Take it from the kids

3 Blocks by Kalon Studios,
3 Blocks by Kalon Studios, (a set of three nesting tables/stools that play with square, circle, and line. Each is engraved with a different fern pattern.)
Posted: December 08, 2012

Tom Dixon's gold geometric Etch pendant lamp made from thin sheets of digitally etched brass is sold at such design temples as ABC Carpet & Home in New York and Minima in Philadelphia. It costs more than $400.

Land of Nod sells "Between a Rock," a shiny gold geometric table lamp, for $69; although it's no replica, it certainly has a déjà vu factor.

In other words, if you want to honor the trend that's being worshipped on nearly every design blog and featured on the pages of decorating magazines for the last six months, here's your shot - and your guests will never know you ordered it from a kids' store.

Or, they might. Because they did the same thing.

More adults are shopping for their lighting, rugs, bedding, and accessories at children's companies that are more design-forward, and likely cheaper, than their grown-up counterparts.

Maybe there's less cachet to admitting you bought a kids' lamp than there is to fitting into a kid-sized jean jacket (an older, better-known fashion trend), but it is happening - adults are going to unlikely sources for distinctive design.

Philadelphia-based blogger and designer Jeanine Hays of AphroChic doesn't have kids, but some of her favorite shopping sources are children's lines. "I love using color and pattern in my home," she says, "and sometimes they're the best place to find pieces to liven up my space." She likes PBTeen's furniture and lighting collections, Serena & Lily's Senegalese baskets for organizing laundry, and the small storage boxes and baskets in Ikea's kids' section for keeping jewelry and accessories.

L.A.-based blogger and designer Joy Cho also embraces the habit. She's often sharing with her fans - an average of 18,000 unique daily readers on her blog and 12 million Pinterest followers - that she buys home decor from the cooler kids' lines, and did so even before her daughter, Ruby, was born in 2011.

Like Hays, Cho picks from the boutique brands Serena & Lily, Pottery Barn Kids, Land of Nod, and Dwell Studio that began popping up in the late '90s. Nod, founded in 1996, was one of the first.

"Before that," says Michelle Kohanzo, managing director at Land of Nod, "kids' decor was defined more by licensed characters and big-box stores."

She ascribes the mushrooming of more sophisticated kids' brands to a generation of parents who are using their home in a different way. "Kids have a bigger presence now," she says. With toys and playroom furniture creeping into the living room and dining room, people are looking for things that fit their aesthetic and aren't so immature.

So instead of pink Barbie bedspreads or Toy Story rugs, now it's crocheted poufs and whimsically engraved, block-shaped nesting tables made from your choice of black walnut or bamboo - the stuff of Pinterest pinning.

Before the recession, kids' brands focused on appealing to parents who wanted furniture that would grow with their children into their adult years. Offerings were of the staid, traditional type: Heavy wood pieces, like Opus Designs by Hooker Furniture's Aura collection, were described with a "deep, rich merlot finish with brushed nickel accents." Now people are becoming increasingly playful in their home design.

"Websites like Apartment Therapy and others are spreading this aesthetic," says John Parham, president of the New York-based branding agency Parham Santana. "Once people are exposed to different options, they don't want to decorate the way their moms and dads did."

The economy may be another factor. Bright colors are a cheap and easy way to forget our woes. "Just like you're happier on a bright, sunny day than if it's raining," says Bob Novogratz, father of seven, half of the designing duo the Novogratzes, and coauthor of Home by Novogratz. "That's what color does."

In his opinion, the country is loosening up. "You're still more likely to find modern, colorful homes in Europe, but the U.S. is getting there, especially in the bigger cities," the designer says. And among his clients, the married families especially want a home that has "a cooler vibe." "More people would rather stay in a boutique hotel than in a Holiday Inn," he says.

As people become less serious about their home design - and realize that a matching dining room set isn't a grown-up rite of passage - the appealing items are the ones that channel an adult's inner child.

Now that boutique hotel vibe is just a $25 embroidered pillow away.

At online store BKLYN Baby, owner Natasha Young fields e-mails from adults who stumble onto her site and wonder if certain items will also work in an adult's space. Her answer: Of course. "I see a number of the decor pieces - wallpaper, pillows - going to adults for their own use," she says. Tempaper, a line of temporary wallpaper, is especially popular.

Land of Nod doesn't track sales by buyer use, but Kohanzo says, "We're seeing it turn up a lot in the blogs and on Pinterest, and a lot of college kids are coming into the stores." As more kids are skipping twin beds in favor of fulls and queens, bedding is more in play, too: Land of Nod's girls' bedding now goes up to queen.

"Boys' only goes up to full," says Kohanzo, "but we've been getting requests." Not surprising. Have you seen the Bedding Mix duvet printed with brightly colored cassette tapes? The old-school pattern screams Gen X man-child.

Along with their adult-sized beds, kids' tastes are growing ever more adult-sized.

"Ten years ago, a 12-year-old would shop really kiddie," says Parham. "Now there is less stigma to dressing like their parents. They actually want to dress like their parents. We all aspire to the same brands."

In marketing speak, kids' getting older quicker is called "age compression." It is attributed partly to moms, the primary family-wallet wielders, who decorate for and dress their kids as if they were extensions of themselves. (Or dress themselves as if they were kids. Back when Stella McCartney designed a collection for Gap Kids in 2009, the biggest sizes sold out the quickest.)

As kids are exposed to more sophisticated looks and brands, the garb and gear have to keep getting older.

With kids getting older and adults becoming more playful in their design choices - Novogratz enthusiastically admits to getting decorating ideas from his children - is it destiny the two will merge? In 2011 Cho designed a line of baby clothes, and she's interested in following it up with a line of kids' decor. She's envisioning one that would simultaneously capture the single female audience.

"For a while," she says, "all the prints in my house looked like a kid could have done them."

And that was before her daughter came along.


Caroline Tiger is a Philadelphia-based design writer. Follow her on Twitter at @carolinetiger.

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