When she was in preschool, Mehvish Khan enjoyed telling her classmates everything she knew about Egyptian gods. By the age of 4, she had assembled a mini mummy. At 5, she was writing hieroglyphics.
So it came as no surprise to her parents when she clamored for a chamber befitting Nefertiti. And she meant it. After declaring their first attempt at an Egyptian bedroom "too white," Mehvish drew up plans of the room herself. In turn, her parents draped her bed's canopy in shimmering purple, hired an artist to paint decorative columns on the walls and had a custom-built wall unit crowned with pyramids.
Four years later, the only thing missing from the 10-year-old's Egyptian oasis is a view of the Nile. Still, the window seat overlooking Lake Chautauqua is an acceptable substitute.
"She loves the room," says Mehvish's mother, Sarah Khan. "I'm sure she could think of things to make it even more Egyptian. She actually wanted real columns in her room, but we settled for columns that were painted to look 3-D."
To some parents, themes are for birthdays, not bedrooms. They dismiss theme bedrooms as impractical for the average child, who outgrows his interests as fast as his clothes. When he starts shrugging off NASCAR and becomes obsessed with NASA, who's stuck painting over the race car mural and replacing it with rockets?
Indeed, even that purveyor of pint-sized decor, Pottery Barn, discourages theme bedrooms in favor of more malleable designs. The cover of a recent catalog promotes the flexibility of "Growing Spaces: rooms that grow with your child."
If theme bedrooms are not for everybody - or for every parent - their proponents are quick to point out the merits of surrounding a child with his passion. For one, kids are more likely to maintain order in a room that speaks to their interests. They feel comfortable in these rooms - in some cases, even comforted.
Take 9-year-old Andrew Gehman. When his family moved from Williamsville to Getzville last year, he was miserable. "He hated the house. He hated being there, and everything about it. He didn't want to stay in his room," recalls his dad, Matt Gehman.
Then the topographical fishing map wallpaper went up, along with his reels and net - reminders of the annual fishing trip the father and son take in northern Ontario. His bed was covered with a moose print comforter; a Coleman lantern nightlight was plugged into the wall. Gehman even salvaged a section of a white birch tree that fell during the October storm and propped it in a corner of his son's room.
"He hasn't talked about the move since then, so it was good in that regard," Gehman says.
Mitchell Thompson's recently redecorated bedroom reflects the 11-year-old Angola boy's fascination with the military. His father, Bill Thompson, painted two of the room's walls in classic camouflage. His mom, Dawn Hackemer-Thompson, fashioned curtains out of a pup tent. To complete the theme, camouflage netting hangs over his bed and, from the walls, propaganda posters from different wars.
"This experience was not only a fun family project," says Hackemer-Thompson. "It also enabled us to talk a lot about history: how the military is more than just guns, why we have a military and the reasons why each person who enlists in our military is special."
Making the room trench chic was time-consuming but inexpensive, she adds. Much of the military memorabilia - including artillery storage containers that Mitchell uses for Legos and other small toys - was purchased at an Army-Navy surplus store. The camouflage comforter came from Wal-Mart.
All totaled, the transformation cost less than $200. According to interior design experts, that's precisely how parents should approach such a makeover: with minimal investment and maximum flexibility.
"People are becoming more creative, and creating the theme with accessories and things they can replace without redoing the whole room," says Wendy A. Jordan, senior contributing editor of Professional Remodeler magazine and author of "The New Kidspace Idea Book."
Jordan discourages parents from buying expensive furniture or making structural alterations that can't be transformed once the theme has run its course.
"There's so much you can do that's easily changed: Paint. Decals. Wallpaper. Curtains. Rugs," she says. "These are things that make a strong statement. You're giving a room a strong character that's also changeable by using accessories that can be easily changed instead of casting it in bricks and mortar."
Of course, if you have deep pockets - or a relative who's handy with a band saw - you're not limited by such rules. For Sebastian Richel's third birthday, his grandfather made him a fire truck bed with a turning steering wheel, a trunk that serves as toy storage and working lights.
For a child who regularly requests his mom drive past the neighborhood firehouse, it was a dream gift. For his parents, it was the starting point of a theme room.
"When my father-in-law said he was making it, I was a little worried," says Sebastian's mom, Melissa. "I thought, 'Can't we just buy a regular bed?' Then I saw it, and I was amazed. My son loves it, and every kid who comes in this house sits there and steers the steering wheel."
Now the room is all about four-alarm fun, from a firetruck-themed wall border to firetruck bedding, curtains and decals. Over the bed hang framed photos of Sebastian in a firetruck.
But what if her son, now 5, stops asking her to drive past the firehouse? Will Richel mind banishing his bed to the basement?
"Kids play with trucks for awhile," she says. "I'm thinking he'll be in that until fourth or fifth grade, for sure."