Big design for little people

Home + Garden

June 29, 2023

Charlotte NC designer Cate Gutter shares practical and creative ideas for designing spaces for kids.

by Cathy Martin | interior photos by Baxter Miller

As a mother of three young children, Cate Gutter knows quite a bit about creating organized and imaginative spaces for kids. The Louisiana native launched CWG Design in 2020 after a new-to-Charlotte acquaintance asked for help designing her home. “That really was how I got into it — a cry for help from a friend of a friend.” After a series of referrals, the business grew organically, says Gutter, who in 2018 had moved to Charlotte from Chicago, where she had a wedding-cake business. “When we were in Chicago, my husband and I flipped [properties]. So, I’ve always loved the project-management aspect, attention to detail and being on a job site.” Design runs in the family, too. Gutter’s mother and mother-in-law are designers, and her father-in-law is an architect. “I’ve always loved it and had a passion for it — it’s always been in my life, generationally,” she says. Though her formal design business has just taken off in the last few years, “it feels like I’ve always been doing this,” Gutter says.

Gutter shares a few tips for designing spaces for kids.

Left: In children’s rooms, Cate Gutter recommends spending more on items that will stand the test of time while cutting back on heavily used items like beds and bedding. When her 3-year-old daughter was moving out of her crib, Gutter found a $200 trundle bed on Amazon and added a canopy to make it feel like a castle. 

Middle and right: In this SouthPark home, Gutter converted a dingy storage space with a 1980s vibe into a place for homework and art projects. The wallpaper featuring sketches of famous monuments is a nod to the family’s love of travel. “That was the base of the design, and then we added a bunch of color and personality,” Gutter says. Now, the room has storage for art supplies and designated workspaces — and no toys. “It’s a space for purposeful creation.”

Balance the budget

“I try to spend where it matters, like wallpaper or art that aren’t going to get touched a lot,” Gutter says. “[For] things that get heavy use, like bedding or beds, I try to do more on the budget side.” Dressers also tend to take a beating in kids’ rooms, Gutter says. “They’re going to use it a lot, and they’re still learning how to treat things with respect and take care of things.” Gutter suggests repurposing vintage pieces, which can be brightened with a fresh coat of paint.  

Create a “home” for homework

Gutter firmly believes that each child needs to have a designated workspace that feels “creative, clean and organized,” that’s distinct from where they sleep, play or eat. If you don’t have the luxury of a separate room, she suggests carving out a space within a child’s bedroom or another room in the home. “They’re just like us — they can’t be expected to do their homework in the car or on the sofa.”

Let kids have a say

Children should be included in the planning phase as much as they want to be involved, Gutter says, but that doesn’t mean they should be given free rein. When selecting new wall paint for her own kids’ rooms, Gutter gave each child three colors to choose from. “Kids can be overwhelmed — they don’t need unlimited choices.” On a site visit at the home of a client with a 9-year-old daughter, Gutter discovered an antique Persian rug, rolled up and pushed aside. When she asked about it, she learned the girl loved the rug because it reminded her of her grandmother. Gutter designed her space around the pink and green hues in the rug, and her grandmother is even sewing pillows to match. “I haven’t found a kid who doesn’t care what their room looks like,” Gutter says. “My philosophy is, it’s their space, too.”  SP

Cate Gutter at home. Photograph by Richard Israel

Featured image: This bedroom was designed for twin girls who had outgrown their cribs and recently moved to a new home. “We tried to make the room feel really beautiful but also something they could grow with,” Gutter says. The girls loved the birds in the William Morris Strawberry Thief wallpaper, a design which can carry them through their teen years.


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