When 15-year-old Chelsea Widerlite announced last spring that she wanted to redecorate her Potomac bedroom, her mother wasn’t exactly thrilled.
“I agreed she needed a new room—but I didn’t have the time or patience to take that project on,” says Paula Widerlite, a vice president at Adventist HealthCare in Rockville.
Enter Debbie Waxman, a makeover specialist whose business is Urban Teen Decor in Potomac. Waxman started redoing teenagers’ rooms “as a favor for friends.” But in the last 18 months, “the business has taken off through word of mouth among the kids who’ve seen each other’s rooms,” she says. “I haven’t even advertised yet.”
Waxman says teens today want a “hip and trendy, yet sophisticated room”—a “hangout space” that’s unique. Most don’t want desks anymore because they’d rather sprawl across their beds with their laptops and fill the extra space with sofas and chairs for their friends.
Chelsea had a room with bright orange walls, polka dots and a kind of Hawaiian theme. “I was going into second grade when I picked it out,” she says.
Now a sophomore at the Bullis School in Potomac, she wanted something more sophisticated, something that reflected her personality and provided a comfortable atmosphere for her friends. She figured she’d be going to college in three years, and she wanted to come back to “a room that’s comfortable, chic and fun to be in, instead of having to come back to bright orange on the walls.”
Chelsea looked through Waxman’s design portfolio and was vocal about what she liked and disliked. “Teens today are very opinionated,” Waxman says. Meanwhile, “their parents realize their kids are getting older, and this is their opportunity in having a say in what they want.”
Based on Chelsea’s selections, Waxman drew up a plan and began looking for high-quality, low-cost furnishings and accessories that fit the family’s budget. “At the end of the day, these are kids’ rooms,” she says. “I try really hard to keep the cost down.”
Instead of the $99 designer pillows she saw at a pricey Bethesda home store, she bought the same pillows for $29 at HomeGoods. She found Chelsea’s dresser and floor-length mirror at IKEA, and got bedding from Dormify, an online store started by a mother-daughter duo in Potomac.
“It’s all about how you incorporate things,” Waxman says. “You’d never know we didn’t spend a lot of money.”
She did splurge, however, on a few items that “make the room,” including a microsuede couch and an elegant crystal chandelier with a gold shimmer shade.
Waxman, who likes the surprise element of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, doesn’t allow her clients to see any part of the room or its furnishings before the “big reveal.” Teens and their parents must sign a contract agreeing not to peek, which Paula Widerlite did gladly.
The anticipation was a little more difficult for Chelsea. But “seeing a teenager’s face when I open the door is the best part of my job,” Waxman says.
While the Widerlites were on vacation, Waxman replaced the faded rug with plush tan Masland carpeting she purchased as a remnant at a fraction of the retail price. Cream-colored paint with a metallic finish went on the walls, and shimmery gold and black curtains went over the windows. Waxman made the bed with luxurious linens and a mix of pillows. “I find teens love all the different textures—sequins, metallic, silk and satins, fuzzy blankets,” she says.
When Chelsea and her mother saw the room at the end of June, they were speechless. It had the upscale look and feel of a room at the W Hotel downtown. “It makes me feel very grown-up,” Chelsea says.
The bed, with its mix of textures and finishes, is Chelsea’s favorite part of the room. (Her mother took Waxman’s advice and photographed the bed before her daughter slept in it, so it could be remade in the same way.)
Chelsea later added an old-fashioned dress form—which she covered with fashion shots from Vogue—to provide a personal touch to the room. Once it was complete, she couldn’t wait to have her friends over.
“They’ll love it,” Chelsea says. “It’s really me.”