Photography by Ben Robertson - Extract from Creative Children's Spaces By Ashlyn Gibson
Turn your back on blank nursery walls with advice from Ashlyn Gibson, leading the charge in the art of contemporary wall décor for kids and adults alike
Walls, like the pages of a book, can be used to tell a story about your family. All too often I see empty expanses of wall that are crying out to be used. Quite aside from hanging beautiful wallpaper or making a colourful statement, there are limitless practical uses for walls that go beyond the purely decorative.
In our home, we use one of the walls in our living room as a giant scrapbook where we display the things that we love. It’s a snapshot of our lives at a particular point in time: our favourite books are propped up on two rows of simple white Ikea picture ledges. My daughter Olive and I use picture hooks originally designed for wall mouldings to hang favourite pieces of jewellery. In the spaces between, we stick postcards from friends, birthday cards, notes and tickets from holidays and festivals. It’s a riot of colour and it makes us happy – it’s as simple as that.
Wallpaper can also make a big impact, giving a room an instant infusion of mood and atmosphere. Photographer Emma Donnelly wanted to add a wow factor to her seven year-old daughter Agnes’s room. ‘I chose a bold and graphic design,’ she says, ‘that felt like a good compromise between girlish and modern.’
I can still remember the owl-print wallpaper that I had in my room when I was growing up: I used to invent stories about the characters before I went to sleep. If you hunt around, you can still buy original wallpaper from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies that is unlikely to pop up anywhere else.
There’s a vast range of wallpaper designs and styles to choose from. Some have been designed especially for children but will appeal to the whole family. That said, there’s no need to limit your choice to children’s designs. Many wallpapers aimed at adults have a style and sensibility that will also capture a child’s imagination and may well have a longer-lasting quality. The wallpaper that illustrator Silvia Pogoda chose for her own bedroom wall didn’t need changing when it became 18 month-old Leo’s nursery. ‘It is such a beautiful design that it has universal appeal,’ she says. ‘It’s a jewel and Leo loves it.’
Cleverly designed wallpapers can also evoke an interesting theme without being overly prescriptive. A print of cacti and cowboy hats is more inspiring than a ‘tell-it-all’ wallpaper and leaves plenty of scope for a child’s imagination. Striking geometric designs can be interpreted in different ways by different people. I loved talking to Olive about the wallpaper in our old house: she saw an infinite number of shapes and her favourite colour changed almost every day. Textile designer Mia-Louise Mailund Smith wanted to use the walls in six year-old Herbert and three year-old Huxi’s bedroom in a playful way, saying, ‘I chose a bright yellow stripe wallpaper that reminded me of a circus tent.’ Larger-than-life panoramas can provide a magical backdrop for both sleep and play.
If you’re not yet ready to go the whole hog, smaller wall stickers make wall decoration a doddle. Graphic shapes such as raindrops or spots give a room a modern edge. Children love stickers, so ask them to help or, better still, give them a wall of their own to decorate. Kids will bring a more spontaneous and less rigid sensibility to design. And don’t limit yourself to the walls: simple flat-pack wardrobes and drawers can become unique pieces of furniture when adorned with stickers. Life-size wall vinyls can become a focal point for all sorts of imaginary games. From bold retro-inspired trees to elks, teepees and dreamcatchers, they can create a mood that encourages a spirit of creative adventure. Teacher Maiken Poulsen chose an unexpected vinyl for three year-old Kamma’s bedroom: ‘I wanted to move away from a stereotypical princess theme, so I chose a pirate ship. The plain white wardrobe doors made a great surface and it has turned that wall into a much more inspiring space.’
A chalkboard-painted wall is ideal for an unused or overlooked space. It can become a family calendar as well as a place for spontaneous drawing sessions and scribbling notes. You could take it one step further and use magnetic chalkboard paint to create an even more versatile surface. Once you start looking at your walls in a new and inspired light, you can bring your home to life in easy, original and unexpected ways.
This is an extract from Creative Children’s Spaces by Ashlyn Gibson, published by Ryland Peters & Small. All images by Ben Robertson.
© 2015 Ryland Peters & Small