‘My children have finally, all too quickly, grown up and flown the nest’

It’s the time of year when school leavers pack their bags to head off to college, leaving empty rooms and hearts in their wake – the end of an era

As thousands of young people all over the country are preparing for their first foray into independent living, their parents will be gearing themselves up for the reality of a quieter home with lots of empty space.

Yes, it’s that time of year again when school leavers pack their bags to head off to college, start work or even head abroad.

I am a parent of three young people who are all going to Europe to study in September, one starting college for the first time and the other two to embark on masters degrees. It is of course an exciting time, but for me, it’s also tinged with sadness at the end of an era as my children have finally, all too quickly, grown up and flown the nest.

The house, which had ample space for them to grow, play and entertain their friends, now seems too big for two of us to be rattling around in.


I’m sure there are many other parents in the same situation and the rooms which were once a welcome source of extra space, now feel too big and empty.

But, by making a few simple alterations, there are ways in which we can make things a little brighter at home. Here, the experts give their views on how you can revitalise space, which is going to be used much less over the coming years.

Step one: Do a clear out

Anne Tuohy is an interior designer and midlife mindset coach. She says that the first step, once children have fled the nest, is to do a bit of a clear out.

“Start by removing everything that is broken and of no purpose to anyone – these go into the bin immediately,” she says. “Then concentrate on things which can be donated to a family member or a charity shop – toys, sports equipment, games and books. It’s also a good time to go through their wardrobe and remove anything that doesn’t fit or hasn’t been worn in the past six months. These items should immediately be put in a bag for the charity shop. You don’t need to keep all their artwork, medals and trophies either.

Step two: Protect the memories

But don’t be too quick to reach for the bin.

Patricia McGinnis, co-founder of furniture and design business, Maven, says that while the urge to revamp and refresh a dated room might kick in as soon as the child moves out, it is important to protect the memories and keep a homely feel for future visits.

Tuohy agrees.

“Your aim should be to turn it into a welcoming space which reflects their adulthood, while retaining precious childhood memories. If you want to use the room as an office, I would recommend buying a folding desk which can be easily removed while they are home – or if you’re using their desk, take a photograph of it before boxing up all their things.

“Then you can recreate the layout exactly as it was when they return. We are all creatures of habit and this will be appreciated. There will also be a sense of comfort in being surrounded by memories of your child,” she says.

“Let them decide which are most meaningful and keep those. It can be an emotional experience to go through items from different stages of their growing up years, so it may be wise to fill a box with sentimental items which can be stored in the attic until they have storage space of their own.”

Step three: Think about what you want

Interior designer Celine Gill, of StyleatNo5, says that parents should press pause before doing anything drastic to their child’s bedroom.

“The first thing I would advise when facing a September with less people in your home, is to stop and think before you start redecorating,” she says. “As with all design decisions, think through different scenarios – will your children be coming back at weekends and holidays? Do you need somewhere for them and their friends, partners or children to sleep? Or do you want the space to work for you day-to-day but also be easy to change? This is where multipurpose options make most sense.”

Getting your departing offspring engaged in the process is also important.

“Consult them on colour schemes, as it’s important to showcase their personality and childhood in their bedroom, but now is your chance to give it a more grown up makeover,” says Tuohy. “Frame posters and photographs to create pleasing art and you can buy decorative boxes to attractively store important childhood documentation and memorabilia. When my boys left home, I filled a drawer with personal things like childhood teddy bears and favourite throws, which always came out whenever they visited.”

Step four: Get planning

“For that new spare bedroom, I would embrace the use of accent colours, so as not to lose its youthful feel, and would introduce a vibrant office chair, which is perfect for when they are in search for a quiet spot for their studies,” says McGinnis. “Or now that the clutter is gone, invest in some key accessories for adding character and maturity to the space, such as unique lighting or a mirror to open up the room.

“And whilst their old room may not be just how they left it, an inviting bed for them to always look forward to and taking them away from the real world, is always key, so invest in some neutral bedding which is then layered with cosy throws and cushions, for that ‘no-place-like-home’ feeling,” she adds.

Step five: Go shopping

Gill says one of her clients, who has grown up children, now uses her second sittingroom for her office. To keep this space flexible, she suggests using a console table as a desk, which will allow you to easily switch from office to living space. One option for this, made from sustainable Indonesian Sungkai hardwood, is the Shoreditch console table (€425) from Enniscorthy lifestyle shop, The Wilds.

“By choosing a nice office chair to use as additional seating in the space, a pretty table lamp and a plant to sit on the desk, you would never know that the space was used as an office during the day,” she says.

The Limerick based designer says that bedrooms can also be designed as multipurpose spaces.

“Invest in a good quality sofa bed which transforms into a bed for guests, like an Irish made sofa bed from Finline (from €1,350), and use the space as your reading space/TV room for the rest of the time,” she says. “Or use your guest room as a bedroom and home office, with a console which can be used as a desk and a dressing table, like the handmade desk/dressing table by Colin Harris (€1,750).

“Another option in a bedroom, if you have space, is to create a reading or phone corner – this is something I regularly design for my clients. Invest in a comfortable chair, like a rocking chair from Coolree Design (€1,195), a side table for your cuppa, a floor lamp, such as Shady and the Lamp (€550) to add a pop of colour and small rug to zone the corner. You now have somewhere to escape to when you’re on an hour long call to your friend.

“Of course, you will still want the space to be welcoming for your children or for guests. So, before you invest in new furniture, use paint to create a more grown-up colour scheme in their bedroom. Get rid of the posters and Blu-tack marks and wash the room in natural earthy hues using chemical free paint from Auro or Graphenstone (both available in Ireland). Paint makes a huge difference to a room.”

Gill also advises an upgrade of the bed linen and purchasing a few nice pieces for the room.

“Everyone loves to come home to a room with fresh new bedding and Conscious Convert and Linen Bundle are Irish companies which consider design aesthetics and sustainability in their products,” she says. “Also, make sure to incorporate additional storage for your child’s sentimental pieces so they can be displayed or hidden as needed.

“This is a new chapter in your life. Invest in key pieces, splash out on things which you wouldn’t have considered when you had children running wild through the house – or install a new large art piece over your dining table which inspires you every morning as you sip your morning coffee. Invest in that vintage ivory bouclé armchair which you have wanted for years but didn’t buy because it was impractical. This is an opportunity for you to explore your interests and your desires and to create a home which works for you.”