Princesses have long enchanted little girls. But cultural flash points in recent years have fueled demand for increasingly elaborate—and expensive—fantasy rooms.
By: KATY MCLAUGHLIN | Feb. 5, 2015 11:21 a.m. ET | The Wall Street Journal
When their new $70,000 princess-themed playroom is finished in March, Stella, 4 years old, and Presley, 2½, will have a faux gem-encrusted performance stage, a treehouse loft, and a mini-French cafe. A $20,000 custom carpet with colorful pathways will lead the girls to the various play areas.
“It’s going to be a pink explosion, with hearts and bows and crowns and tassels,” says their mother, Lindsay Dickhout, chief executive of a company that makes tanning products. The playroom will occupy about 1,500 square feet on the ground floor of the family’s 7,000-square foot home in Newport Beach, Calif.
Upstairs are the girls’ royal bedrooms, in which Stella sleeps in a $6,000 custom-made castle bed, and Presley’s pink-and-white striped wallpaper is illuminated by a crown-shaped chandelier.
Princesses have long enchanted little girls. But cultural flash points in recent years, such as Disney ’s blockbuster “Frozen” and Prince William’s royal wedding, have fueled demand for increasingly elaborate—and expensive—fantasy rooms.
Enjoying the spoils are interior designers who specialize in decorating kids’ ultimate bedrooms. Specialty furniture companies deal in lavish royal-boudoir accouterments, from $3,000 Cinderella lamps to $35,000 carriage-shaped beds. As the style becomes more popular, more mass-market companies have rolled out crown-shaped cornices, tulle canopies, and Rococo children’s furniture.
Dahlia Mahmood, whose company Dahlia Designs has offices in Los Angeles and Ashburn, Va., created a $200,000 princess-fairy themed room for a 2-year-old girl in Virginia five years ago. She built a castle-shaped bed with turrets in which all the girl’s princess dolls could be stored. The room has its own entrance with a tiny door, too small for adults but just right for the little girl. Hand-painted bathroom walls were accented with Swarovski crystals.
When the girl turned 4, Ms. Mahmood returned to the project and redesigned the room, removing portions of the castle, expanding the bed to full size and installing two large, molded, fiberglass trees outfitted with twinkle lights, she said.
An inevitable change in a child’s tastes can be a concern for many parents and designers.
Bronson Trebbi, chief executive of a business-services firm in Cincinnati, balked when his interior designer suggested a princess room for his two toddler daughters, now 5 and 8, who divide their time between his home and their mother’s.
“I just wanted to do something that would give them a sense of identity and excitement and to create a place for their imaginations” in his Mount Lookout, Ohio, home, Mr. Trebbi said. The palace look seemed risky, he said, because the girls could quickly outgrow it.
But his designer, Cincinnati-based Laney Reusch of Reusch Interior Design, felt certain it was the right approach, she said.
“I have a daughter and two stepdaughters. I know girls,” Ms. Reusch said. To assuage Mr. Trebbi’s concerns, she bought a $3,000 bunk with castle-shaped cloth panels that can be removed if the girls outgrow the look. A petite, custom sofa and customized chalk board make a schoolhouse nook suitable for both princesses and commoners. The room, which cost $10,500, has become a draw for the girls, Mr. Trebbi said.
Teenagers and little boys have also inspired royal boudoirs. Evelyn Miller, an interior designer who lives in Oyster Bay, N.Y., built a nearly $100,000 princess room for her daughter, Siobhan, who was 17 at the time. The idea came from a picture of a room in an Italian palace that Siobhan spotted in a fashion magazine.
“I said, ‘I know it can’t be exactly like this,’ ” said Siobhan Miller. “But lo and behold, I got a palace. It is exactly like that room,” said the 22-year-old marketing analyst, who now lives in New York City.
