and tips | Home Front

Aug 08, 2013

Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's Today Show. She is the author of FLIP! For Decorating (Ballantine) and has worked for Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living and Woman's Day.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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How nice to have our columnist Elizabeth Mayhew on the chat today. Elizabeth, who by the way went to Georgetown University, is a design writer, editor and a contributing editor on NBC's Today Show. She writes a monthly design column for The Washington Post. Her column today is about decorating for kids. We are announcing a Washington Post Kids Room Decorating Contest today so read about it here. Let's go!

Hi Everyone, So happy to be talking to you today. I am happy to answer any of your decorating questions.

I saw a front door painted lavender and that had never occurred to me. It was pretty and unique. Not pastel and sweet, but a gray, dusky medium lavender. Do you have any paint suggestions from the Behr line? Thank you so much.

I don't have  Behr deck handy, but I would urge you to look in the gray tones. Grays can often have a lavender tone particularly in certain light. I would steer clear of a straight-on lavender as you may get sick of it quickly

Loved your story. However, we just moved out of state and I promised the kids they could choose whatever paint color they want (I see I am breaking one of your rules). My son has lovely blue furniture from Land of Nod -- not exactly neutral :). His favorite color is red and he is insistent that he have a red room (I have tried to suggest grey or beige walls with red accessories but he won't have it). Any suggestions for a red paint that won't make the room seem like a preschool classroom with the blue furniture? Thanks in advance!

I have always liked Benjamin Moore's Million Dollar Red--it's not too orange and not too blue. Maybe you can strike a deal with your son and only paint one of the walls red? Perhaps the wall that the bed is against? That way you can keep the other walls neutral and if he changes his mind in a year or two, the paint job won't be as laborious. 

Hi Jura. Just wanted to thank you for taking my question a few weeks back about asbestos, and for hosting these chats. I'm sure they are a lot of work but it is such a wonderful learning resource!! I love Thursdays at 11 am!

How sweet of you to say! Thanks so much for joining us on Thursdays. I appreciate all your kind words and so happy when we can help.

We will soon be moving my son from his nursery to his "big boy" room. Right now the new room is empty. I want to decorate the room to be appropriate for a two year old, but in a way that will last for a few years. Any ideas of how to make it not too babyish while still being cute? He loves trucks and trains if that helps.

I would keep it stylish and simple. Pick a color that he can grow into. There is no reason that his room needs to look like a preschool class room or a racetrack. If he loves trucks and cars (as my son did) then he will need a comfortable rug to sit on as that is where he did most of his playing. I would steer clear of going too crazy with a theme.  He will soon be onto another obsession...

I have been using Pledge for decades on my furniture and now I'm questioning whether that is a good product. What do you use when you are dusting your wood furniture?

Sometimes just using a microfiber cloth is a good idea and maybe a bit of lemon oil on it. Scotts Liquid Gold wood cleaner and preservative is another product I've used over the years with good results. How do you all dust and polish your wood furniture?

Hi -- I'm about to redo my two boys' room (ages 5 and 3) by getting a bunk bed and adding a reading area with bean bag chairs. Any suggestions for making this room last as a shared bedroom even as they get older? thank you, Dana S.

My kids shared a room for 10 years and they aren't even the same sex! Just make sure they each have a place to study, as that becomes more important as they get older. One thing I did in their room was to give each of them a very large corkboard that they could decorate as they wished. I had a carpenter make it by using cork and inexpensive framing. Bean bags are great--my kids lived in them (sometiemes even napped in them). I suggest getting two of different but coordinating colors so that they each have their own. 

Where do you draw you inspiration from for your own kids' rooms?

Great question. When my kids were little I drew inspiration from the colors of the dance of the Sugarplum Fairies from the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker. I know that sounds crazy, but I have always loved the candy pastels--they are incidentally the same colors that the very expensive children's boutique Bonpoint uses for their bags. I figured if I couldn't afford the clothes, I could at least afford the color palatte. This scheme worked well for the first 10 years while my kids shared a room. My daughter still lives in that room, but we moved my son to a tiny maid's room. Inspriation for his room came partly from a ship--it is so tiny it had to be build out like a ship's cabin. The color came from his eyes--it's a olive green.

