Bedazzled windows, clandestine paint jobs and other childhood exploits from kids who grew up to be design pros

“As a teenager in the late 1980s, I was super into psychedelic stuff. In our house in San Diego I drew giant magic mushrooms and caterpillars and song lyrics like ‘I see a red door and I want to paint it black” all over my walls, which were wallpapered from my childhood. I was shipped off to reform school shortly after.”—Shanan Campanaro, designer, Brooklyn, N.Y.“Without discussion or permission, I dismantled hundreds of pairs of costume earrings (old inventory from my dad’s retail business), removing all the colored ‘jewels.’ Then, one by one I affixed them to our big living-room picture window. It was not what one would expect to see in a 1920s Brooklyn ranch house. My parents freaked out a bit at first but after a while started showing it off to friends and family.”

—Joe Nahem, designer, New York

“In high school, in 2003, I went through my mom’s huge selection of CDs and taped them backward to the walls of my bedroom in Bethesda, Md., so the room looked like the inside of a disco ball. I managed to do three quarters of the room before she caught me and had a complete meltdown. About half of the CDs were ruined when I peeled off the tape.”

—Julia Haney Montanez, designer, New York

“We lived in a rural area of Maryland, surrounded by cow pastures and cornfields. When I was about 10, I was obsessed with sand terrariums and plants. I stuccoed and painted the walls of my room a sandy beige, then painted brown and burnt-orange horizontal stripes all the way around. I turned an old ladder and some boards into shelves, where I displayed my ferns and sand terrariums. I moved all the furniture out of the room and had my mattress, turntable, records and a few lamps on the floor, which I’d covered with a woven straw rug. I referred to it as my apartment.”

—Todd Nickey, designer, Los Angeles

“At 10, I staged mock weddings and funerals in my grandmother’s back garden, in Pennsylvania. I’d drape a tablecloth over a box and make casket sprays for it. At real funerals I attended, I never liked that the flowers were put in a pile. Afterward, I would return to the cemetery and make them organized and pretty.”

—David Monn, event designer, New York

“When I was 12 or 13, my parents nixed the idea of painting my bedroom, in Long Island, the brown, orange and avocado of my braided rug. After school one day, while they were on a four-day trip, I headed to Sears for the paint. The following evening I eagerly applied asymmetrical, overlapping patches of the aforementioned colors. The next morning I awoke to one of the ugliest sights imaginable, made a beeline to Sears when classes let out and spent all night repainting. Years later my parents told me they’d clocked me when they returned, bit their lips and laughed themselves to sleep.”

—Alan Tanksley, designer, New York

“Because I was the only boy in a family of sisters in a two-bedroom home, my father partitioned off a corner of the living room of our West Virginia house for me. One Sunday when I was 7, I feigned illness and stayed home to reproduce a Parisian room I’d seen in a magazine. I stapled sheets of the local newspaper in a floor-to-ceiling grid on “my” walls, then covered them with wallpaper glue so the back sides bled through. I was grounded for two weeks, but the paper was there for a few years.”

—Tim Campbell, designer, Los Angeles

“My bedroom, in Milwaukee, overflowed with lovely trinkets from family travels. So in sixth grade, when my parents were away for a long weekend, I and an exchange student staying with us dismantled and carried upstairs a 7-foot-tall-by-8-foot-wide bookshelf from our living room. When I asked my returning parents how they liked it, they were speechless. But they realized quite quickly the living room looked better without it.”

—Ginger White, designer, Chicago

“At about 13, I decided—and convinced my sister to collude—to connect our two rooms by a passageway through the closets. That involved drilling and using various tools appropriated from my father’s workbench. I concealed the progress with Wizard of Oz posters on both sides. The “work” wasn’t discovered until the house, in Newport Beach, was on the market about 10 years later.”

—Raun Thorp, architect, Los Angeles

“I demanded a round bed at age 13. I wanted it centered in the room under a batik tent. This was 1975, so understandable, of course. The bed lasted in the middle of the room for about a week. I hadn’t thought through the whole no-headboard thing. But the bed, even against the wall, was a big hit among my girl friends.”

—Adam Rolston, architect, New York

“My mom and I bought a hideous used desk and dresser when I was 11, in suburban San Francisco, but I painted the whole thing black and applied cow-print contact paper to all the drawers. It was rather “Memphis Milano” and coordinated well with my white lacquered bunk bed and turquoise and purple knickknacks. My mom was cool with it, although it was definitely not her style.”

—Keren Richter, designer, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I figured out at the age of 7 that if I placed washcloths under the legs of my bedroom furniture I could move it without a sound. At age 10, I started on two friends’ bedrooms, then expanded into their living rooms and dining rooms, without consent or permission. I was banned from both of their homes without parental supervision.”

—Tom Stringer, designer, Chicago

“I was fascinated by a closet under the stairs of my parents’ weekend home. It had beautiful pine cladding on three walls and exposed brick on the last. I absconded with old porcelains and books of my parents’ and added seashells and driftwood I collected from the seashore. I could spend hours in there styling the shelves I had installed. I was 4.”

—Phillip Thomas, designer, New York