Empty Nest? Transform Kids’ Rooms Into Spaces You’ll Actually Use

Have your kids flown the nest, leaving behind unused bedrooms filled with wayward stuffed animals, dusty trophies and tattered posters? Rather than keep a room as a shrine to your kiddo, consider transitioning it into a chic guest room or another room you’ll actually use – a home office or workout room, perhaps? Taking a space from childish to stylish is easier than you think. Here’s how to make it happen.

Make it work for your needs

Think about how the new area can work for you. North Shore interior designer Suzanne Danilek works with many clients who have converted their child’s bedroom. She believes that you should transition the room into a space that is dedicated to your lifestyle — and this doesn’t necessarily just mean a new guest room.

“Consider expanding your kitchen, pantry, master bath or master closet into these spaces,” she says. “It is easier and more rewarding than you think.”

Melissa Cornelius is Design Director at SMPLFY Lifestyle Design. She recently completed a project for a Wilmette couple that changed their daughter’s old bedroom into an inviting guest room. Cornelius has also seen many people use children’s old bedrooms in less traditional ways.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Cornelius

“After years of sharing your home with children, it can be intimidating to suddenly inherit an empty room once they’re grown,” Cornelius says. “But it doesn’t take much to create a sanctuary you’ll use regularly: a meditation studio, reading room or guest suite are great ways to ensure you’ll enjoy these reclaimed spaces for years to come.”


Cornelius says that clients often hesitate to change their homes because they fear it will require too much time and money. But, she says you can stick to a reasonable budget by making a list detailing what you want from your new space.

“You can reference it if all the choices start to overwhelm you,” she says. “Remember, less truly is more, so carefully edit everything you put in your room; if it doesn’t contribute to your ‘want list,’ move on.”

Create a blank canvas

If you’re having trouble visualizing how your newfound extra space might be used, try emptying the room. The blank space might get your creative juices flowing.

“We know realistically that moving on is a slow process [that] often includes steps forward and back, so changing childhood bedrooms can also happen in steps,” Danilek says. “Place important childhood memories in a memory box and donate the rest.”

Ask yourself what you want the feel of the room to be. Airy? Swanky? Traditional? Funky? Let your answer inform your decorating choices.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of Suzanne Danilek


Add some (neutral) color

When you’re ready to begin redecorating, a fresh coat of paint is an easy way to start. Danilek recommends Benjamin Moore shades Perspective (CSP-5) and Penthouse (CSP-35).

“They are neutral, but still interesting,” she says.

Also swap childish linens for new ones in soothing neutrals. When decorating with colors like white, off-white, grey or beige, add visual interest with different textures.

Make it personal

“Figuring out where to begin is something we’ve all struggled with,” Cornelius says. “How about consulting your five senses?”

She says the inspiration for a beautiful room might be a favorite color, a scent that reminds you of a special vacation, the pattern on your favorite piece of clothing or a cherished family heirloom.

“A room gets its personality from you, and no matter how many people spend time in your home, you’re the only one who needs to love it,” she says.

Give the room a grown-up facelift

Accessorize to bring more life into the room. Change out the wall art, add a plant or a vase filled with fresh flowers, or bring in a few framed family photos.

Replace child-like furniture, lamps and rugs with more sophisticated pieces. Try a website like allmodern.com for inexpensive, fun lighting and furniture. If you don’t want to buy all new furniture, consider tweaking what you already have. For instance, keep the lamp but swap out the shade for something more elegant.

Danilek says to add a “grown-up” point of interest to complete the transformation. Her favorite: faux wood ceilings.

Guest room in disguise

If you need to keep a bed for when the kids are back home or for out-of-town guests, there are a number of options. Trade a big bed for a couch that converts into a bed, so the space can be used as an office or workout room in between visits. CB2’s Tandom Sleeper Sofa transforms from a chic sofa to a bed in seconds.

Or, change the bed into a Murphy bed. Danilek recommends California Closets modern Murphy bed, which doubles as a large usable desk space.

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