Tips & Tricks | How To Create a Successful Playroom
Without wanting to sound like an interviewer, what's your version of success? It's going to be different for everyone, but hopefully by the end of this blog post I may be able to help you determine what it means for you in playroom planning terms!
We haven’t been able to make our playroom work. Our two children, insist that they must drag their toys out of the playroom and into the living room, kitchen… You get the idea, anywhere else but the playroom! My husband and I didn’t want to spend much time in there either and yet we somehow expected our children to love the room?
Its been a long journey to get to this point and the end result we have, is not quite what many would expect from a playroom, I'm not sure I'd even call it a playroom now - more an informal family space, but it finally works for us! I thought I’d use this blog post to explain the considerations and thoughts during the recreation of our playroom (or informal family space) to help those of you who have similar disused rooms.
1. Question Why?
So when planning our playroom, I went back to basics and did what I would do with any client. Asked ourselves why we weren’t using the room the way it was intended, before even working out what we wanted to use the room for. I sat with my two children and allowed myself to be an analytical nerd for a moment, asking the ‘5 why’s’ – for anyone who hasn’t heard of this, it’s a simple problem solving methodology where you ask why, again and again until you get to the root cause – usually within 5 ‘why’s' you’ll have your answer!
The reason they didn’t use the playroom was because we weren’t in there with them enough. That’s it, simple really? They wanted us to be close. So why didn’t we want to be in there? Not because we didn’t want to spend time with them (although the squabbling can be pretty draining let’s be honest!) but because it felt chaotic and uncomfortable, and not a space intended for us.
2. What’s the purpose?
Playing right? Well yes, but what play? What sort of play will the children be engaging in over the next few years? Firstly, we had a huge corner sofa bed which we used once a year for guests. We were trying to do too much in this room, and on top of that, our needs were changing but our room functionality wasn’t changing with it. So I started thinking of grand ideas including custom desks, storage as far as the eye can see. And then I sat back and thought through what do we want this room to do now and in the next 3 years? My children are 6 and 7, they do their homework at the kitchen table while I cook so that I can potter back and forth to help, we do jigsaws and board games and crafts as a family at the same table and in the next 3 years I don’t expect or want that to change. So did I need to invest in desks at this stage? Their toys are getting smaller, so is more storage really needed or just better storage? And perhaps the biggest question was, how do we make it a room where my husband and I want to spend time in there too, even if it’s to read a book while the children play so that we are close to them?
We decided it needs to function as a playroom and a library. An informal living area. A place where we can store the books that are still in the loft after we moved in 6 years ago, where the children still have enough room to play, with comfortable seating for us all and enough storage for the toys they have now.
3. Flow and Feel
As always, its easy to get influenced by Instagram or Pinterest and think a playroom ‘should’ conform to certain standards in terms of decor, functionality and even the toys that need to be there (wooden of course). I would ignore that and work out what works for you in terms of the flow, function and feel of the room. Having the children doing crafts and games at the dining table may not work for you as it does for us; every family is different and have different needs so there is no special formula other than working out exactly what you as a family need from that room.
One thing I assumed was that our children wouldn’t want to play in the room if it wasn’t decorated in bright rainbow colours or had murals on the walls as I had seen so many times on social media. The truth was, they didn’t really care! Of course, they are beautiful but not once when discussing what they wanted from the room did they mention colour. Now if I had specifically said 'do you want unicorns and Darth Vader painted on the walls, it would have been met with a resounding yes! However I did know that if the room was to appeal to adults too, and become a space which works for all of us, we would place more importance on it needing to feel warm and inviting – not jarring with the rest of the house. Both of my children are lucky enough to have their own bedrooms which they choose their colours, style and accessories so I'm ok with this room being about more than just them.
When I asked about what their perfect playroom would be like, my children talked about cool beanbags, labels on boxes so they know where everything is and room for their kitchen and playmats. Fairly practical requirements for a 6 and 7 year old! Again, your children may have a strong opinion on decor and that's ok too, its always good to work with what they value most if they are going to use this room.
