Wombmates to Roommates: Designing and Decorating a Bedroom for Older Twins

Stacey Cowen has a big problem. Her 15-year-old fraternal twin girls, Sydney and Samantha, share one bedroom, and they’re not happy about it. “They’re so miserable together that I’m at my wit’s end,” explains the New Rochelle, New York mom. “I think the cause of their frustration is lack of privacy. They just need some more space.”

Stacey Raimundo can relate to Cowen’s woes. This Deltona, Fla. mom is short on space and patience in her home, too. “My 12-year-old identical twin girls share a room and are driving each other—and us—nuts,” she says. “They have so much stuff in their little 11-foot by 11-foot room, and don’t have any private space. The only separation they have in their room is a set of bunk beds so one can’t see what the other is doing in the opposite bunk.”

Not quite there yet with your young twins? Just wait. Your toddlers may find comfort in sharing a bedroom now but that will surely change in the next few years. When children reach middle school, singletons and twins alike, they all beg for the same thing—a room of their own. All kids want a private refuge away from the family fray, a place where they can entertain friends and accommodate their growing collection of consumer electronics. “But the reality for many parents is that the space we have for our children is rather limited,” says Megan Connelly, a design expert and author of The New Smart Approach to Kids’ Rooms. “Too often it becomes a case of cramming in all you can and then the room doesn’t function well for anything.”

Short of knocking down walls and taking on an expensive remodel, what can you do if your home simply isn’t big enough to accommodate your twins’ request for separate bedrooms? Plenty, the experts say.

Let’s Make a Plan!

From a design perspective, twin roommates have an advantage over siblings of different ages sharing a bedroom. “Twins will have the same basic functional needs for the room unlike a 12-year-old who has to share with an 8-year-old,” Connelly says. Still, many twins have different tastes than their cotwins and blending each child’s unique sense of style might take some negotiation as well as compromise.

With that in mind, the first order of business is to sit down with your twins and discuss what’s important to them. How do they want their room to function? Study hall or social space? Which features are most important to them? Lots of room for clothes or storage for craft supplies? And what about electronics? Do they need a computer station? A media center? Then start prioritizing the list. This is where a bit of give and takes comes in as more often than not, it won’t all fit. “Pare it down to what you can do and do well,” Connelly advises. “It’s better to do without a desk in the bedroom, for instance, if accommodating one means clothing storage gets short shrift and you can never use the desk because it’s cluttered with clothes.”

Next, take pencil and graph paper and sketch the room layout, experimenting with furniture placement. Be creative as not every piece of furniture needs to be flush against a wall. In a small bedroom, individual privacy can be difficult to achieve but Connelly suggests arranging the beds at a ninety-degree angle so that the heads are joined at one end. Or face each desk towards a different wall. This will give each child a different visual perspective of the room.

Carving Out More Space and Privacy for Your Twins

Regardless of bedroom size, allocate a distinct part of the room for each child, says Wendy Jordan, the author of 12 design books including New Kidspace Idea Book (Taunton Home Idea Books). “Use cabinetry, area rugs and lighting to help divide the room into separate territories,” she says. “When space is at a premium, go up, not out to expand a room’s usability.”Colorful bunk beds

One way to “go up” is with a loft, an elevated bed with open space underneath, perfect for housing a desk or creating an intimate reading nook. Long used in cramped college dorms, lofts are now widely available in a variety of sizes and styles. Not only do they use space efficiently but having two within the same room gives the illusion of separate and complete “apartments.” And if you have a set of twin divas who insist on being completely alone, just add some curtains to the lower half which can be drawn shut when the mood strikes.

With two sets of twins, the Bradford family of Boylston, Mass. believes lofts are the way to go. “We’re a family of six with only three bedrooms,” explains mom Christine Bradford. She and her handy-man husband, who plans on building the lofts, have been roaming furniture stores for inspiration. “We’ll take different ideas and make them our own,” she says. “Before we design them, we’ll take into consideration what each child wants and needs in the way of storage space.” Since her children are still young, Bradford sees the lower section of the loft functioning as a play area, a place for building forts. As her twins grow and their needs change, she envisions moving a desk underneath or even hanging a curtain rod for extra clothing storage.

But lofts can be pricey. For a less-expensive option, turn to the bedroom closet. If it’s at least six feet wide and three feet deep, consider building a sleeping berth inside about five feet off the floor and then slipping a desk directly underneath. Remove the old sliding closet doors and add bi-fold doors to the closet frame instead. Now you’re talking privacy!

Design experts have long used room dividers as another way to create visual privacy. By positioning a tall, open bookcase (properly anchored to the wall or ceiling to prevent toppling) at a ninety-degree angle to the wall, for example, one room instantly becomes two. A curtain or long strings of beads hanging from the ceiling would also work. When choosing a divider, use your imagination but keep the profile narrow to take up a minimum amount of space.

Color Your Twins’ World

Twin beds dressed in contrasting colors.Color can also be used to help define the space. Paint is an inexpensive design tool that instantly lends individual ownership to a room. Let each child choose her favorite color, making sure both shades complement each other. Then choose a third color within the same palate, one that can be used as an accent in their common space.

When it came time to paint her 15-year-old fraternal twin daughters’ bedroom, for instance, Lisa Ivory settled on a pink and purple color scheme with a chair rail running horizontally around the room. “Two walls had the pink on top and purple on the bottom, and the other two walls had the opposite,” says this Merrimack, New Hampshire mom. “Amber liked the pink, so she had her bed against the pink side, and Ashley liked the purple, so her bed was against those walls.”

Although your twins should have the freedom to decorate their corner of the room in any way they see fit, make sure there’s a sense of overall unity. “Each twin should have the same size bulletin board, the same built-in shelving, the same style of nightstand, bureau, and so forth,” Jordan explains. “Then the kids can take it from there displaying their own pictures, trophies, and collections.”

But both design experts caution overdoing it, though. In other words, keep the palate simple. “A room awash in bright colors, patterns, fabrics, and decorative accessories looks too busy. Add to that the children’s toys, posters, and accumulated stuff and the room will look cluttered,” Jordan says.

Money Matters

Decorating can be expensive and it’s easy to get caught up in the latest design fads, dropping big bucks in the process. But the trendy look of today will quickly become outdated. Tastes and interests are going to change, and you don’t want to redecorate every time your children want to reinvent themselves. “A kid’s room is like an evolving design,” Connelly adds. “It’s best to avoid the very expensive and the very permanent.” Instead, stick with a few classic or neutral pieces of furniture that are sure to withstand the changing times then let the less-expensive items such as paint, pillows, bedspreads, area rugs, and wall art change with their maturing aesthetics.

Set a budget and stick to it. And while you’re at it, encourage your twins to ante up some of their own baby-sitting or birthday money, too. The more they invest financially, the more likely they’ll make careful design decisions. Get creative while shopping. Look to the glossy catalogs for inspiration but then check out yard sales, online auctions, and even swap meets. You’d be amazed at the great deals you’ll uncover.

Give This Project the Green Light

From brainstorming and planning to shopping for that perfect bedspread and rearranging the furniture, designing your twins’ room can be great fun and enormously fulfilling for both you and your kids. The end result is sure to please your twins as well as preserve your sanity.

A copy of the book Double Duty.