Alexandria designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey on how to design a child’s bedroom


Children's room designed by Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey for Washington Design Center's Spring Design House. (Washington Design Center)
August 17, 2011

Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey believes the most important area of a home is the child’s bedroom.

“Giving a child a sense of ownership in that space can really define who they are for the rest of their life,” says Cavin-Winfrey, an Alexandria designer and principal of SCW Interiors. “It really imprints. Every child remembers their first room. It’s something that they hang on to forever.”

Cavin-Winfrey knows of what she speaks. The 39-year-old mother of two, who is one of the judges in our Kid’s Room Contest, still remembers laying the foundation of her future career in her childhood room in Midland, Tex.

“I would design many rooms within my room,” she says. As a kid, she created areas in her bedroom for a kitchen and an office.

Now Cavin-Winfrey uses her eye for detail to design homes in the Washington area and New Mexico, where she spent much of her childhood visiting family. Both regions have influenced her.


Shazalynn Cavin Winfrey (William Stewart/WILLIAM STEWART)

“There’s not one thing about Santa Fe that doesn’t inspire me,” she says. “The light, the museums, the stores, the art galleries.” When she needs some Washington area inspiration, Cavin-Winfrey heads to Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center or Georgetown.

We spoke with Cavin-Winfrey by phone about including kids in the design process, designing rooms shared by multiple children and using bunk beds for more than sleeping. Here are edited excerpts.

Q. What is the first thing a parent or guardian should do after deciding to design a child’s bedroom?

A. Decide what the needs are for the space. Lay out a plan with how much storage you’re going to need vs. what size beds vs. how many beds, night stands, that kind of thing. Assess and evaluate how many toys need to be stored, how many things need to be displayed on the wall. Put the bed, obviously, in first, and then fill in the pieces all the way around.

Q. What is most challenging about designing kid rooms?

A. Storage issues. [Kids’] needs change monthly. They get new toys. They outgrow old ones. It’s sort of important you kind of project that when you start. You’ll have to reevaluate their use of the space probably every three to six months. It needs to have the biggest flexibility.

Q. How can parents include kids in the decorating process?

A. Give your child one thing they are responsible for choosing. And limit it to a certain list such as bedding, the number of pillows they’ll have on their bed, the lamps that they may have in their room. Make them responsible for one facet of the space, and it’s something they’ll tend to sort of run with.

Maybe allow them to choose a special color for their ceiling. I think that’s a space that’s really underutilized. That’s something kind of fun for kids to know that they’ll have something fun on their ceiling because they spend a lot of time looking at it.

If I really wanted my way in the space but the kid was really pushing, allow the kid to pick a door in the room and allow them to paint.

It’s an easy fix. The door needs to be repainted in five years anyway.

Q. Beds are the centerpiece of any bedroom. How can parents make a bed comfortable for sleeping and inviting for sitting?

A. Giving kids an adequate headboard. I think that’s one thing that has a little bit of height for [sitting]. This is why wood is not always the best. It’s not my favorite because it’s hard.

Giving them pillows that are aerodynamically friendly. For sitting on the bed, you want to introduce pillows that are different shapes: the European squares, bolsters, a bed rest pillow or the reading wedge pillow. The bed rest pillow is the one with the arms. You can get [them] at the Company Store, and they sell covers.

Q. If a room has bunk beds, how can parents make them visually appealing?

A. Use the bunk bed as your bulletin board. Allow the kids to put their artwork on the bunk boards. . . . Hang baskets at the end of the beds. Then you’ve got more storage.

Q. Beyond a chair, are there other furniture pieces that kids like to sit on?

A. Parents don’t want to put a lot of money on chairs. I think the beanbag is probably the least expensive and the most versatile seating option that you’re going to get for a kid’s room. I don’t like them, but they are practical and affordable. Once [they’re] worn out, you don’t feel bad throwing them out.

If a parent is going to invest in a chair, a parent will invest in a glider when the baby is born. Don’t get the wooden one that’s not going to appeal to a 5- or 6-year-old. Get the one that can be upholstered.

Q. For parents who don’t want to use nails or tape, what alternatives are there for hanging items on the wall?

A. I do like the laundry line look. That only takes about two nails, as opposed to 20. If you don’t want to use rope, you can use wire and you can hang things on the line with a little clip or a paper clip. Also consider installing a picture rail they can then hang things off.

Q. How important is it for furniture or accessories to be from the same place?

A. One thing I don’t like that a lot of people do with kids’ rooms is they buy too many matching pieces. People go online to Pottery Barn and buy all brown furniture or all white furniture. I think they see it as an easy solution for filling a room.

What really needs to happen is all of those things need to be in different textures to make the room really feel finished.

If you want to buy the desk from Pottery Barn, great. Switch out the knobs. It makes it personal. If it’s an all-brown dresser and you put on metal knobs, it feels like something’s going on, like some thought went into that piece.

Choose each piece individually and don’t be afraid to mix styles. A lot of people miss the small little things, but those little details add up incrementally.

I would also tell people, “Don’t be afraid.” Take a risk as far as what’s acceptable for indoor space. You can put in a small swing if it’s appropriate in a space. You can put a hammock in a corner.

Q. How should parents cater their approach when decorating specifically for a girl or boy?

A. Be careful of overdoing the color. I think people try to accomplish too much of a good thing. The pink bedroom that she likes when she’s 5 she’s probably going to hate when she’s 11.

Look at the ways boys and girls sleep when they start to have sleepovers. [Keep] in mind what your child is comfortable with. Do you need twin beds, or is your child comfortable sleeping with someone in a full-sized bed?

Q. If the room is shared by multiple children, how can each child have something in the room that’s their own?

A. Maybe give them individual lamps. . . . Give them equal but separate storage space so they have a sense of empowerment for their things in the space. Give them their own wall with their own hooks or things that they are allowed to display on that wall so that they take ownership.

Q. Which local and online stores do you like to shop at when designing a kid’s bedroom?

A. I love Great Stuff by Paul [in Frederick]. He has really unusual and unique storage solutions. He also carries a really large selection of child-sized items. Right now he has really great antique chairs from China.

I go to Georgetown a lot. I think Anthropologie has been getting more into bedding for girls. I use Restoration Hardware, too, sometimes. For online stuff, I love Pine Cone Hill. They’ve come out with a wonderful collection with sort of natural organic bedding for boys, and they have a great selections for girls as well.

I love Roberta Roller Rabbit. They have really fun pillows that I use a lot. Another place for really fun pillows that you can add for color is Hen House.

The Kid’s Room Contest

Does your child’s bedroom show your talent for design? Enter The Washington Post Kid’s Room Contest, our search for the best-designed kid’s room in the Washington area. Upload photos of your child’s sharply designed room, absent of kids,, and include your name and contact information. Submissions must be received by Sept. 23. The contest is not open to professional designers. The winner will receive a prize and be featured in an October issue of Local Living.

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m.: Designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey joins staff writer Terri Sapienza for our weekly online Q&A about design and household advice. Submit your questions now.

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