Conquering Shared Space for Teenagers

Guest post by Boxer

With some compromise and some creativity you can make even the biggest “night and day” differences between two kids sharing a space feel celebrated.

I have two stepdaughters. They don’t live with us full time. And this summer they drove me absolutely INSANE. They fought all summer due to lack of personal space and feeling like people view them as a solid unit as opposed to individuals. They’re in that place, developmentally, where they REALLY need to have their own individual identity. And in my fit of insanity I decided we could give that to them. Here’s how we managed to turn one room into two decided separate spaces for two decided separate young women…

The Space:

… An approximately 11×13 foot bedroom in our home with two windows, two heat registers, and a closet

What it needed to be:

… A shared bedroom for my two teen/tweens (who do not live with us full time or we’d have just found a way for them to each have their own room)… Which translates to TWO bedrooms that happen to occupy the same 11×13 foot space.

The issues:

When discussing possible arrangements/solutions with them, they vetoed anything with a bunk or loftbed and sleeping under a window (to be fair, they did have someone break into their room at an apartment complex via their bedroom window when they were younger so this particular fear is not unfounded). Additionally they each wanted to be able to see the door, *not* see each other, have their way with the decor (they have conflicting ideas of beauty, practicality, and convenience), and have a place for “just my stuff”… plus all the basics.

The solutions:


I made paper mock ups of their room (and the existing dressers, plus two single beds) & showed them every possible configuration of furnishings to demonstrate that EITHER there has to be a bunk/loftbed situation OR one or both would have to sleep next to a window. After reassuring them that they were safe at our house and that if need be I’d make it even more difficult to access their windows from the outside, they agreed that an L shaped bed configuration where both girls are sleeping under different windows was the best possible solution.

Since they like to drive each other crazy with their individual obsessions, we established that anything “boy related” (the eldest’s obsession) or “cat related” (the youngest’s obsession) had to be approved by me.

Next, we brainstormed FIVE general interests/favorite things for each child (excluding cats and boys) and they were not allowed to copy each other’s answer. That may seem counter intuitive but A) my youngest copycats as a way of avoiding conflict and I wanted her to have her own space to be herself not just a place where she was bowing to her sister’s wishes and B) I knew if left to their true preferences many of the things would be similar but not duplicated, which worked into my plan nicely.

The eldest’s answers:
evil faeries, night/the stars, Asian stuff (kanji, Asian art etc), music, & the tree in our front yard (she loves to climb it).

The youngest’s answers:
GOOD faeries (see conflicting but similar….), snuggly/warm stuff “And lots of pillows”, rain, rainbows, and music… “but NOT the kind Sissy listens to… I like my OWN music”.

I added mutual likes (collecting gemstones… collecting jewelry) & needs (space for clothes – hanging AND folded, laundry& waste bins, storage, a way to feel like you have some privacy). From there I tapped into my drawing/interior design skills and sketched out what the room could look like, checked with their father to make sure he could do the “custom building” it would require & showed it to The Girls for their approval.


They loved it! Next I found several bed-in-a-bag options for each child but let each child ultimately choose their own. I highly recommend doing this in August or September as all the “college/dorm” gear is usually on clearance. I scored a reversible set in a riot of color for my youngest. And a set for my eldest that looks like a trees branches and leaves set against a bright blue (her favorite color) sky.

4To play off the “different sides of the same coin” idea in the room we painted the walls a medium grey, the eldest child’s furniture went black & the youngest’s went white (we left the dressers as they to tie in the wood trim & doors & floor of the room). Their father kindly constructed them each a bookcase headboard (for general storage & to house alarm clocks, jewelry boxes, nightly water bottles, etc) & a 25 inch high (more storage!) platform bed. We tested the carpentry work thoroughly while anchoring them together to form the L shaped arrangement & hanging curtain rods for each window. We figured that if he (250lbs) and I (165lbs) could stand in the center of the platform at the same time…. The Girls could have a couple of friends sitting on the beds gossiping about boys and school, no problem! We picked up mattresses but decided to forgo the boxsprings.

Since they don’t live with us full time there is no need for either of them to have a full closet worth of hanging space. So we placed the eldest daughter’s dresser in the center of the closet leaving hanging space on each side (one side for each child). The top shelf of the closet houses all the “shared property” joint Christmas gifts, art sets, etc. And on the eldest daughter’s side of the closet I (begrudgingly) rehung her Jonas Brothers poster. Bubblegum pop… Ugh.

In addition to the (existing) rolling shades each Girl has curtains made from matching fabric in different colors. The eldest has black sheers smattered with glitters to emulate the night sky, while the youngest has the same glitter smattered fabric in light grey/purple to call up images of rain. The curtain rod for each is different. The Tree Themed bedset has a bronze colored “branch” (recycled from our old apartment). It is too long for the window but it adds to the look and provides a place to hang the “evil faerie” ornament we bought. The Rainbow Themed bedset has a silver rod (recycled from my old room at my parent’s house). It also hangs an ornament (this one hugging several kittens).

