Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ask Abby: How To Pull Off A Shared Boy-Girl Bedroom

Recently I was approached by a mother of 4 year-old boy/girl twins looking for help when it came to designing their shared bedroom.

This is a tricky challenge, but certainly not impossible.  When looking at a shared boy-girl space we can either take a gender neutral, or gender compatible approach.  Here's a look at both:


When looking at a gender neutral design plan we are going to avoid colours and items that are easily labelled or identified as being specifically female or male in our culture. Here are 3 ways to accomplish this:

1) Go Neutral:

In this option we are looking at a soft neutral, colour scheme, typically based in natural, earthy colour tones and hues (greys, browns, tans, white, or sometimes soft blues, greens, or yellows - but be careful because these colours can end up tipping the gender scale).  Here is an excellent example from The Shabby Nest:


- Soft, simple, elegant and classic feel.
- This option can have some longevity (ie: kids will be slower to out-grow it)


- Can feel bland and boring
- Can feel too much like an adult space (ie: doesn't accommodate kids toys and items very well - will require hidden storage)
- Little individual representation of the occupants of the room or their personalities (ie: can feel too much like a hotel room instead of a space of their own)

2) Go Bright and Colourful:

I find this option works best with a more modern, contemporary style, focused on blocks of bright, bold primary colours (red, blue, yellow), contrasted with lots of white (this is key to pulling off this look successfully).  You can also work in bold secondary colours like orange, green, and purple - but be careful that the colours which could tip the gender scale like blue and purple are held in balance with the rest.  Here`s a great example from exool.com:


- Bright and fun
- Expressive and child-like
- Works for younger and older children
- Easily accommodates kids' toys and items


- Can be too bold / overpowering
- Too busy / over-stimulating
- Doesn't work well in a small space (bold colours can make a small space feel smaller)

3) Go With a Theme:

The next option is to run with a gender-neutral theme.  This can be based off of a favourite children's book, or taken from something in nature, etc.  To pull this off, you'll want to be careful not to get too carried away so that the room feels too cluttered. Here is a really fun example from kidspacestuff.com:


- Really fun and imaginative


- Can be difficult/expensive to find or create pieces to fit the theme
- Easily and quickly outgrown (really only works for younger children)
- Sometimes difficult to find a theme that is acceptable to both kids
- Can feel too busy/cluttered


Gender compatible nursery by Nursery Courture
This can be a little more tricky to pull off successfully, but is generally my favourite option to work with because it acknowledges the individual differences between the kids, but still pulls them together into a harmonious whole.  Here we don't avoid colours or items that are easily labelled or identified as being specifically female or male in our culture, but we make them work together.

My favourite way to go about this is to start with a neutral colour slate, and then bring in gender specific colours and items in the form of identical or asymmetrical accents in equal proportion.  This creates a very "his" and "her" feel that still works together in the context of a unified space.

The mother of the twins who approached me had already purchased furniture in a natural wood that she did not want to change - so I used this to dictate my colour palette.  I chose to compliment the soft wood with a soft colour palette, using a subtle warm grey as my neutral base (if the furniture was white, I may have considered a more bold colour palette).

Neutral base colour
Next I used very traditional and classic accent colours in the form of soft pink for her, and soft blue for him.  My decision to do this was for fairly practical reasons.  The traditional colours of pink and blue were easily agreeable to both the little girl and boy who would be sharing this space, it easily separated "his" from "hers," and I knew it would be much easier to find identical, but contrasting fabric for accents in these colours.

Accent fabric

I changed the furniture placement to more clearly define "his" and "her" sides of the room, and then created a more or less symmetrical arrangement of the accent colours and items on each side of the room (ie: each side of the room became a mirror-image of the other, but his side was blue, and her side was pink).

To leave room for more expression of each child's uniqueness and individuality I placed identical frames in identical collage arrangements on both of their walls (creating unity), but suggested using them to frame unique and individual pieces of art, photos, and lists or depictions of each child's favourite things (creating variety and individual expression).

To tie the 2 sides of the room together I designed flag banners with the fabrics from each side of the room that met in the middle, using fabric with the common, neutral grey base colour continuously throughout the banner to provide consistency and unity.

While all the other options can work, and can work well, I like this arrangement, because it gives us the best of everything.  We get the soft, classic feel of the neutral colour scheme, the colour and variety of the colourful option (without the boldness),  the unity of using traditional gender specific colours as a theme, and the allowance and accommodation of individual expression and uniqueness in the decorative accents.

Stay posted for the "After" pictures coming soon!


  1. Woow this is really beautiful :D great ideas :)

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