Child’s Play

by Jayne Jacova Feld; Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn Kids | Mar 29, 2009
Child’s Play …From the pages of Suburban Home and Garden Resource Guide…

In the picture-perfect playrooms found in furniture catalogs, smiling children play with games and artfully laid-out crafts on kid-sized activity tables. A few stuffed animals adorn the colorful, uncrowded shelves. There are no random plastic toys on the floor; seemingly nothing is out of place. Believe it or not, organizational experts and children’s furniture vendors say it is possible to make your child’s playroom more like the shiny, happy ones shown on catalog pages. Whether you’re starting from scratch or finally taking charge of an existing mess passing for a playroom, the first step is to figure out what your space needs -- both for now and in the future.

“Like anything, you need a plan or direction,” says interior refiner Sandra Cook of Home Stylist, a decorating and design firm that serves the South Jersey area. When Cook designs a space for a client, she asks who's using the space, how they're using it and how the homeowner wants it to grow with them. Depending on the needs of the family, Cook then breaks the space into zones -- an area of play for the kids, an area for the parents to work, room to do crafts and an area for seating so that everyone can watch TV. “You have to decide what activities are most important but, most critical, is leaving open space because kids are going to want to run and play,” she says.

In the process of creating a plan, organization can be achieved if there are designated areas for everything that is expected to fit in the playroom, says Adam Richman of Karl’s, a Philadelphia-based children’s furniture store. “[Children] can only put [toys] away if there’s somewhere to put them.”

When purchasing furniture for a playroom, Richman advises clients to consider whether they want furniture that will just carry their children into the early elementary years or that will be useful when the kids are older. While children typically outgrow pastel furniture by age eight, traditional wood furniture can look young when paired with colorful rugs and paint, but it can also adopt a more sophisticated look if and when the décor is updated for a pre-teen.

For Joyce Turner, owner of The Closet Doctor in Medford, NJ, the key to an organized playroom is placing as much as you can behind closed doors while still keeping items accessible to small children. While the wood-grain laminate cabinetry she sells is not made solely for children, it can be painted vibrant colors for a look kids will love. For a design choice with big impact, consider painting a cabinet with your child's favorite color and enforce a rule that the “green area” or the “blue area” is where they need to keep all the toys that belong to them. For a family with five children, including triplets, Turner recently designed a mudroom featuring hanging areas and underground storage. She painted five different colors in the room so each child had a designated space -- and one less reason to fight with one another.

Turner typically steers clients toward less costly wire shelving (laminate is often more than twice the price of wire) or a combination of materials heavily featuring wire. Besides being more affordable, wire is more durable and easily adjustable to changing the heights of shelves as children grow. It also collects less dust and can create space for colorful cubby boxes. Ultimately, Turner says, “I always try to steer clients into [choosing products that offer] long-time effectiveness.”

While not everyone has the space or budget for built-ins and custom cabinetry, fun and creative play spaces can be created anywhere in the home, says Cook. Some people will use molding in a creative way to carve out a kids-only area. Others simply turn what would typically be a formal dining room into kids space. “People need to think about how they live and what is most necessary,” says Cook. “If a formal dining room isn’t necessary, maybe that’s your playroom for awhile.”

In terms of toy storage, don’t overlook old buffets and armoires -- provided they don’t have sharp edges, they can be painted vibrant colors that make for stylish storage. Ottomans can be another fun storage option. Lining up four or more provides flexible seating space as well a place to hide your child’s Power Rangers collection.

Beyond storage furniture and seating, there are other ways to create a playful feel to a space. Well-decorated walls and self-adhesive wall designs can also set the scene, says Cook. For children whose interests fluctuate from fireman to baseball player to astronaut depending on the day of the week, self-adhesive decals, like those found at, can be rotated regularly.

Another wall-brightening idea is to encourage your children’s artistic skills with the use of blackboard paint or magnetic wallpaper. The British company Magscapes ( has a line of wallpaper that is applied like regular paper and can be festooned with fun magnets including animal shapes, polka dots and bright circles. Cook often reminds clients that while a cutesy playroom may seem incongruous with the rest of a home’s décor, kids grow up fast. “This isn’t how it’s always going to be,” she says. “It’s how it is for now.”

Find Out More

The Closet Doctor

Home Stylist

Karl's Furniture

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Home and Garden Resource Guide, South Jersey edition, November 2007.
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Author: Jayne Jacova Feld; Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn Kids


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