Luxury defines Caroline Abbasi's suite. Towering walls glow with custom pink paint and wafer-thin wallpaper, hand-printed and flown in from England. The bed is a white confection of fine linens and European lace pillows. A large Belgian hand-hooked rug, swirling with pale pink and mauve flowers, lends just the right air of coordinated sophistication.
It's easy to forget that you are in the personal domain of a 3-year-old.
This is no mere bedroom, this is a fantasyland more elaborately decorated than any other room in the Abbasis' immense Rancho Palos Verdes home. Some might wonder: Why all the fuss for such a small child? For Caroline's mother, Cathy, the answer is simple — she spends almost all her time in these rooms. She wants them to be beautiful, like the places she reads about in fairy tales.
"I want that feeling of harmony," said Abbasi. The three-room suite, recently redecorated to make room for Caroline's newborn brother, Nicholas, is awash in light from windows facing north and south. Two televisions stand ready, one for Caroline to watch cartoons and the other for her mother. A bathroom is outfitted with a sink large enough to bathe a baby. Shelves bulge with plush stuffed animals and trinkets. A tiny table is set for tea. A mirrored closet opens to a treasure trove of toys stacked up to the edge of the vaulted ceiling.
Years ago, one coat of pink or blue paint and a simple white crib was all you needed to create a baby's room. Now — with couples waiting longer to have children and with more disposable income to spend — children's rooms are becoming more like ultra-decorated jewel boxes of designer fabrics, murals and antiques.
"A lot of people want the same quality things in their children's room that they would buy for themselves," said Michael Baker, director of creative services for the Pacific Design Center. "They want things that will last, that they won't look at in five years and want to toss out."
In Venice, 9-month-old Lexi Radziner has an orange-upholstered Bertoia diamond chair and ottoman in her nursery and a miniature wire Bertoia chair along with a Saarinen side table. Oh, and over the crib is a Steven Meisel photograph of Twiggy given to her father, architect Ron Radziner, by Meisel himself. But then her 2 1/2-year-old brother, Asher, who has a tepee against the 12-foot-long, 8 1/2-foot-high glass wall of his bedroom, has his own miniature walnut dining table and dining stools designed by his father.
Along with finer furnishings, parents are giving their children something far more rare in Los Angeles: space. Garages, studios, basements, spare bedrooms, even dining rooms find new life as rumpus rooms. Backyards are given over to forests of playthings, from the usual to the extravagant.
Abbasi brought in a work crew to create the bedroom suite for her daughter by carving large doors in the walls of three rooms. As afternoon wanes, she and her daughter often retreat from the suite onto a hidden patio that runs the length of the rancho-style house. There are toys from end to end: rocking horses, slides, a playhouse, bikes and more. It's no surprise that the neighborhood children, and their parents, have nicknamed Caroline's suite "Abbasi Land."
The daughter of two Hungarian immigrants, Cathy Abbasi always dreamed of having such a place to play. "There's a very cottage-like feel here," she said. "They're the rooms I never had."
The push for better children's furnishings has fostered a cottage industry of entrepreneurs. Barbara Bartman, owner of Auntie Barbara's Antiques in Beverly Hills, specializes in making custom cribs and children's furnishings, including changing tables that convert into adult-worthy dressers. They're not cheap. Larger pieces sell anywhere from $1,600 to $2,000. A special-order crib bumper, made of fine chintz, linen or chenille, sells for $575.
"People are much more involved in their children," said Bartman, who has been in business for 30 years. "They're much more involved in their homes and the way they look. They want the stuff in their children's rooms to look and blend more with the style of the house."
Filmmakers Rachel Davidson and Jeff Janger wanted to find a way to incorporate the Moroccan and Asian decor of their Westwood home with that of their nursery.
One day, while searching through bolts of cloth at Diamond Foam & Fabric on La Brea Avenue, Davidson found a print featuring tents, elephants and palm trees in rich hues that reminded her of a Moroccan circus. It was the perfect fabric to make a whimsical yet chic room for her daughter, Arielle, now 22 months old.
"We decided to build the entire room around it," Davidson said. They took the fabric to designer Thea Seagal, who custom-made a bumper and crib skirt. "We wanted something we liked," Janger said. "We had to live with it too."
