Create whimsical, fun spaces that let children’s imagination soar

  • Family
  • Thursday, 18 Sep 2014

Arif Rafhan Othman draws his son Hamka into a fantastical world with his doodles.

Some lucky children get to play and sleep in playful spaces.

Today, it’s a fire-breathing dragon sprawled across a bed of clouds. Tomorrow, it could be jolly pirates sailing off on a high sea adventure in search of mermaid land. And after that, perhaps some aliens invading Earth in googly-eyed fashion.

Half of three-year-old Hamka Arif’s room is covered with chalk drawings by his father, illustrator and 2D animator Arif Rafhan Othman.

The other half of his room is painted eggshell-white, and filled with a magnificent marker-made doodle of a floating city, which Arif drew in hours. There are cascading waterfalls gushing off the sides of buildings, drifting islands and even a lone zeppelin cruising across the skies.

When Arif decided that Hamka was old enough to have a room of his own, the father-of-two went all out to create a unique boy’s space for him.

Unleashing the inner artist: To encourage creativity, Arif Rafhan Othman covered half of his son Hamka's room with a wipeable dark grey paint to create a chalkboard-like space for daily drawings.

“We moved into this new home at the beginning of the year and and that’s when we gave my son his own room. Lucky for us, when we started planning for the decor about a year and a half ago, Pinterest was already popular and we got a lot of interesting ideas from there,” says Arif, 37.

The sky is really the limit when it comes to designing for the young and inquisitive.

“We originally wanted wallpapers for my son’s and daughter’s rooms, but it would’ve cost RM3,000. We stashed that idea and decided to paint the walls ourselves. Because of that, we managed to keep the cost under RM1,000,” says Arif.

Going down the DIY route is not without its challenges. Arif and his wife Suhana Mohamed Daud, 35, initially had a hard time getting the hang of painting walls.

“We would paint the walls on the weekends because that’s the only time we had. Because we were impatient, we ended up doing double the work. We would paint on the second layer hours after the first and end up lifting the first layer altogether because it has not dried properly.

“We also didn’t know that some paint required a primer so we would paint layers after layers wondering why it never became any smoother,” says Suhana, a 3D animator.

The couple’s daughter, Mya Elisha, six, has a pretty pink girl’s room to herself, adorned with a handpainted tree on the wall above her bed.

Both children sleep in adult-sized beds: Mya in a queen-sized bed and Hamka in a single bed. Arif says it’s more practical this way, as the beds can also cater to house guests when necessary.

“There’s just something about designing for children’s rooms that brings out the kid in you.

“And after all the hard work, seeing the looks on your children’s faces when they first enter the room is definitely priceless,” says Arif.

Arif's son, Hamka, in his 'creativity-inspiring' room. 

Creative buzz

Instead of pink walls, seven-year-old Nadra Farissa Loh’s room is a soft shade of duck egg green, which her mother Farah Izza Shafik says is inspired by, a home decor blog that she frequently visits.

“I instantly fell in love with the colour when I first saw it on the blog, run by a couple who uses a lot of pastel shades in their home projects. For pops of colour, I left it to the furniture to do the job. My daughter’s favourite colour is pink, so we got a pink bed, a pink dresser and pretty pink-framed mirror,” says the instructional designer.

Her eye for colours and intricate designs comes from working on designing colourful and interactive educational courseware.

Farah, 31, is not into bedrooms decked out in princess or sports car motifs as she believes children will grow out of them quickly. The enterprising mother bought her daughter’s furniture on sale from various shops, and spent no more than RM1,000 for the bed and the dresser.

Just a year ago, Farah converted her store room into a playroom that doubles up as the family library. Her DIY contractor, as it turns out, was none other than her handyman husband, Bob Muhazari.

“At first, I couldn’t decide on how to refurbish the room into something that would appeal to both my kids. In the end, I painted the walls a turquoise blue, put up white shelving units and set up a boy’s and girl’s corner. Thankfully, my husband shares my passion for home decor. He’s always been my go-to-guy for executing the ideas and concepts,” she says.

Farah's daughter enjoys reading in her special playroom-cum-family library, which is specially designed with a pastel colour theme. 

Complete with miniature toy chest benches, a blackboard and a castle-themed kitchen set, the playroom also boasts quirky chalkboard stickers and a bunting that Farah purchased online.

The mother-of-two added a nifty touch by turning picture ledges from IKEA into trendy book shelves that prominently display attractive book covers (which helps encourage reading).

“I grew up in a family where the home is seen as one of the most important parts of our lives. My father was a town planner and he was really into ensuring that we live in the most inspiring environments. I remember sharing a pink girl’s room with my sister, and my brothers had a blue room complete with matching bedsheet and comforter sets.

“I wanted to give my children the same pride I had growing up; of caring for their own unique space. I also wanted to teach them about the importance of keeping things neat and tidy. Because at the end of it all, your room says a lot about you,” Farah says.

All her space

For the first two years of her life, the idea of sleeping alone was foreign to Lim Yi Xuan. So when her mother Low Wai Yean, 31, started mooting the idea to her, it was met with much reluctance, of course.

“As Yi Xuan got bigger, my husband and I started talking to her about sleeping on her own but she didn’t like the idea. That’s when we decided to create a nice little room for her, so that it would be interesting enough for her to want to sleep on her own,” says the account manager.

It took several weeks for Low and her husband art prop master Lim Tze Shiun, 33, to deck out the spare room in their home to make it fun and friendly for the toddler, who had no inkling of what was going on behind the closed door.

“The room doesn’t have any windows so our first challenge was to make the room bright and cheerful, but also calming to help our daughter sleep better. We painted the walls a deep blue to mimic the blue sky.

“Initially, I was quite ambitious. I wanted to paint on some white clouds too. But I never got around to that. We settled for a little tent canopy and a green fluffy rug to create that grassy effect. We also put up some wooden alphabets that spell out Yi Xuan’s name,” says Low.

Low Wai Yean converted a spare room into a fun and friendly space to encourage her daughter to sleep on her own.

The couple had no need to invest in new furniture, as the room already had a queen-sized bed and a wardrobe. Thankfully, they were in white and matched the bright wall perfectly.

“When the day came for the big reveal, e told her a gift was waiting for her. We walked her to her room and she was just in total awe. We then took out some wall stickers and got her to put it up with her father, so that she would feel like she did something for the room too,” Low recalls.

It still took several months before Yi Xuan, now three, got used to having her own space. Nevertheless, the girl is now a happy camper and would spend hours playing in her room during the day.

“I think it’s essential for children to have their own room so they get to learn about privacy and independence early on and also have a chance to develop their own personality in their own space. When she’s older, we’ll give her the choice to redecorate the room her own way,” Low says.

Related story:

Painting your children's rooms? Let them help you!

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