The wool area rug in my living room seems to be full of lumps. Whenever I try straightening it out, the lumps come back pretty quickly. Any suggestions? Do I need a new area rug?

I'm not sure if this is a wall-to-wall or an area rug. Perhaps it needs to be steam cleaned.

What is it like working on the Today Show? Do you come up with your own design ideas? Do you have a budget for presenting your ideas?

LOVE working at the Today Show! Have been there now for over a decade. It really is a family--everyone from the crew to the talent  is warm and welcoming. I think people would be shocked by how much goes into each segment--days of work. One thing I love is that after I get all of my props to the sudio, I am not allowed to touch them. There is an intire crew of carpenters and set designers who do it all from ironing the sheets to building an Ikea bookshelf. Wish life were like that!!! LOL

What kind of fabrics are good for the upholstery on kids rooms? We also have pets.

No question that the best fabrics for kids' rooms and for pets are outdoor fabrics or solution dyed acrylics. There has been tremendous developments in this area--no longer do stain-resistant fabrics feel plasticy. You can look to sites like www.outdoorfabrics.com or even check out the fabric by the yard from Ballard Designs.

My daughter is 13 and her room is not quite a square shape. It is also a little dark, with one dormer window and a narrow skylight. (She hates the darkness of the room.) The walls are painted a light blue. In one corner of the room, she has created a "music center", (with her violin and ukulele hanging on the wall, her (my) guitar on a stand with a stool and her music stand.) We have wood floors, but my daughter prefers carpeting. I have looked into FLOR and thought we could do something in the pattern to point to the music corner. What do you think of FLOR for a bedroom carpet? Is it too rough? Should we go with a light carpet to lighten up the room?

Would you ever consider painting the floors white? My daughter had a room once that sounds exactly like your daughter's I painted the floors white which brighted the room then  put down  an area rug plus a few sheepskin flokati rugs from Ikea. FLOR is a great product and certainly gives you flexibility, but not necessarily comfort.

Hi Elizabeth. I wonder if you'll be writing another book, maybe about the barn you are renovating?

Not sure I am going to do another book, but am really thinking about finally blogging. I have resisted, but am feeling like it is finally time to join the ranks. If I were to do a book, it would be a cookbook/entertaining book as that is really my first great love.

Hi Elizabeth. I love your columns in the Post. If I don't want to lighten the color you chose for your daughter's room, what other beige paints do you recommend that are similar in hue? I love Farrow and Ball and Benjamin Moore if that narrows it down for you.

So glad you like my columns. I have had a great time writing them! As for other neuturals, I like BM's Early Morning Mist although it can really change color based on light, so make sure you test it. I would stay away from Farrow and Ball's beiges. I have tried many of them and for some reason they always look fleshy--too much like bad makeup foundation. I think it's because they were all formulated for gray Brittish days. :) 

That is an impressive resume! And a diverse one at that. What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you faced in terms of moving forward in your career?

The biggest challenge is of course balancing it all--kids, pets, work and getting dinner on the table. I have been fortunate however because I have made a career out of doing the things I love. That is the secret!

I'm afraid the room my two children are in will not accommodate them space-wise as they get older. What do I do to make sure they're comfortable/maximize storage space as I can?

To maximize space you MUST think vertically as well as horizantally. You need to have shelves and/or storage that goes all the way up to the ceilling. I often use the Elfa System from the Container Store. It's easy to install and it is adjustable. Fill it with bins and storage containers for clothing and toys. I would also suggest making their beds look and feel more like day beds. If you can, push them against the wall and give them lost of pillows. You will need to carve out another space in your home for them to study and/or to go to when they need some quiet time.

I love Phoebe Howard's sophisticated decorating style and would love to find a decorator in Northern Virginia to help me achieve this style. Do you or any of your readers have any suggestions?

Marika Meyer comes to mind. Anyone else out there have any ideas?

Hi Elizabeth. I'm already looking ahead to the holidays and want to make some changes to my dining room. What kind of rug do you suggest? Also, any lighting recommendations. And do you have a go-to comfortable chair for spending a lot of time hanging out and eating?

