KIDS’ STYLE : Small Worlds : The Comfort Zone

Back in the days when children were seen and not heard, few grown-ups asked tots for their views on design. Most schoolrooms came in two shades--jailhouse brown and hospital green--and were as square and spare as offices. Playgrounds, too, were businesslike, with rows of swings and slides in sandlots and asphalt jungles. Wherever they were--home, school, park or doctor’s office--kids often found themselves in a one-size-fits-all junior version of Adultland.

The current child-care explosion has changed that, and so have concerns about children’s safety and research into how and when youngsters start to learn. Older parents, who’ve had more time to develop strong opinions about their kids’ needs, have also had an impact, prompting educators, corporations and design professionals to rethink the child-size scene.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Sep. 11, 1994 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 11, 1994 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
In “Small Worlds” (Kids’ Style, Aug. 21), the photo of a multipurpose room at the Warner Bros. day-care center was taken by Hewitt/Garrison.

What they’re coming up with are age-specific and developmentally appropriate environments, says Beth Reeves Fortney, an Arcadia design and child development consultant. “Children aren’t just little adults,” she explains. “They have different needs, fears and interests, which design elements can address.”

While visual stimulation and interactive qualities are important in a young person’s space, so is flexibility, she adds. “They need a place that isn’t so overdesigned that they can’t make it their own.”


As these pages show, kids’ settings can reflect the energy and exuberance of a child’s-eye view and please parents who might have grown up hungry for color.


To a jumpy juvenile fearful of doctors, time in a waiting room can be interminable. For a child with a disfigured face--and no escape from curious stares--it’s even worse. One solution, conceived by Dr. John Reinisch of Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, is a waiting room that soothes and distracts young patients while granting them plenty of privacy.

Reinisch, head of the hospital’s plastic and reconstructive surgery division, worked with San Francisco-based NBBJ Architects to design just such a place for the children who come to him. Its centerpiece is a 400-gallon saltwater tank flashing with tropical fish. A hugely popular diversion, it’s also one of the room’s few light sources. Others include a porthole window in the reception area and a collection of oversized illuminated animal photos.


Colors are muted--warm tans, grays and greens. “When it’s dark, you don’t notice details as much,” says Reinisch, who treats youngsters with a range of abnormalities, from cleft palates to facial tumors. Patients who don’t wish to be seen at all can withdraw to a compartment in the room’s playhouse, which features a two-story slide and cubbyholes.

Such amenities, says Reinisch, while not directly related to the healing process, encourage a child’s cooperation with the treatment. “Our patients,” he explains, “may have to come here many times a year for lots of surgeries. If they hate being here, it’s unpleasant for everyone.”

To Reinisch, peace and calm are the ingredients missing from most medical waiting rooms, especially for children. “Sometimes they’ve got a few blocks, some crayons and magazines that are quickly scattered and look messy. We were trying for something comforting, a room to put people at ease.”