When my eldest daughter, Tessa, entered grade two, it struck me that it was time we helped her buckle down and start taking her weekly homework seriously. (She almost never had any homework in grade one, so it was all new to us!) We figured she needed a spot where she could do her homework and keep it over the week, before submitting it to the teacher on Fridays. We were lucky enough to be able to “shop” my parents’ garage and pick up a little white desk with three drawers down one side for free.
The process — and Tessa’s and my subsequent styling and organizing of her new desk — got me thinking about desks for little kids.
These aren’t the big, serious desks designed for teenagers who spend their evenings penning essays on Hemingway and memorizing the periodic table. These are sweet simple spots for homework, arts and crafts, playing with a Matchbox car collection, and even displaying a few favourite treasures.
Here are a few that have caught my eye lately. I also had Tessa weigh in on which ones she liked best — why not get a kid’s take on it all?!
Young sisters Saga and Selma share this crisp, ample built-in desk in Dalarna, Sweden. The design is simple, but the unit is effective, with lots of working space on the main surface, plus display space on the shelf above. Mini Ant-style chairs in petal pink are a fresh modern note.
Tessa’s take: “I like how it’s so long. I could use it with my sister. I like the colours of the buckets and how they’re woven. And it’s smart to have two bins for toys: if there’s a mess in your room, just put everything in the bucket.”
This metal and laminate desk and chair take me right back to grade school in 1970s Toronto, which I’ve never thought of as the epitome of style — but I must admit this desk looks cute as a button in this kid’s room! It doesn’t hurt that the room is painted with chic blue-grey faux wainscotting and that it’s styled with an übertrendy bunny rabbit lamp. Add quirky art and some drawings washi-taped to the wall and the look is complete.
Tessa’s take: “I like how they put stickers on to make it look polka-dotted. I have an owl lamp like this bunny light, and it’s a good reading light, but not too bright if you’re getting ready to go to sleep. The whiteboard is also a good idea for kids. You can write on it or do math problems, and with paper, you’d have to throw it out and it hurts the world.”
While it looks like it might have come from an old one-room schoolhouse on the Prairies (yes, I’m thinking of Laura Ingalls…), this rustic, whitewashed piece is brand new — for sale through German site Car Möbel. From the looks of it, two kids could work together here. Use it as the centerpiece of a breezy, cottagey child’s room.
Tessa’s take: “I really like white desks! White goes with mostly anything in your room. On this desk, I like that you’re boosted up high and that the slot under the desktop is open so you can put your books and pencil case in there.”
This grey desk unit in the bedroom of three-year-old Esther Holm in Herrljunga, Sweden, has a similar look. The room has a Scandinavian sparseness to it, but is inviting at the same time, with a fur throw making the simple wooden-plank seat more comfortable.
While my kids are fond of cooler hues, I love bright reds, oranges and pinks — so these wee vintage desks are the bee’s knees for me. Pieces like these are definitely ones that kids will grow out of, so look for secondhand wooden desks at flea markets and thrift shops and repaint them in bold hues.
Smaller vintage tables and chairs are also great to repurpose as desk setups for kids: they’re usually indestructible and often come in whimsical designs and colours. This green table is juxtaposed with a mod desk lamp in bright red for a pop of colour and an industrial contrast. I like the glass jars as storage for small toys and beads, too!
Tessa’s take: “I like its greenish turquoise base because turquoise and blue are my favourite colours. The desktop looks like our kitchen table and the bottom is the same colour as our bench. I like that it has a little display shelf attached to the wall. I would put my music box, my tooth fairy doll and my library books on it so I wouldn’t lose them.”
For a more polished look, try a table and chairs with more traditional designs. I love the way this one looks tucked in under an art wall featuring the occupant’s own artwork, plus framed family photos and playful graphics.
Or for stylistic tension, pair an old wooden table with a bent-wire chair.
Chipped paint adds even more rugged charm. This red desk is a bold note in the room of blogger Alex T’s two small children — she found it at a local consignment shop. As with other old-school pieces, papers and supplies can be tucked inside this one, keeping the look tidy.
Though it looks like it might have fit in Sally Draper’s bedroom on Mad Men, this little grey retro-style desk is also a new piece — by French company Côté Guinguette available through Des Merveilles.
String shelves like these are all over the pages of Scandinavian home magazines and blogs. This unit in the home of blogger Lina Hedhill incorporates a desktop boldly covered in Marimekko’s iconic Unikko pattern. Shelves above hold necessities.
An old bent-metal desk and chair set looks almost sculptural in two-year-old Mali’s bedroom — in the funky Jan Juc, Australia, beach house of Simon Taylor and Kirsty Davey. The desk is simple and a touch austere, but I have no doubt it’s practical for crafts, colouring and play, and will work for the minimal homework the average grade schooler receives. The accessories are spare but suitably quirky.
I’ve spotted a number of simple built-in, shelf-like desks like these of late. They’d be space-savers in smaller kids’ rooms — and I love the simple, workbench design.
This wall-mounted box desk adds even more function than the standard shelf desktops above, with five cubbies inside to keep toys and school supplies organized and out of sight. A couple sturdy wooden magazine holders tucked in the corner hold textbooks and papers.
Tessa’s take: “I like how it’s different — how it’s on the wall. Not all desks close up; it would allow you to make more room to play and only your matryoshka doll collection would show on top.”
The yellow wall-mounted desk built by dad for this Danish kids’ room has a somewhat similar design. It doesn’t fold away, but it does have the added function of a storage shelf below the main surface and a few small drawers up top. A book rack above the desk gives this corner two-in-one practicality.
Danish mom Lone Skinnerup Ross turned a sleek, very grown-up mid-century modern teak shelf into a sweet little desk corner for her daughter, Alma, a spot where she can sit and draw or do arts and crafts while mom is working in the adjacent kitchen. Pink and turquoise accents make the serious piece feel fresh and friendly, as does the funky pinboard on the perpendicular wall.
See our Organizing Kids Work & Play Spaces photo gallery for more clever ideas.
1. Made in Persbo blog, photography by Carina Olander
3. Car Möbel
4. Hus & Hem, photography by Carina Olander
5. Mommo Design blog
6. Helmen Talossa blog
8. Caroline Briel
9. Project: Haus blog
10. Des Merveilles
11. Rum & Rabalder blog, photography by Lina Hedhill
12. The Design Files blog, photography by Brooke Holm
13a. Holiday House Rules blog
13b. Apartment Therapy
14. House to Home
15. Bolig Magasinet, photography by Tia Borgsmidt
16. Ellen’s Album blog, photography by Frederikke Heiberg