Decorating After the Kids Leave Decorating After the Kids Leave

Let's say the last of your fledglings just finished his first year at college. Once you're done celebrating the fact that he got through it without getting arrested, he tells you that this summer he certainly has no intention of living in the family home once again, but has made his own plans to spend the summer on a kibbutz, at a Habitat for Humanity project in South America, or with his new pals at the Tattoo Shack on Muscle Beach.

Don't sink into despair that your youngest has now grown up. Celebrate again, this time the fact that you've done your job right in making this young person independent and hard-working. And then, start thinking about how you can use what used to be Junior's room. That's sure to cheer you up.

The problem with the empty nest makeover is that you have to maintain some illusion that this room is still available in case Junior should deign to stop in for an overnight, and the room has to be comfortable enough should something go terribly wrong and Junior appears at your door, duffel bag in hand.

But if you can make this room into more of a guest room and less of a kid's room, you'll be encouraging Junior to continue taking flight into the world of adulthood, and you'll be giving your guests a more pleasant place to stay, where they won't have to wake up to a big poster of Limp Bizkit.

The place to start is with getting rid of some of Junior's belongings. Try to snag him in between his pickup Frisbee game and his afternoon volunteering at the shelter, and get him to sort through the stuff that's been collecting in that room. You may find that you have to insist that he keep some of the things he's sure to want later, such as his gold medals, or you may find that he's a pack rat and refuses to throw anything out.

Remember that you can always pack up boxes labeled simply "Memorabilia," and tell him he can go through them again in another year or ten. Let him keep some clothes and books in the room, so he won't feel that you've just been counting the minutes until you could make over his room, but make sure any decorative items go in those boxes.

Next, a fresh coat of paint on the walls is probably in order, especially if you've followed our advice in the past and allowed him to use his own palette. Something in a pale spring color, such as a sage green or a light lemon, might be nice. Remember, as always, that using a color for a wall can be most effective if you paint an opposing wall in a neutral cream or off-white.

If Junior had a single bed, this might be the time to replace it with a fold out sofa, futon sofa, or daybed. This will serve two purposes: you'll have a room that will serve as a pleasant sitting room, music room, reading room, or sewing room as well as a guest room, but you won't be encouraging Junior to move back in. You'll also be providing your guests with double accommodations.

Carefully evaluate the other furniture in the room as well, and get rid of anything that isn't necessary. Do you really need two full-sized dressers in a guest room/sitting room? Do you need to keep all those bookshelves and books, or could you pack up the Goodnight Moon and My First Guide to the Birds to save in case Junior ever blesses you with Juniors of his own?

Think also about the flooring in the room. If the floor is wood that's been battered and beaten over the years, you could either refinish it or paint it with a fresh coat of shiny floor paint, in off-white, gray or steel blue.

Once the floor and walls are done and the furniture is all in, plan out exactly what will be necessary to make the room comfortable for guests, Junior and others. You've already left a few of Junior's books on the shelves, so that the room will look inhabited and guests can leaf through some J.D. Salinger if they can't sleep. You can stow the bed pillows and blankets in the top of the closet, now that there's some room in there. Make sure there's a small reading light close enough to the sofa bed so that it can be turned off while the guest is in bed, and put a small alarm clock on the dresser or bookshelf nearby.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to consult with Junior about these changes, so he can feel he's part of the makeover. That is, if you can catch him between his tour of duty with the Navy Seals, his filling out applications for medical school, and his next piercing appointment.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!