Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Creating space for kids

I'm sure that plenty of touchy-feely readers have dialled into this expecting me to harp on about kids emotional well-being, so we may as well get the disappointment out of the way early. I grew up in a house where we were briefed on the rules and rights in much the same way that Tom Hanks informed his co-star in Turner and Hooch "this is not your room". Emotional space is a by-product of physical space which is why it was important that Harry Potter got out of the under-stairs cupboard in time for discovering girls and hormones (not to mention his magic wand). As I have also been informed that I can't just sling a hammock under the stairs for my little child (which is a shame, as I'd already gone to the trouble of carpeting the space) I'm busy transforming the house into a child friendly area, complete with his own bedroom. My order of play is safety, then function, then aesthetics. Like most parents I'm working to a budget and many of the things I want to do I think about very carefully.

The next project is the design and installation of a bedroom for the boy. This is going to be quite the undertaking, not least because the people we brought the house from were the type to hide rather than fix their D.I.Y. mistakes.

Here's my game plan for doing the room:

Start from Scratch
The first thing you'll want to do when planning a child's room is to strip everything right back to blank walls. This will give you a clear idea of what you've got to work with. For us this means ripping out some rather crude fitted wardrobes (then replacing a missing floorboard one of them was hiding!). Next the room will be repainted and carpeted. Then I'll be kneeling down and looking at the room from that height as anything I put in place is for the benefit of someone much shorter. This means that any shelves or cupboards up high are going to be out of reach of the child, and his desk and bed need to be scaled in some way. I'm thinking about light, warmth and comfort and the bed is going opposite the window towards the centre of the house (where he'll have good views, but fairly static temperatures). I have tried to place everything round the walls as it leaves an area of carpet free for play and my son's favourite headless chicken impersonation. To avoid a14 year old being marooned in a Buzz Lightyear bed, children's furniture is going to be neutral so that he can exert his own personality with changeable posters, stickers and bedding. I am building him a cabin bed and ladder, because I always wanted one as a kid, and I'm making the assumption that his friends will find it cool too.
Think of the future
I hinted at this above. Your baby will not be a baby forever, and their teenage self may not appreciate living in a room that reflects their infantile love of comedy sheep. Avoid incorporating anything into the fabric of the room that will require a complete gut and refit in future. You may not have the time to do that kind of work and some kids change their preferences very quickly. My preference is for plain painted walls and good quality wooden furniture, with as much made in house as possible.
Know your limits
My dad is capable of building a table out of some old stuff he found in a skip, some spare wood and a couple of hours work. He's got tools for everything and knows how to use them. Importantly, from my perspective, he's giving me a helping hand doing some of the larger jobs round the house. Without these skills (and the extra pair of hands) some of my more ambitious plans would have to be reined in, rather than risk creating something that at best is ugly and at worst is unsafe. Do not try to do anything that is beyond the capabilities of your body (e.g. heavy lifting) or skill-set when there are perfectly reasonable alternatives. You can usually achieve a good balance between your ideas and affordable high street offerings to avoid the 3 year long apprenticeship in joinery you'd follow before successfully crafting your first set of drawers.

There are other projects ongoing. A leaky radiator needs fixing, and a new extension will be built, and then, hopefully, we can have another addition to the family (probably a dog!). That's all for now, feel free to comment on your experiences of DIY for kids below. I'll follow up with a photo-timeline once I've finished.