To achieve the look, the elder Ms. Miller, owner of Evelyn M. Designs in East Norwich, N.Y., bought a $15,000 antique armoire, a Nepalese silk area rug for $5,000, and painted the walls the exact shade of blue in the magazine photo.
Ms. Miller said she was partially motivated by wanting to build up her design portfolio, a strategy that has paid off. She is currently creating a nearly identical room for a client who saw pictures of her daughter’s room, she said.
Gwen Urs turned to a nursery specialist in 2012 when she was about to give birth to her second child. Eager to maintain the surprise of the baby’s gender, she asked Sherri Blum Schuchart, owner of Jack and Jill Interiors in Gardners, Pa., to design two nurseries: one for a baby princess and one for a little prince. To keep the secret safe, Ms. Urs and her husband sent the baby’s gender-identifying ultrasound straight to the designer without ever looking at it themselves.
While the family was out of their Millstone Township, N.J., home, Ms. Blum Schuchart went in and installed the “royal prince nursery.” The room, which Ms. Urs estimated cost between $15,000 and $18,000, included a crib with blue satin ribbons, a Rococo-style dresser painted in silvery-gold and elaborate tufted blue curtains. The family saw the room for the first time when they came home from the hospital with their new baby, Luke.
“The boy’s room is very regal. I’ll be heartbroken when Luke wants it to be a big-boy Dallas Cowboys room,” despite her love for the team, Ms. Urs said.
Getting the princess look is getting easier as more retailers roll out regal items. Pottery Barn Kids has “seen a growing trend in over-the-top dream rooms,” said Kim Terry, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based company. The company introduced tufted headboards and tulle canopies two years ago, unicorn bedding last year, and this year has expanded these categories as well as the number of “sparkly chandeliers,” Ms. Terry said. RH Baby & Child, a division of Corte Madera-Calif.-based Restoration Hardware , currently offers gilt, crown-shaped canopy hardware; ornate armoires; crystal pendant-style chandeliers and a $1,300 girl’s bed described as “an exacting replica of a late 19th-century Rococo bed from France.”
Disney, which rules the princess market, is expanding its princess décor. This year, Rooms to Go, a furniture retailer that licenses the Disney name, is adding 15 new items to its Disney princess collection, said a spokeswoman for Disney Consumer Products. The company sells princess bedroom sets that cost between $500 and $2,000. This year, another licensee will introduce a $380 carriage-shaped princess bed at Toys R Us.
Some companies say that when it comes to princess décor, Marie Antoinette-level pricing works best.
PoshTots, a Chesapeake, Va.-based online retailer of children’s furniture, sells expensive items including $35,000 princess carriage beds. A few years ago, the company introduced a $3,900 princess bed in the hope it would find more customers than the company’s nearly $10,000 option. But sales of the cheaper product were a dud. “If our customer wants to go princess, they’ll go for the $10,000 bed,” said Andrea Edmunds, PoshTots’ director of marketing.
Zoya Bograd, a furniture retailer and interior designer in New York, sells high-end children’s bedroom items such as $60,000 Murano-glass chandeliers and $10,000 to $15,000 custom carpets. Her company, Rooms by Zoya B., organizes furniture into rooms named for princesses from art and literature. She has the Aurora room, anchored by a $6,800 crib; the Ariel room, which features a $5,755 seven-drawer dresser; and the Sleeping Beauty room, with a $3,945 glass chandelier.
The popularity of the princess look belies the anxiety parents feel over fulfilling their daughters’ fantasies.
Jason Hulfish, a Tampa-based artist who is creating the Dickhouts’ California playroom, said he begins each project by interviewing the parents and child.
“Every girl wants to be a princess, and every family is worried about making that princess,” said Mr. Hulfish, owner of Jason Hulfish Design Studio. “They worry about what the long-term effects of the princess bedroom might be.”
One exception is Ms. Dickhout.
“They have their whole lives to think practically and be efficient in the real world. This is about being creative,” said Ms. Dickhout. “I’m not at all worried about them becoming princesses.”