Filling the empty nest |

Filling the empty nest

How to transform kids’ rooms after they move away

In this Jacobs + Interiors project, a bedroom was turned into a media room.
Jacobs + Interiors/Courtesy photo

When kids move on to college or out on their own, it leaves an empty space, not just physically, but emotionally, and it brings up the question: Now what? 

While adjusting to an empty nest takes more than just remodeling a bedroom, the physical process can assist parents in accepting the change, while still continually welcoming grown kids back for visits. 

Designer Yvonny Jacobs created a rec room, complete with a pool table and dart board, in this remodel project.
Kimberly Gavin/Courtesy Image

The process 

Even though you may have yearned for that personal yoga room or dream closet for years — even decades — it can be emotionally difficult to change your son or daughter’s room into your own private space. And sometimes, the transition is difficult for kids, too. 

“Given the emotional investment in children and the rooms they’ve occupied, it can be difficult to think of transforming a room in which their presence is still felt.” — Douglas DeChant, architect

“In general, I’d give it 50/50. Kids don’t want to lose their space — they don’t want to lose their identity, so they want to be involved and feel like they still have a place. On the other side, parents don’t want to let it go — they still want to (keep their kids’ bedroom intact),” said Kyle Webb, principal of KH Webb Architects in Vail. 

Support Local Journalism

The conversation can be a delicate one, as Yvonne Jacobs, owner of Jacobs + Interiors in Edwards, points out. She suggests making a solid plan with your kids about where they (and you) would like all their memorabilia to go. If they’re moving into a small apartment or dorm, maybe you store the items until they have more space in their own home. 

“Let them know you are not throwing important things of theirs away but helping them organize and figure out what to do with the items until they are ready to part with them — or keep them in their own homes,” Jacobs said. 

Doug DeChant, retired principal of Shepherd Resources Inc. in Edwards, describes the empty-nest process as more psychological, or emotional, than physical. 

“First, we exhale, and if we’ve succeeded as parents, the kids have become established and settled in their new lives of independence and responsibility,” DeChant said. “Next, their rooms probably idle for a time, without adjustments, while our lives change, too, and we figure out who we were pre-kids, who we are and where life goes from here. … The kids should’ve packed and moved their personal effects, but, no doubt, we sift, sort, pack and store the leftovers, until the kids are established enough in their own homes to return for them.” 

After raising four kids with his wife, he recalls “emotional moments when I would step into an empty bedroom and see my son or daughter’s personal touches still on the desk or displayed on the wall; you can almost feel them nearby and hear the memories — not difficult for eyes to well up.” 

In a bit of a reversal, what once used to be a den is now a bunkroom, in preparation for grandchildren.
Courtesy Jacobs + Interiors

The possibilities 

While a therapist or understanding family and friends can support you in moving through the empty-nest process, a designer can aid in considering the exciting possibilities. 

“Given the emotional investment in children and the rooms they’ve occupied, it can be difficult to think of transforming a room in which their presence is still felt,” DeChant said. “It can help to enlist outside vision and help from a designer or even an organizer.” 

Jacobs has assisted clients transform vacant kids’ rooms into a quiet space for meditation or yoga; an office, particularly since the pandemic, which caused a greater need for dedicated spaces to work from home; a huge walk-in closet; or a welcoming “adult” guest room. Other uses include man caves, a woman’s room of one’s own, creative spaces or craft rooms. 

“I think it is important to create a space that your kids can come back to, even if it is an office — maybe there is a pull-out sofa or a Murphy bed,” Jacobs said. “In the case where someone is transforming the room to a more adult room, it is nice to have the room grow with their kids; they are always coming back, but maybe now with a girlfriend or wife, and then they start bringing the grandkids. It is an evolution, and the room grows with the needs of the family. It will always be their home, just in a different way.” 

One of KH Webb Architects’ specialties lies in converting kids’ bunk rooms into adult rooms, which may include transforming a closet into cabinetry, to create a feature wall. 

“People often spend all this money on bunk rooms, but nobody likes to sleep in a twin bed after the kids grow up,” he said, explaining how his firm often designs adult bunk rooms with multiple queen-size beds “so anyone can sleep in the room.” 

This bathroom used to be a bedroom.
Courtesy Jacob + Interiors

Of course, whether you’re converting the room into a workout space and spa (Jacobs is working on one with a cold-plunge area), office or adult guest room Webb warned: “Like anything, it’s always a bigger project than you think,” though it does depend on the scope of the remodel. An easy change involves repainting and buying new bedding and lamps, while a more extensive project may include replacing a small bedroom window with a giant sliding glass door, now that you don’t have to worry about teenagers sneaking out. 

And, you never know where the process will take you: Some homeowners have come full circle, transforming their original kid’s room into a playroom or bunkroom for their kids’ kids, while others have taken in a roommate or welcomed someone needing interim housing; the DeChant’s offered their empty bedroom to an 18-year-old son of friends from Mexico City who wanted to live independently for several months while he pondered his future. 

Once the DeChant’s youngest left, they thought they’d downsize from six bedrooms to a small house, suited for just them, plus one guest suite. Yet, their kids love to gather, and they make it a point to coordinate their schedules so they can all be together. 

“The idea of visitors in the home during the day and hotels overnight didn’t work for us; pajama time both morning and evening is just too valuable. So the new home program morphed into another full-size home, able to accommodate their simultaneous visits,” DeChant said. “At least this time, the bedroom suites don’t have names attached, and the closets are empty, ready for the next visit. It’s been interesting to observe the kids choose which suite to occupy, based on either preference or the sequence in which they arrived.” 

Parents can even be proactive when building their home while their kids still live there: The DeChants built two of their kids’ rooms in their previous home so that walls could be removed to create a more expansive space later for alternate uses, be it a large guest suite or studio. 

“That type of transformation can help a home adjust to life’s next priorities,” he said. 

The most important thing is to give yourself, and your kids, time to adjust. Then, envision the possibilities and move forward.  

“Don’t feel guilty about making your home work for you,” Jacobs said. “If it’s done with sensibility, you can accomplish all the needs you have for your family and yourself.” 

Support Local Journalism