Using the Right Colours for Children’s Spaces

Design for Children

It is about problem-solving and about improving the quality of life.  Design for children should go beyond durability, ergonomics, safety … even function to also carefully think about materials, aesthetic and sensory qualities. 

Also, the design should consider how children respond to all environmental stimuli (visual, touch, smell, etc.). These stimuli inform and enrich experiences and affect interactions within their environment and with other people. 

After all, children are immersed and engaged with their environments more and connected than adults. They deserve sensorially complex spaces, which inspire many possibilities, enquiries, and adventures.

The attention we pay to designing and decorating an interior and how we resource it has a significant impact on the way children interact with their environment and each other. It also reflects our own image of children and our own expectations of their potential.

Putting the right colours in the right place.

Or… the targeted use of colour applied thoughtfully and harmoniously.  With HABA furniture, we can use natural materials! Natural wood has its depth of colour and complexity due to being natural and growing in the real world – and then we choose to apply colour in the finishes we use.  Water-based, non-toxic colour washes, seal and protect the wood and let the natural wood grain show through, complete with its glorious ‘imperfections’.  

We can upholster using natural or (carefully sourced and sustainably made) synthetic or recycled materials

Sources of colour can also introduce secondary qualities and complexities. Such as when sunlight passes through a coloured acrylic and creates a backlight and a colour shadow on the floor or wall, changing with sunlight throughout the day.  All of these add to the whole, creating a more engaging space where theories about the world are formulated and tested by children.

What colours are suitable for a children’s space?

The choice of which colour to introduce is about the relationships between colours. About how they work together and complement each other, and the activity that will take place in the room (and how this activity will interact with colour). 

Is it active play or a quieter and more reflective space?  Do the colours of the things we put into the area (for example, the furniture) speak meaningfully to the visible interiors (walls, flooring, finishes)?

The question is not only about which colours but about the intensity and the tone of these colours.  Care should be taken with highly saturated or primary colours. These can overstimulate the senses and, unless carefully integrated into the whole, can distract and overwhelm the room—mainly secondary and tertiary colours. With medium tones, well-balanced and tranquil, well-thought-out complements and contrasts.  The interiors and furnishings are planned together, ideally at the same time. 

I’ve visited some truly beautiful nurseries: the best in the world, designed by architects and designers entirely in dialogue with children, their educators, and pedagogical research.  These have included white spaces with grey floors, where accent colours come only from the furnishings. Also rooms with kaleidoscopic colours and materials blended into the fabric of the room to make a coherent and balanced whole. Or a room with different pastel colours on each wall, complementing and enhancing each other. So that the experience of facing in one direction (perceiving specific colours) is subtly different from facing in another direction … and the furniture colours and materials are planned together as an integral part of the interior design.

(For reference, the latter example might be the Loris Malaguzzi centre and school at Reggio Emilia or many projects by the architects of ZPZ Partners in Modena).

Environments for Children

With HABA, the Grow. upp range is one outcome of a research project on children’s spaces, and it creates a design language that, both in colour and forms, is based on nature.  Shades of soft green, brown and blue tones promote positive associations with the natural world.  The familiar but abstract shapes, the real wood materials, and these harmonious combinations of colour are designed to create a feeling of safety and security and propose different possibilities and pathways: supported by modularity that allows the space to be reconfigured and reimagined for other activities.  Grow.upp is a space for exploration, interactions and experiment.

A different scheme and combination might be appropriate to create a calm space for a sleeping room or a Snoezelen sensory room or more dynamic colours in an area for movement.  The colour scheme and choices relate to the users, their ages, the room’s function, and their length of time.


The intention when making a children’s space is also to make one that is in some way ‘unfinished’ because it will be finished by the children themselves, by their activities and the things they create, by plants and materials that are brought in to decorate and add further layers and stimuli to the experience of inhabiting the room.

Overdesigning and over finishing the space can reduce the sense of possibilities and make the experience literal, linear and constrained rather than open-ended. Above all, let’s try to create beautiful spaces filled with possibilities because children have a right to beauty.

For more information and an introduction to the targeted use of colour, please refer to our HABA furniture catalogue p. 218 and the Grow.upp brochure, which introduces the research project that underpins the room concept approach. The HABA range enables multiple opportunities to configure each product, choosing from various colours and material finishes suitable for your space.

More to explore

What is Grow.upp?

Grow.upp is a furniture range for children 0-6 years. It is a collaboration between education and child developmental research with furniture design.

Interview with Hannah Little

Hannah Little, Senior Manager at CC Nurseries  Our marketing manager, Jade, catches up with Hannah to find out why she felt confident

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