I had big dreams for the small bedroom my young sons were to share. They involved more than restful sleeping quarters and organized clothes storage.
I wanted this room to be the place where they study dinosaurs, learn geography, read adventures, quote films, build with Legos, discuss planets, play catch, sing tunes, sketch superheroes and, most importantly, dream big. Together.
Accomplishing this tall order in this tiny spot wasn’t something my husband and I chose to tackle ourselves. We enlisted the help of the pros: my mother, with her interior design background; and my youngest brother, whom I nicknamed Handy Randy because he works with wood and solves problems.
A few months ago, we wrapped up this room of wonder for the boys.
Challenges, especially home projects, always thrill me, so I’m typically quick to take them on.
Stripping layers of wallpaper? Fun! Choosing paint colors, fabric and lighting for an entire house, whether it’s my own or someone else’s? No sweat! As a home writer and editor for more than a decade, I reported hundreds of features on well-designed dwellings, so I knew the secrets of success.
However, when it came time to move our sons into a more grown-up room, I froze. Similar to suffering a bad case of writer’s block, I couldn’t move forward.
Sure, it was emotional, packing up the soft blankets, plush toys and nursery furniture that coincided with the arrival of the two best bundles of joy in the world. But it was time to make a change. My guys were 6 and 4.
The challenges that baffled me into indecision were mostly the limitations of my house, a 1927 bungalow in downtown Overland Park. Moving wasn’t an option my husband and I considered because we were long sold on our home’s charm and proximity to the farmers’ market, independent shops and community center.
Although the house features four bedrooms, they’re spaces that make postage stamps seem sizeable. And my sons were going to share one. And it didn’t have a closet.
My mom, who taught interior design before recently retiring, is a space-planning genius. She drew a sketch of the room to scale.
“It has some great things going for it,” she reassures me. The upstairs room features a tall, vaulted ceiling with three walls of windows, making it feel like a treehouse. “The boys are going to love it.”
The oldest, Alex, is the logical one, and a bit on the serious side. Javi, the youngest, is well on his way to becoming a comedian with his giant grin and quick wit.
Though opposites, they’re best friends. They share a love of books, bugs, Star Wars, space, pirates and Lego bricks. Sure, they engage in short-lived spats like most siblings, but listening to them talk and laugh made me know that growing up in the same room would be beneficial and a good memory.
First up was strengthening the bones of the room. We hired a contractor to scrape the popcorn ceiling and skim coat it, accentuating the vaulted ceiling — the room’s best asset.
My husband painted the ceiling and walls a restful pale blue-gray, North Star by Sherwin-Williams. He installed a brushed-nickel ceiling fan.
Instead of refinishing the hardwood floor, I left it distressed. The boys were going to scrape and gouge it anyway. And besides, its well-worn patina mimicked a ship that had sailed around the world a time or two.
Initially, we thought bunk beds would be the best bet. But they would have to be in the middle of the room where the ceiling was tall enough, wasting a lot of space. Loft beds posed the same problem.
So my mom sketched custom twin beds, bookending the sides of the room.
Based on her design, Handy Randy built white-painted wooden beds with overhead bead-board ledges. A drapery rod was installed the length of each bed. I selected a gray ticking-stripe fabric for curtains that allowed for privacy if one son wanted to stay up reading at night.
Still, a huge challenge remained.
“There’s just not enough room to add a closet or even an armoire,” my mom says. “But don’t worry, I’ve got ideas.”
With all of the ideas floating in her head, Mom was Pinterest before Pinterest. To create a rack for hanging clothes, she visited the hardware store and bought galvanized metal piping and casters. With the addition of a few non-working faucet heads, the contraption took on a steampunk vibe.
For folding clothes and socks, I found an inexpensive metal apothecary cabinet that I’ll get around to labeling someday. For shoes, my mom bought wooden crates and had each boy paint them. Both are gray on the outside, but Alex chose his favorite color, red, and Javi green for the insides. Mom added casters for the crates to become rolling underbed storage.
In our household, the gazillions of Lego bricks are more of a storage challenge than clothes. So we bought lots of plastic drawers that also go under the bed. I’d love to say I’ve got Lego organization mastered with a fail-proof color-coding system, but I’m happy so long as no one steps on them and hurts a foot.
For months, my mom and aunts collected maps for the boys’ room. Some are inexpensive torn pages from road atlases or even free brochures of zoos and other sites our family has visited. Others are more artful posters including lunar and world maps.
All of these are tacked up on the walls with putty and push nails. Because the room is on the small side, I consider the hallway an extension. Maps are on the walls there, too, including a metal one of the United States with magnets of the places we’ve visited on family vacations: St. Louis, Omaha and Los Angeles.
Other décor in the room reflects their interests and inspires curiosity, including insects in glass, globes and robots. We proudly display the pinewood derby cars they’ve designed themselves as well as the wooden toy vehicles Handy Randy built them as gifts.
When I hear Alex and Javi talk in terms of northern and southern hemispheres, and I see their elaborate Lego creations, I know the room is doing everything my family and I dreamed for it to do.
These local shops are places where I’ve found inspired objects for the boys’ room.
The General Store & Co.
Be Here Now
photos: William & Jill DiMartino