A Shared Bedroom for Siblings

It’s common to plunge into decorating your home and doing it all at once. But I believe in living in there for awhile, slowly observing the usage patterns of each family member (something I learnt during my Interior Design course at Central Saint Martin’s), and creating an environment that not only reflects those needs but makes it easier/ more pleasurable to fulfil said needs. Doesn’t that designspeak sound oddly like a familiar Montessori adage: follow the child? When one works that way, any notion of theme, color scheme, or even genres like rustic farmhouse or bohemian become secondary to how one actually lives.

Bedrooms are sacred places. This was the shared bedroom for my son and daughter when they were toddlers:

This is the shared bedroom now;

With a boy and girl aged 4 and 5, I didn’t want anything too cutesy or gender-specific in this bedroom. I also refrained from styling it based on their current favourite hobby, character or color, because I think it might end up pigeonholing them when they are ready to move on to something else, although I did incorporate nods to each of their personalities, as you’ll see later on. As for when to move the child to a lofted/ bunk bed, I won’t say there’s a specific age but rather it depends on the child’s temperament- if you have a jumper who may swing off the chandelier it may pay to wait a little longer!

I designed the bedroom around the children’s four main needs: care of self, reading, solitude and sleeping. I keep all of the children’s Montessori materials outside, so there is a clear demarcation between work and rest.

Care of Self

A full-length mirror hung at child height

For care of self, there is a full-length mirror, a mirrored chest of drawers (useful for checking their reflection) and an Ikea trolley which I spray-painted Kelly green.

Each child is allotted one drawer (the top drawer is for undergarments and socks). Note how they pasted nametags on their drawers! It’s warm and sunny all year round in Singapore, so there isn’t a need to store out-of-season clothing. We also do laundry once a week, so each child owns just enough clothes for a week and then some, which means their capsule wardrobe fits into a single drawer with space to spare.

The children help to fold their clothes, Konmari style

Next to the chest of drawers is a trolley. Previously it held diapers.

Now, the bottom shelf has baskets for body lotions and PJs that can be lifted out and carried to the bathroom.

The middle shelf holds combs (one was missing but was recovered from under the bunk bed after these photos were taken) and the empty space is for clothes that they pick out the night before to wear the next day.

The top shelf holds a fabric box of D’s finger knitting, the bracelets E made, facetowels and a glasses case for E to perch her glasses on nightly. The silver magnetic tins with clear fronts hold a shared nail clipper, D’s watch, and E’s hair ties respectively.

Reading

We somehow managed to fit this front-facing bookcase into our largest suitcase when we moved back from London, and it was the first “furniture” piece we assembled. A quick fix for hanging art: classic Penguin book cover postcards washi-taped over the bookcase.

A variety of English and Mandarin texts, including newspaper articles, a chapter book and a local children’s author

Solitude

In a shared bedroom, it’s important to carve out spaces to be alone and things that belong to one person, such as the watch box and fabric box of finger knitting for Dylan above. Since their wardrobes are now pared down, I turned one half of their cupboard into a reading nook by removing one clothing rail. Sometimes the kids use it to get dressed too, and slide the cupboard door closed if they want privacy.

A handcrafted (not by me, heh!) doll bunk bed and sheepswool doll bedding sit atop a crocheted blanket from an art market in Bali

We don’t store special occasion clothes because by the time the next big event rolls around, the children would probably have outgrown them. Hanging on the top rail are Indian and Chinese ethnic costumes (in Singapore, it’s not considered culturally appropriative but rather a mark of respect for equals) and a couple of less-worn items like the tutu that uhm, don’t fold up so neatly in the drawers.

The right side of the cupboard holds sand/water toys and four boxes of books that are out of rotation.

Oh yes, a lot of DIY was done in this bedroom. Besides spray-painting the Ikea trolley, I also painted the Ikea Kura bunk bed (leaving the ladder untouched to show the wood grain) and the feature wall by myself, which looks black but is actually an anthracite grey shade called Black Swan. I went back and forth over that dark inky color for months but am so glad I did it (with the children’s agreement of course), it absorbs light well which makes the room more conducive for sleeping.

Sleep

Since we spend a third of our lives sleeping (or more), I bought pure cotton bedsheets and cotton pillowcases backed with linen for breathability and wicking moisture away in the tropical heat, in a medium price range. One each is really all each child needs; likewise, husband and I only own one Tencel bedsheet and two pillowcases that are used, laundered and promptly used again. I also realised the children find it more comfortable to have a junior pillow plus a cushion that they can shift around, than just one standard pillow or a mass of pillows. The blankets for each child are quilted bedspreads sewn by my aunties so it’s easier for them to make their own beds than fiddling with a bulky duvet (this doesn’t happen everyday though!).

You can see the sloppiness of the paint job. It’s a technique called “ran out of paint”

I’ve tried to hang the abstract art twice and failed, pls try to imagine it properly mounted on the wall! In the meantime I’m leaning it on the floor.

Ending with a few pointers for designing a child’s bedroom:

  • Design the room based on how the child uses the space, and scale it to the child’s height. The primary function of any bedroom should be a good sleep.
  • Let it be calming to the senses. Muted color tones (doesn’t have to be neutral but should be unified) , blackout blinds, cotton sheets, dimmer function on the lights if possible.
  • Repurpose sturdy old furniture and vary your textures. Use real wood, metal, fabric, not just laminates and veneers which is a very common finish in Singapore, where the interior design industry has a strong penchant for built-in cabinetry everywhere, limiting your ability to evolve the space as your child grows
  • Children love small spaces. Don’t see your small space as a limitation but as an invitation to get cozy (for instance, the kids’ bedroom is actually so narrow that I cannot even get a shot of the bunk bed straight on.)
  • Encourage independence in care of self, sleep and movement.
Height chart drawn by friends as a baby gift years ago

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Our Montessori Kitchen

Our Entryway

Our Living Room

Children’s Bedroom in London

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