Think about the room in terms of zones then create continuity in the decor. Similar to working out the flow of a kitchen (I wrote a blog post about that too), you want to ensure that you have a simple and practical flow and places to store everything. Now this could be different for each family depending upon the requirements you’ve established. For us it was;
Floor zone – room to get cars, animals and lego vehicles out, sit and brush doll’s hair, room to move around with a doll’s pushchair
Relax zone – a place for adults to sit back comfortably and read as well as watch the ‘shows’ and accept offerings from the make-believe café
TV zone – comfortable area to play computer games and watch tv without others walking or playing in front
Storage zones – clearly labelled areas to keep toys, crafts, games and books easily accessible and easy to tidy away
Imagination zone – an area for our play kitchen, baskets of food, baby cot etc (Favourite playroom staples that show no sign of going away soon)
Other zones you may want to consider; a crafting zone, a study area, dressing up corner/stage, reading den – think through the development stage your child is at now and how their interests may develop over the next few years (or however long before you’re happy to rethink and redecorate the room!). The room will and needs to evolve more so than most others.
By thinking in these terms, I was able to draw a simple floorplan and begin to ‘place’ the zones and understand what needed to be included within the flow. It looked like this:
Washable. Wipeable. No surprises there! Curtains should be washable, sofa should be wipeable or have washable loose covers. Blinds may be a better option to stay clear of sticky fingers. Paint should be tough and wipeable – try a diamond matt trade paint or easycare modern emulsion. Other tricks are using a patterned wallpaper to disguise marks or even dividing the wall horizontally and using a gloss on the lower part that sees the most traffic.
Don’t underestimate the use of materials such as a clever velvet, corduroy and sheepskin; squishy beanbags for gaming, cosy blankets for movie afternoons – fabrics which are soft and inviting and elevate the room from being a local church hall on playgroup days to a warm living area for everyone. No child will ever ask for these details, but they will make a space usable as well as a safe and inviting room for playing, something that was particularly important for us seeing as our playroom had become disused. Another idea is to create a blackboard wall with chalk paint (doesn’t have to be black!) for the ultimate creative canvas and it’s also a very tactile surface. It could even have the family rules or ethos on there – be kind etc. Or how about using magnetic paint and using the wall to add magnetic numbers and letters, or create a race track on the walls for magnetic cars to speed around!
We moved all our books in from the loft to make this a usable family space for everyone so we needed extra shelving for these and bought the bookcases from Ikea – it kept the costs down but looked in keeping with the modern country feel of our home without any ‘hacks’ required.
We realised we also needed better toy storage. We’ve always had large transparent plastic boxes tucked away in cupboards which are in fact practical in many ways – when the children couldn’t read it enabled them to see what was in the boxes and pick which toys they wanted to play with. The issue was they were huge, so as many toys got smaller over the years, they got lost and difficult to find in the cavernous boxes and problematic to organise and sort. So we invested in some smaller storage boxes too which have completed the look and allowed better organisation.
There are lots of amazing and beautiful storage ideas for playrooms - think baskets for play food, custom shelving for lego and small clothes rails or peg rails for dress up costumes.
Our playroom is south facing but natural light is blocked by a large tree, so the lighting was not necessarily simple. We changed the ceiling lighting to a Tom Raffield pendant which increased the light in the room as well as changing the bulbs to make it a brighter, but softer and warmer light. We also received a beautiful floor lamp from The Cotswold Company; a perfect task light for when we want to read on the sofa, slim though so it doesn’t dominate, isn’t at risk of being knocked and doesn’t take up too much space. Think through what lighting you will need – desk lamps for study area or creative space? How about a disco mirror ball to reflect light around and create a sensory element to the room? Wall lights to highlight children’s art?
I hope that has given you some ideas and a starting point to plan your own playroom that really actually works for you and your family!