Kids' furniture has to fulfill some lofty requirements, and we aren't just talking about loft beds, either. From safety issues to concerns about durability, style, comfort and price, dressing up a child's room can be as much fun as you thought, but way more work than you expected.
From a practical perspective, kids' furniture isn't just scaled down adult furniture designed for smaller bodies. It has to be able to take a beating without breaking or becoming a hazard in other ways. It should be held to a higher standard, and it is. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has guidelines for durable goods designed for use by children under the age of 12, including furniture, bedding and toys. It's called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
It provides an extra level of protection that can help ensure that the products you buy are safe for your child to use. It should also be a heads-up, though. These protections are in place because children are more vulnerable than adults. Furniture made from flimsy materials, sporting sharp edges or with loose components that can shift unexpectedly may be an inconvenience to an adult but potentially life threatening to a young child. That's one reason why safety tops our list of things to consider when buying kids furniture.
There's something else to think about, too. Children don't just use furniture; they give beds, dressers, chairs, desks and just about everything else a heck of a beating. From trying to climb their cribs as if they were monkey bars (a photo op if ever there was one), to using their beds as trampolines, children punish their furnishings. That's one reason to make sure the furniture you buy for a young child's room is designed for a child. The sizing will be right, and the design will likely be sound, sturdy and safe.
Although we'll get to some specific guidelines for shopping for kids furniture in a second, your best resource is always your intuition. Purchase from manufacturers you trust, and inspect what you buy for flaws in workmanship. Read the promotional materials carefully, too. Every year, there are recalls on dozens of kids' products, the result of injuries and even fatalities sustained from using unsafe goods. Stay informed, but don't stop there. If you have questions, contact the manufacturer to ask for more information. If anything seems off, don't buy the product, and report your suspicions to the CPSC via its Safe Products Page.
Let's take a look at some tips and a few warnings about buying kid stuff. Don't worry; it isn't all doom and gloom. There are some amazing, versatile and beautifully designed products out there that can transform a kid's room into a retreat worthy of Aladdin and his cave of wonders.
Buying Kids Bedroom Furniture
Kids' cribs are among the furnishings most often reported for safety issues, so it pays to be doubly cautious about your child's bedding by checking the CPSC Web site for current recalls before you shop. By the age of about 6, a child can be introduced to a standard sized bed, and a bunch of new options open up.
Choosing flexible bedding for a child who's past the toddler stage is a great idea. Options like loft beds can maximize the space in a room with a two story approach that puts the bed on what would be the top of a bunk bed arrangement while reserving the lower bunk area for storage, seating and even a desk. It's a great choice for a small bedroom that has to work on many levels (pun intended). We like loft beds because there are so many style options to choose from. Before you fall in love with a loft bed, though, measure the room you have in mind. Check the door swings and the location of the windows, electrical outlets, vents and ceiling fixtures. These units are large, and they have to fit the layout of the room closely in order to work properly.
Options like trundle beds and standard bunk beds are another flexible choice in bedding. They can sleep two children to a room without sacrificing personal space in the process. Bunk beds have been around forever, and the concept is pretty useful. Where there's elevation, there's some cause for concern, though. There have been reports of children falling out of top bunks, getting their heads stuck in the guardrails or becoming trapped between the bed and the wall (or between the mattress and the frame). This doesn't mean that a bunk or loft bed is a poor choice. You should inspect any unit you're interested in carefully, though, and make sure your child is mature enough to use a bunk or loft bed safely. Consumer Reports suggests waiting until a child is at least 6 before allowing him to take the top bunk, but maturity should always be your guide.
There are some other bedding choices that deserve attention, too. Some are standard single bed sized but start off low to the ground for easy child access that can be adjusted upward as your child grows. They're a cost effective choice as they can stay with your child through his tween and teen years, too. Sticking with that notion, one of the most practical choices for an older child is a standard double bed. If you have the space, this has the advantage of being suitable for a developing child, but will still be practical in a young adult's first apartment -- or can become part of a spare bedroom once your child is out on his own. If you like this approach, you'll be placing a child in an adult bed, so make sure the bed frame is sturdy and there are no gaps between the frame and mattress, or between the headboard, footboard and mattress that could cause pinching or entrapment issues.
