Graduate to a Teen Space

Graduation is a time of transition. Whether your child is “graduating” from kindergarten or high school it is the end of something and beginning of something new in their lives. The transition between 8th grade and high school is an especially important time for your child. They are leaving their primary years behind and beginning that transitional period that will form the person they will be for the rest of their life. You already know your child as an individual who has unique interests, strengths and challenges; supporting those qualities is vital to helping them achieve their full-potential during their teen years.

As a designer I am often asked to work with families to help transition a child’s bedroom into a teen’s haven. This design is very personal for each child, but there are some general ideas that will help you work with your own child to personalize a teen space just for them.

Teens often express their personality through their clothing and surroundings; these are their clues to you. Their artwork, photos and clothes are designed by them to make a statement to the world, and from those choices you can discern a lot of information. This is part of their separation from you as their parent, and these choices of expression mark the ways in which they’re trying to separate from you and who they were as a child.

If you express genuine interest, your teen can clearly articulate exactly what she likes and what she doesn’t. Listen and support that interest gently. Some teens feign disinterest if you come on too strong in supporting them. All of a sudden, because they have told you something they like and you are enthusiastic about it, now they feel pressure. Other teens will feel valued by your enthusiastic support of their talent or interest.  Keep an open mind about working with your teen on her room; remember, it’s all about her and what she loves, not about you.

Usually, when I am called in to work with a teen or tween, the parents expect the new room design to last until the child graduates from high school.  However, children can change significantly during high school. Teenagers are the most susceptible group to changes in trends, and as such what’s ‘in’ one month may be ‘out’ the next. To accommodate those frequent changes in a realistic way, think about incorporating some of these ideas in your teen’s room design:


  • Use large cork or magnetic surfaces, or try removable wall decals on walls instead of painting on the walls.
  • Choose furniture that will be appropriate to move into a first apartment or serve as a guest bedroom after your child leaves for college. Usually that means choosing a queen size bed.
  • Introduce a more sophisticated color palette with neutrals in order to allow each person to add personality to his space through his own belongings.
  • Make privacy a priority – plan for them to be able to restrict access to their space from younger siblings or guests. Being able to retreat from family chaos is critical to navigating teenage years.
  • Accommodate multi-purpose gathering spaces into your teen’s room design by adding extra seating and an activity your child and his friends like to participate in together, such as music, board games or video games.

Teen years are frequently stressful. Build and strengthen your connection with your child early in those years by listening and creating spaces that honor their interests and needs. Don’t overlook inspirational or aspirational elements in teen spaces such as motivational artwork, a college banner, a poster of a personal hero, Olympic rings…  But remember, this is not about what you want. Do your best to build around their dreams, and who they want to become – not what you want for them.