There is no room that I apologize for more than this one. And while I know we are all done apologizing, I physically can’t help it because I’m TRULY regretful that I can’t seem to figure this one out. When new people walk in I immediately distract them to the left, into the living room with a ‘nothing to see over there!’ vibe. It’s gotten better, thank god so today you are going to see where we are at now, and how I’m stuck and another epic DIY fail.
When I started this playroom, the kids were 2 and 4. They are now 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 and if I don’t start speeding this up I will have two tweens no longer interested in playing ‘horsies’ or ‘inventor’. But I was distracted by the mountain house and at such a loss of what to do here that I just couldn’t.
Here’s where we started:
When we bought the house, it looked like the above photo. Sure, easy enough. It would be the playroom, er, TV room, er both…
But I’d make it cozy…paint it really dark, not realizing that it would chop up the house so much and make it feel so much smaller.
That was makeshift, obviously, with leftover furniture, not actually designed, but you get the idea.
So we painted it light and got a sofa that was better scale for the space, but it was still a TV room with some toy storage in the back. (The sofa now lives in the apartment of our last
But then we realized that the kids really needed a playroom, a space just for them. We nixed the sofa and TV and brought in a bunch of toy storage.
We made the same mistake that a lot of new parents make—too many toys, not enough that they actually play with or engage with for a long time. Bins of balls, action heroes and garbage that they pull out all day every day but they don’t really engage with. They liked the play kitchen, but the rest was mostly for other kids to be enamored with, not them. As much as I begged them to play dollhouse with me, they weren’t old enough. Even that adorable workbench that we got for them for Christmas sat totally untouched unless we did it with them. What they love are two things: arts and crafts and building things (think Legos).
It’s a long skinny room that needs to function as the playroom (for now) but you see it IMMEDIATELY when you walk in. I actually wanted to put in some glass doors and somehow figure out how to decrease its importance and give it its own space (because someday it would be a great home office) but Brian wasn’t on board as he thought it would break up the space too much and make it feel smaller (it would).
It has an architectural break in the wall, almost creating two different spaces, but it’s awkward.
You can see it from many rooms on the first floor so it can’t scream TOYS and instead, should look pulled together. You know, as if an actual designer lives here, but I still want it to be playful and fun, you know, as if it’s an actual playroom.
Additionally, the lighting felt too big. It doesn’t look like it in the photos, but I just wanted to simplify it a bit.
After trying a million different layouts, I drew inspiration from, well, our preschool and had the idea that maybe where the wall juts out should be its own “room,” with cubby dividers creating walls and a sense of privacy for them. Not because they need privacy, but because creating zones seems like what little kids like, and areas where they can imagine and play felt right for their age. I was right and this was a huge hit with them.
The good news:
MURAL: I love that mural so much. I ordered it from Rebel Walls and you can size it exactly to your wall so it fits perfectly. And yes, we put it over the plaster wall because we didn’t want to skim coat over the original pretty plaster as we knew that someday we would likely remove it and then we’d have one flat wall. We customized the color to be a nice muted navy blue and white. It’s graphic yet exciting, as it’s not too busy and it’s playful in an old-world way (matching our 100-year-old English Tudor).
LIGHTING: I switched out the lighting so that the sconces matched the living room (we stole two from the living room over the bookshelves and instead put in horizontal art lights—I’ll show you soon). They project less into the room but still provide nice lighting (the house has no can lighting and we didn’t put any in except for in the kitchen and bathrooms during the remodel). We switched out the ceiling fixture to be glass (from Rejuvenation) so it took up less visual space. It is raw brass so it will age really nicely. I love them both.
RUG: The round rug really helps that space feel brighter and more playful. Obviously a round white rug in a playroom seems a bit nuts, so I bought an inexpensive one in hopes that if it only lasts for a couple of years, I’m at least not wasting too much money. The other options we considered are a darker round rug (which might have been a better choice long-term) or using Flor tiles. But out of desperation on a Saturday morning, I pressed “purchase” and you know what? It’s been TWO months and it still looks this white. It’s cheap, 100% polyester or rayon and for some reason, maybe that it’s such a high pile, it hasn’t stained at all. I came up with a genius rule that there are not paints in the craft room, which they don’t miss (remember we can play/paint year-round outside in LA) so it’s actually GREAT.
