Jackson Phelps is jumping up and down on her bed. Her behavior seems entirely appropriate, considering she's only two, and she's excited over her new, canopied, big-girl sleeping arrangements. Jackson's father, Drew, has brought me upstairs so the toddler herself can show me around the newly decorated space before she leaves for a play date. Not wanting to delay Jackson's appointment (which seems like keeping the Dalai Lama from meditation), I start my interview straight away. "What's your favorite thing about your new room?"
"Costumes!" she exclaims, then leaps off her bed and opens a lilac trunk with "TOYS" emblazoned on the front and a yellow cushion on the lid. She grabs a furry pink flamingo number and puts it on with a little help from her father. A few minutes later, Dad in tow, the flamingo waddles off toward her playroom, declaring, "I want to do a project!"
Apparently, the play date has been put on hold until the tour—now led by Jackson's mom, Jill Becker—concludes. Jill has just emerged from the shower and wears a navy towel around her torso and another atop her head. She seems surprisingly calm and poised, given that she gave birth to the couple's second child, Mont, only two weeks earlier.
Jackson's new bedroom is part of a much larger renovation of the house, a gray 1852 Greek Revival in Cambridgeport that the couple purchased four years ago. Jill, a founder of Cambridge NanoTech, and Drew, who works in IT services at Waltham-based NWN Corporation, have already overhauled bathrooms and bedrooms and installed heated floors throughout much of the house. They also have plans to accommodate more kids down the line, including transforming their basement into a giant playroom and reconfiguring the staircase to the third floor, where there are two bedrooms. "I think they'd make really cool teenage rooms one day," Jill says. In recent months, however, the focus has been on Jackson's bedroom, an 11-by-13-foot space down the hall from her parents'. The room had been empty and unused (except for occasional Matchbox car derbies), but with baby number two, the couple decided it was time to furnish it with the aforementioned big-girl bed, and move Jackson in.
With her daughter along as consultant, last summer Jill headed to Brookline's Bambini Design for a bit of inspiration. After climbing up to the store's second floor, Jackson gravitated to a bed made by the French children's furniture company Vibel. She liked it for its yellow tent; Jill for its whimsy and its safety features, like the padded bumper bars.
"It's great as a toddler bed, because it sits low to the ground," explains Brielle Majeau, Bambini's interior designer. "And the tent makes it look and feel special, like a playhouse."
Ultimately, Jill opted to buy Vibel furniture for the entire bedroom, as well as for a playroom down the hall, and commissioned Majeau to design both spaces. Armed with color samples and swatches of fabric, Majeau came for an on-site consultation. She took measurements, noted the placement of electrical sockets, assessed the natural light. She also factored in Jackson's personality, with Jill making it clear her daughter was neither a girly-girl nor a tomboy. A few weeks after the consultation, Majeau presented Jill with detailed drawings that not only conveyed an overall exuberant spirit, but also included a number of thoughtful touches, like a bucket for crayons in the desk area. With the two rooms' designs settled that August, both were completed over two days in December.
Soon Jackson reappears, announcing, "Mommy, I made you a picture!" And thus we traipse off to the playroom to admire her artistry. The room is a toddler's Xanadu. There's a theater corner, a tented clubhouse with a yellow mattress and pillows inside, an easel, a little desk with shelves, and a rainbow color scheme throughout. After admiring the artwork, Jill puts it up in the room's "gallery" area. Everything, it seems, has a place in this playroom.
"We wanted her to feel that her art is important," says Majeau. "We also made sure most of the storage was within her reach."
This attention to detail is deliberate. A well-designed room can nurture a child's growth, notes Bambini owner Yana Drogobetsky, who has a degree in child development from Wheelock College. "By making spaces for different things, to know that everything has a place—this is the beginning of math skills," she says. "And by keeping everything within kids' reach means they don't have to ask parents to get them things. This gives them independence and great self-confidence."
The playroom's storage system—numerous brightly hued drawers and crates—has also produced unexpected benefits. Jill proudly reports that Jackson now likes cleaning up almost as much as she likes creating a mess. "She'll actually take something off the shelf, work at the table, and put it back again," says Jill, adding, "I left toys that she's almost outgrown on bottom shelves so Mont can reach them when he starts crawling. Because they're supposed to share."
A room as fabulous as Jackson's playroom ("play palace" may be a more accurate term) can be pricey, though. Drogobetsky says the cost of furniture, plus design fee, can run anywhere from $4,000 for a simple layout of bed, desk, and dresser, to $20,000 for a fully done-up room complete with furniture, rugs, wall design, and storage. Yet judging from Bambini's booming business, lofty price tags are no deterrent to local parents. "People are more aware of kids' rooms now," says Drogobetsky. "In the past three to four years, we've seen a greater variety of styles. People are having children much later. When they have a child, they don't want a nursery that doesn't go with the rest of their house."
Moms and dads buying high-end modular lines like Vibel and DucDuc can assuage their guilt over the expense (at least partially) with the knowledge that these pieces can be adapted in shape, color, and function over time. Say, for example, Jackson tires of the theater space in her playroom. With a few tweaks, it's transformed into—voilà!—a changing station or a train table for her little brother.
The malleability of Jackson's bedroom and playroom furniture complements Jill and Drew's child-rearing philosophy: Give your offspring as many options as possible, empowering them to make decisions. When Jackson plays dress-up, she can choose from an array of outfits, from that flamingo to a princess to Bob the Builder. As she grows, she may decide to have her bed raised on stilts to create a loft sleeping area and a new frontier for playing underneath. Looking further into the future, Jackson will even be able to pick where she wants to make her own home, since she has a passport from the United States courtesy of her dad, one from the European Union courtesy of her German-born mom, and a third from Canada, where Jill emigrated as a teenager. From the landscape of her bedroom to a map of the world—a lot of possibilities, indeed.