Storage is also an important consideration. Kids accumulate a lot of stuff in a short period of time, and whether it's wall, closet, chest, armoire or under-bed storage, chances are good that you'll soon realize you can't have too many places to stick your kid's belongings. It's hard to teach a child to stay organized if her room doesn't have effective storage. One great solution is modular, adjustable closet storage. The shelves, baskets and bins can morph and change as your child's wardrobe and interests change. That way you can hang a belt collection as easily as you can find a spot for a pile of stuffed elephants or discarded dolls.
Before you start thinking about the style of your child's room, give some thought to how you'll secure or otherwise brace heavy objects. A child dies every two weeks in the U.S. alone as a result of tip-over related accidents. Many are televisions, bookshelves, appliances and chests that aren't secured properly. While you're at it, brace heavy furniture pieces in other areas of your home, too. Buy delightful bedroom furniture that will give your child a cozy place to sleep and daydream, but be sure to go the extra step of making your entire home as safe as possible.
Tips for Buying Kids Furniture
There are four big things to think about when buying kids furniture: safety, comfort, flexibility and style. Your child is almost certainly just thinking about style, so it's probably a good idea to start there. Ask her opinion about décor, and pay attention to the types of activities she enjoys. Have her take a look at a few magazines to pick out looks she likes, and start compiling a notebook of ideas together. You may be a theme-oriented parent who lives to decorate, or just want to get the whole job over with. Whatever your approach happens to be, the task of decorating your kid's room will go more smoothly if you do some advanced preparation. These tips will help too:
- Have a budget -- There's something about decorating a child's room that brings out the fanciful side of a parent's nature, and all of a sudden that lavish crib, canopy bed or fiendishly expensive carrousel horse doesn't look so extravagant -- until the bill arrives. If you have a budget, you can apportion specific amounts for essential furniture pieces to ground your spending, and maybe teach your child a thing or two about responsible budgeting.
- Scope out the options -- Sometimes it's a good idea to do a little advanced recon before shopping day, too. You can hit the stores and pick out two or three likely candidates for furnishings, and then make another trip with your child in tow. Once you've narrowed down the field, you can show her the limited options and save yourself some time and grumbling.
- Read the inserts -- Read the specification and presentation materials thoroughly before you buy an item. They will give you important installation, maintenance, cleaning and safety instructions. Some furniture pieces are also age appropriate, and the marketing materials will give age, weight or height recommendations.
- Inspect items before you buy -- Things like protruding screws, sharp points, peeling paint, warping wood slats and fraying seams are bad signs. You won't necessarily notice them unless you look, though.
- Avoid buying used -- Swap meets and second hand stores that specialize in kids' furnishings and gear can look appealing, but you don't know how much action a piece has seen until your child is using it -- which may be too late. If you do buy used, make sure to check with the CPSC site for past recalls. When a recall occurs, it can take years for all the applicable products to be taken off the market, so if you can't buy new, make sure you buy smart. We shouldn't have to mention this, but just in case you're in a hurry, don't give used items to your child before you thoroughly clean and inspect them first.
- Know the difference between assembled and knocked-down -- To save money when shopping, it pays to transport and assemble furniture pieces yourself. Many budget furniture dealers charge extra for delivery, and typically sell items knocked-down. This goes for most online sellers too. Assembly is often pretty straightforward, but if you don't know what a Phillips-head screwdriver is -- and don't want to -- then make sure your purchases come pre-assembled or will be assembled on-site for you.
- Reinforce weight bearing pieces -- If you're buying a bed or other weight-bearing piece, consider adding additional screws to increase strength and stability. This is often a good idea when installing loft beds or bunk beds. Measure the thickness of the wood supports or check the existing screws to make sure the ones you add aren't too long.
- Always return the product registration card -- Kids' furnishings and other kids' products typically come with a product registration card. This isn't a marketing ploy. When you register as the owner of the product, you're added to a database and kept informed if any safety problems arise -- kind of like vehicle recalls. Manufacturers of products for children are legally obligated to provide this service for your protection, so take advantage of it by returning the card or registering online.
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