ART TABLE: I bought the table a year ago and put on the taller legs that came with it so it’s a great height for them (and us) to sit at. I used Target stools that come with a different table that was too small, but we had leftover from another project. I wish they sold them on their own. Elliot sits here for HOURS a day. She spends more time drawing than I ever knew a child could. It’s amazing.
BOOKCASES: I used that architectural break to divide the room with bookcases. They each take a side. On Charlie’s, he has his Legos (the kid is SUPER into Legos, guys) and he displays them on the top shelf. Birdie has a ton of beads, treasure boxes, princess crowns and horses. I already had these Pillowfort bookcases/cubbies from Target that were functional and great but the back of them had a wood/white detail that was too busy to be seen from the back.
So here were our options:
- Make it look more “built-in” and cover it with with the same white as the molding and even add trim pieces like a baseboard and a trim piece against the wall to make it look “built-in.” That is a lot of work though for two pieces of furniture that are definitely NOT built-in.
- Make the back of the shelves functional (as in create some sort of feature for them).
The Pottery Barn shelving (from the “befores”) is now upstairs in their room (not all of it—some is in storage).
After thinking about it for a while, we realized that we would be spending way too much time/money trying to make a piece of furniture look built-in. If it were something we could do ourselves (Brian and I), that would be different but paying someone (our handy PA, Shade) to do it could take hours and add up to hundreds.
So instead, we had this idea that we would put a pegboard on the back that could be a few different interactive things, such as:
Marble run or tubes that you snake around the pegs:
You can use cardboard tubes like they did on the left, or really bendable tubes, or PVC pipes like they did on the right.
We do need more art storage for more maker supplies so we also thought that one of them could be styled out more like this:
This is where it all started going/rolling downhill.
Because we are perfectionists, we felt that we couldn’t use something readymade. WE don’t just buy pegboard, no, and certainly not a system from IKEA that would, well, create the most perfect and functional art wall. NO, we have far too much time and money to waste to do a simple solution!
Instead, Shade would buy some plywood, cut it perfectly to size and drill each hole INDIVIDUALLY, then attach it to the back of the shelves (after bolting them together). Sounds easy, but this did, of course, take time and time is money. I think he spent a day and a half on it, which is about $350 in labor (not including materials). We ordered some marble run stuff and attached the pegs to them so they could move it around and create their own creation.
The problem is by customizing our own holes, it fits no art system because they aren’t spaced apart in a standard way.
I’ll remind you what it looks like:
We found these raw wood marble run pieces and glued pegs into them, with the hope that they can be rearranged on the peg wall and be an interactive game that our kids will spend hours quietly playing with.
The kids came home that first day, got excited then realized that they are VERY hard to take in and out and went back to Legos and art. Even when I sat down to do it, I got frustrated. It could be that they are too young, but it’s frankly just more annoying and the payoff (a marble rolling) isn’t worth their frustration.
Admittedly, it does look fun, but for whatever reason, they don’t like it. It’s kinda hard and again the payoff isn’t worth it.
Around the same time, we bought an art system for the play attic at the mountain house that was awesome (update on that space with photos coming soon). I then realized that we had gone through all this trouble to create a custom system that already exists readymade and affordable, only better and more functional! It would be like spending months designing a chair that already exists.
Cool. Sure, it’s white and plastic and ours is raw wood and pretty, but I actually think that white would work better in here anyway. Why didn’t we just do this in the first place? Honestly, because I haven’t been to IKEA in years and didn’t know it existed. I was hasty. Too busy to research. Preferring instead to spend time and money customizing something that doesn’t work.