To provide a sense of separation & privacy (two things teenage girls greatly value) we hung bed curtains made from the same fabric as their window curtains from reinforced eyehooks (mounted to the ceiling) and coated wire. They attach to the ends with keychain clips so they can be taken down & washed as needed


To honor The Youngest’s request for “lots of pillows and blankets and stuff” to keep her warm and cozy (She builds nests to sleep in, no exaggeration) I found a super soft/fuzzy “throw and I started perusing clearance racks (and raiding my scrap fabric stash) for anything/everything that could be made into a pillow. She has three HUGE square pillows I made from oversized handkerchiefs. Two smaller oddly shaped pillows from scrap fabric. Two medium rectangular pillows I made by stuffing fabric placemats (yes… placemats) that I found on a discount rack. Plus oodles of hand me down pillows that always seemed to meander back to her bed from my sofa anyway…. So that The Eldest wouldn’t feel shorted I made her a star shaped pillow stuffed with plastic bags (isn’t novelty great?!). All the pillows are reversible.


Starting from near scratch, we made the equivalent of TWO rooms. The Girls (each) love it & enjoy spending time hanging out there now as opposed to just begrudgingly going to bed when The Pumpkin Hour arrives. Most importantly they feel like they have been given their own individual spaces, that they have been seen as individuals, that their father and I took the time to get to know them each personally and make something that was expressly theirs & that they are welcome. They now feel like they belong as opposed to “being a visitor” at their Dad’s House.

Victory is mine.

Comments on Conquering Shared Space for Teenagers

  1. Great job, not only with the decorating but with fulfilling that need for them. When I was a teenager, my dad's divorcee-house had one room that 2 tween-teen sisters and I shared… it was rough. Not only was there no room individuality between the three of us (and believe me, there were plenty of differences), but the things that ended up at dad's house were sort of the "leftovers" from our mother's house and our "old life"… stuff we didn't really like, stuff my mom was willing to let go, stuff that had sat in the back of closets for years. So the room didn't feel like any of us specifically or generally; it felt like we were always staying in a stranger's room.

  2. It's really encouraging to see how hard you're working to ease 2 children through divorce and adolescence. It brightens my day to see all the love you poured into this "cloud" to find the "silver lining".

  3. One of my favorite articles here! You have so many awesome little ideas that add up to on awesome huge (dual?) reality! I especially love the curtains 🙂

  4. that is really incredible. i remember sharing a room with my sister when i was younger but everything was matchy matchy. we did the whole my side, your side thing with tape and no stepping over it. that didn't last very long. this is a brilliant idea. kudos to you and your husband.

  5. Your girls are lucky to have such a thoughtful stepmom! How awesome that they have a space that is very much their own even if they are there just part time.

  6. Thanks everyone! I'm so happy to be able to share this with all of you. The Offbeat sites have been great support and inspriation to me so I'm really glad to contribute something back.

    It's been interesting navigating the waters of Stepmotherhood, that's for sure. But (un)fortunately I remember the awkward tween/teen stage and I have been able to build on what was important to me at the time. Some things (like developing your own personality/identity and needing your own space) are pretty universal and I'm happy to be able to provide even a little stability for our girls. I feel that I'm very lucky to have them (and their father) in my life so I always try to make sure I'm giving somthing back to them to show that appreciation. I know going between two houses sometimes it's easy to feel lost in the mix.

  7. Wow kudos to you for planning and realising such a cool project! It's also really neat to read something related to teenagers on here, as how their lives are shaped at this stage has such a huge impact. Nice work!

  8. im sorta going through this right now. i have 3 step children and im pregnant, the boys share a room and the girl has her own. they are with us every other week.well when the baby comes. the girl will have to share with the baby. i dont know what im having yet (find out next friday!) so i came up with some ideas of what i wanted the room to be if it was a girl or a boy. i ran them by the girl (whos going to be 10) i didnt want her to feel like the baby was going to be taking over her room that shes had for a few years. she picked out what ideas she liked. shes even going to help paint and decorate

  9. Absolutely LOVE what you did with this room. My stepdaughters also share a room since they’re only with us half time and they’re both starting to need their own space. I might snag a few of these ideas!!

  10. Wow – just found this. I was the stepchild in our situation and I slept in a guest room and was apportioned a bedside table to hold my stuff. I always used luggage and never felt at home. And I was there two nights a week. Go you for making such an effort to understand your girls. I don’t say the “your girls” comment lightly but plainly – you earned it!

  11. I am step mom to a beautiful girl who only sleeps over once in a blue moon. This is making me wish we had her more often so we could go to town on a room. After we move into our next place, I think we will do it up like this. So much inspiration, even for one kid!

  12. this is tammy again sorry about that what I am so happy/supprized to find someone who had this situation and came up with a great solution! Our situation with the girls room is exactly like your except these two tween/teens live with us full time thier our biological girls…. thats the only differenc soooooo any ways my question to you could you please be more specific on the construction on the beds and what kind of wood and paint or gloss did you use? if you dont mind I believe we found our answer to our bedroom delima and my husband is a framer so that works we will copy your design . idea if ya dont mind? Thanks for your story it did help Tammy

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