With the fabric picked out, pulling together the rest of the room was easy. The couple special-ordered a dresser that doubles as a changing table and a crib, both in soft beige. Walls were painted peach with deep green wainscoting. A kilim was placed on the floor, and a glass Moroccan star lamp was hung in a corner.
A bold, brightly colored Miró painting, a gift from Davidson's parents to commemorate Arielle's birth, was hung next to the crib. "Raggedy Ann doesn't really fit in here," Davidson said. "But she's here anyway."
Across town in Los Feliz, two of Davidson's friends also opted for an ethnic theme. The home's previous owner had commissioned an artist to paint an Asian-style mural in a room off the master bedroom. When graphic artists Lesley Vandernoot and Keith Jones found out that they were about to become parents, they thought about repainting the wall to make a traditional room for their baby.
Instead, they decided to use the mural as a backdrop, creating an Asian-themed room with a custom-made red satin crib bumper and red lanterns. They bought a 1940s light-wood dresser with a crib to match. "It's very sophisticated, not very babyish," Vandernoot said. "The baby," quipped Jones, holding 5-month-old Ava, "is the only accessory that makes it a baby's room."
When Carol Maskin and her family moved into their home in La Cañada eight years ago, there was no question that a large room off the back of the house would make a perfect play area for toddlers Louis and Josette. Maskin painted the room light yellow and green as a backdrop for the children's vibrant artwork. Later, artist Dayl Ann Zimmerman produced murals of the family animals — a menagerie of dogs and cats — on several closet doors. A tiny easel was set up in a corner. Pint-sized furniture was arranged around the room.
"It was set up like a preschool," said Maskin, a child psychologist. The hardwood floors were easily swept clean and art supplies and toys were whisked back into plastic containers and stashed in the closets.
As the kids grew, the room's décor evolved along with them — from craft room to game room, music room and library. Bookcases are filled with children's novels. A huge pine daybed covered with pillows serves as the perfect place for the children, now 9 and 11, to nap and read. Air-hockey and foosball tables provide entertainment for visitors — of all ages. One corner of the room serves as a mini-stage, with a drum set, an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. The access to the instruments has inspired daughter Josette to write songs. "She's trying to form a band," her mother said.
No wonder the residence — now slumber-party central — is a favorite hangout for the preteens on the block.
When the double doors are opened, the room becomes an extension of the family room and a link to the outdoor patio and pool. The family pets wander in and out. And the kids don't have to bother with drying off their feet after they swim.
"It's a room you don't have to worry about," Maskin said. "The kids can make a mess and it's easy to clean up. It's a place where they can be creative. For the kids, it's like a candy store."
Jonelle Pickett, a high school art teacher from Pasadena, used her creative talents to turn her two children's rooms into kaleidoscopic havens with mural-covered walls. Employing skills she learned while constructing backdrops for drama productions, she painted wispy clouds, green rolling hills and a soft blue lake across an expanse of drywall in the room of her 5-year-old daughter, Jewelyn. "We took a trip up the California coast right when the wildflowers were in bloom," Pickett said. "We saw the most beautiful purple and orange hills. I painted this when we got back."
As a nod to the family's last name, she installed a picket fence on the closet door. Paintings and sketches from other artist friends are scattered throughout the room, a girly pink and purple extravaganza with a vintage canopy bed covered with white linens. "I just wanted something bright and cheery," Pickett said. A miniature bed — found in a flea market — is a favorite hangout for the family cat, who lounges in the morning sun as it streams through the windows on the second floor.
Down the hall, in son Drew's room, Pickett applied textured paint to make it look as if the walls were covered with blue suede. The tones provided the perfect backdrop for a mural of the California coastline, complete with ocean and golden hills. She used spray foam to make a tree, giving the mural dimension. "I thought the tree would make the painting not so serious," Pickett said.
For another touch of humor, she sewed thrift-store shorts onto the bed's dust ruffle. The shorts are stuffed with an array of toys. "I just dreamed of this one night," Pickett said. "Drew's always putting things in there and pulling things out." Adopting a "funky inventor" theme, she hung mobiles of wooden airplanes and other gadgets.
Pickett said she fondly remembers the times she spent in her bedroom as a child. Brightly colored flowers, painted by her father, covered the ceiling, making the room feel unique.
She wanted to create the same fantastical space for her children to build their own memories. "I see it as a backdrop that will evolve," Pickett said. "It's something special."