Additionally, after ours was done, I thought we couldn’t find pegs that really fit easily because the ones that we bought for the marble runs were too big and tight. Then last week, I decided to, you know, measure the holes. From there, I Googled pegs that size, ordered them and boom. The morning of the shoot, I set up the rubber band activity and it looked cute. I couldn’t find rubberbands so I used Birdie’s hairtyes to show you the function.
When the kids came home from school on Thursday (when we shot this), they started playing with the rubberband wall and proceeded to play for a while (I’d say around 25 minutes which is a long engagement time for a 3 and 5-year-old). Birdie wanted rubber bands on her side so we took out the marble run and they put the pegs in where they wanted them, moved them around and made patterns, letters and shapes with the hair ties. We then found our actual rubber bands, started playing with those and guess what? It’s a really fun guitar wall and they played with that for a while.
So now I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t an epic DIY fail but only time will tell. Part of me wants to fill the holes and paint it white and then attach the art organization system I mentioned we already have at the mountain house.
I did, however, buy them a cart full of garbage to play with in the meantime.
We call it the “makers cart” or the “inventor cart.” It’s full of recyclables (plastic containers, cans, paper towel rolls, newspaper), different tapes (I need to buy stock in 3M or Scotch because the amount of tape we buy for them to make things is INSANE), magnets, screws/bolts/brackets, strings, pipe cleaners, etc. Hell, we put all takeout materials in there—chopsticks, plastic forks, etc…
Like I said, LITERAL GARBAGE, but it makes us feel way less bad if they at least get some creativity out of that waste. Charlie LOVES it. Birdie is much more into art and coloring, but Charlie loves inventing things and our neighbor (my best friend’s son) tortures her with bringing home his “inventions” daily (riddling her house with our garbage).
So there’s one success.
I also LOVE this art wall. Like nothing makes me happier than when they finish something and ask me if they can put it on the wall (not sure why they ask).
So the next challenge is making a big bulletin board that is actually pretty. Here are my ideas:
- Put it in an interesting shape, like a house. Have it lean or start on the floor so that they can reach and add their own finished pieces.
- Use masonite (a soft composite) and cover in a fabric (likely a pretty linen or maybe a subtle pattern).
- Mount a thick roll of cork to plywood then paint it a color or white.
- Frame or trim it out with thin wood.
I’ve tried to think about different shapes that make sense, to try to reinvent this but I haven’t come up with something that would be easy to execute that makes sense for art. I love the graphicness of the house, and remember that we have a big moment, the mural on the opposite side of the room.
Okay. This room also needs to kinda function as the kids mud-room. So we brought in that bench that has great storage, but also provides a great drop place for the kids’ bags and shoes, as if they put them there, EVER. HA. They are getting better, but the first week of school they dropped them within inches of the door, on the floor.
The drawers right now hold more art supplies and paper, but will be great for either shoes or homework stuff later. We had it at the foot of our bed for a while (which we loved) but we needed it down here more.
I was going to get a bigger mirror, possibly pill-shaped because its 2019 and evidently we DON’T do rectangles in 2019, but then I found this vintage Thonet mirror at a thrift store near the mountain house and couldn’t not buy it (I think it was like $45) and so one day I put it up on an already existing nail and realized that I actually might love it here.
Side note: I never bought or installed nice grate covers. I meant to. I have had it on my list for 2 years now. It’s a long list but above it are things like “raise children” and “stay alive” which are taking more time than I had predicted, so the bottom of the list sits there unchecked. Instead, we have the $3 ones that I feel like you could buy at 7-11. I really need to replace them and will, I promise. (I have a personal assistant now so maybe it will happen before 2025!).
Now I need to decide if I want to add hooks for bags and make it look like a proper Pinterest-worthy mudroom or just call it and let them put their bags on the bench because that is more likely to actually happen.
So I’d love any and all opinions on what to do in here. I know I want to create a more awesome art wall. I know that Birdie would like easier access to art supplies, but we could just do another cart full of supplies and tools and keep the rubberband art. Also right now she is super into colored pencils because that is what is in front of her, why do I need to add more? Less is more with kids, right?
***Update photos by Veronica Crawford