I would suggest an indoor/outdoor rug--I like the ones from www.dashandalbert.com. As for chairs, comfort is important especailly if you want your guests to linger at the table. I find that Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams makes very comfortable chairs and I like that you can get washable slipcovers for them. I also keep some folding chairs on hand just in case. I like the Louis folding chairs from Ballard Designs which incidentally are on sale now!

What is your favorite trim and ceiling white?

I always use Benjamin Moore's Decorator White in Semi-gloss and the same color in Flat for the ceiling/

I know you've probably answered this multiple times, but can you indulge me once more? How do I rid my microwave of lingering fish smell? We're talking weeks here, and it just won't go away... thank you!

Put several lemon slices and some water  in a microwave safe bowl. Cook the lemon on high for a few minutes. If that doesn't work, put a bowl of white vinegar in the microwave for several days. If that doesn't work, you might have to buy a new one :)

I really love kids decor because much of it seems to have a white base instead of beige. See, for example, Pottery Barn Teen instead of the regular site. Do you know of any sites for adults like that? Am I the only adult like this?

I am with you. I love white furniture and accessories. Have you looked at Oly Studio or Bungalow5? I think you will like both.

Any advice for decorating for a pre-teen's room, to maximize the chances she will keep it at least clean if not neat? I've already had her choose the paint, furniture, decorations. Have put in closet organizers, hamper, bins, etc to facilitate at least keeping stuff contained. HELP!

I am with you as I have a 16 year old. A couple of things: I try not to yell at her (try is the operative word), but rather instill in her a sense of responsibility. I have given her a small vacuum, a microfiber duster and some wipes that all stay in her room. I have to believe that having these items in her room will entice her to use them. As for keeping things organized, she is so busy that she has quickly figured out that if she isn't on top of things then stuff slips through the cracks. It's not my fault if she can't find her math textbook! I also refuse to buy new things for her if she doesn't take care of what she has.

I have some old magazines I would like to put on shelves. Do you have any suggestion?

If you really want to keep them, look for nice magazine boxes at either the Container Store or Ikea. Personally, I would go through them, tear out what you like and recycle the remaining. Chances are you will never look at them again--advice from a long-time magazine editor!

The sales guy at a very nice furniture store told me not to use store bought cleaners. They sell specially formulated products. Harden makes one and only needs to be used once a year, the rest of the year it just gets wiped down w/ a soft cloth


Great topic today! We are moving this weekend and my son, who is entering middle school, wants to leave behind the Pottery Barn Kids look and graduate to something more suited to his age. We've stuck to traditional navy and plaid, but can you offer some ideas for a tween boy to make his room a little more fun and unique?

I would definitely involve him in the discussion--find out what colors he likes etc, but definitey avoid doing the full TEEN thing ie don't make his bed look like a surf board. For most boys I find they want a place to "chill" which is why I made my son's room look more like a library/living room/den than a bedroom. If you want to stay flexible, I would suggest covering the wall in cork and then overlaying grasscoth so that he has a giant wall to pin up what he likes.

Do you like wall to wall carpeting in the bedroom or area rugs? We have wood floors.

I have all area rugs. Have never liked wall-to-wall! I also like painted floors--there is just something so crisp and clean about them!

taking a week off to get my bathroom a facelift. but color has me stumped. I have black granite floor tiles and tub/shower. What wall color would you use? It's stark white now and horrible looking. want to warm it up a little. (and rip out the tile when i have the cash)

Use either Gray Owl or Chelsea Gray, both from Benjamin Moore. 

Sorry, I'm not following you...

use olive oil!

I will start frequently hosting my brother and his 10-year-old for a few days. I am thinking about getting a bunk bed for that and putting it in a corner since I do not have a 2nd bedroom. Do you have any suggestions for decor making him feel at home?

I would probably do a trundle bed, not a bunk bed--It will give you more flexibilty when they are not there.

Thanks Elizabeth for being with us today. We had a lot of great questions about kids rooms and you left us with a lot of practical and stylish suggestions. You all should consider entering the 2013 Washington Post Kids Room Contest.

Have a great day everyone and see you next on August 29.

Thanks so much for having me--great readers and great questions! Happy decorating everyone.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Elizabeth Mayhew
Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's Today Show. She is the author of FLIP! For Decorating (Ballantine) and has worked for Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living and Woman's Day. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
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