Ask Design Mom: Child’s Playspace

March 2, 2007

Ask-Design-Mom Question:
Hi Design Mom,
Love your blog. Love your advice and thinking and all your links too. Thanks for your help! I live in a city (San Diego) with my husband and 11 month old daughter. We live in an 1100 square foot condo and we have an alcove that was meant for a built-in deskm but I want to make it into a play/toy stash place for my daughter, but don’t know where to begin. Thanks! Melissa

PS — Here is a picture of the space:

Design Mom Answer:
Oh Melissa, what a fun project! I love the idea of a small space set aside just for the kids. And the lower walls in the alcove will make it feel just their size. Perfect.

Since you live in San Diego, I’m assuming you have an Ikea near by. This is an ideal Ikea project. If it were my alcove, this is what I would do:

1) On the section of wall with the plugs, I would put a child-size table with 2 chairs. There are many, many cute versions of child-size tables available. At our house, we have two sets of this table. It’s good looking and easy to paint. Our tables are painted a terrific shade of blue and our chairs are orange.

2) Against the wall where Elmo is, I would put a small bookshelf. Something with 3 shelves. It doesn’t have to coordinate exactly with the table and chairs. I would fill these shelves with good-looking bins for toys, children’s books, and a few good-looking classic toys for display. I like the shape of these shelves, and because they’re raised off they floor, it’s easier to keep the area clean.

3) To make the space feel really special, I would create a small series of framed-artwork to hang at kids-eye-level. This sounds more complicated than it is. Get six pre-made matching frames with pre-cut mats. You’ll hang two on the wider sections of wall, and 1 on the shorter sections. Hang them all at the same height, so they create a visual line around the space. These frames are great, and they don’t require a mat. I would use brightly-colored artwork to contrast with the frames if I went with these.

For artwork to put in the frames you’ve got several good options. Buy a spare copy of your favorite picture book and cut out 6 of your favorite images. Or find six happy, child-like postcards. Or have your kids create six masterpieces by their own hands. Or take images from an old calendar. Or use great close-up shots of your kids.

4) Along the section of the wall between the bookshelves and table, set a large basket or bin on the ground to collect bigger toys or awkward shapes. Big trucks, or bouncy balls, or stuffed animals. Maybe something like this.

5) On the ground, to help define the space, put a small area rug. I love this one. In fact, this would be a could piece to using as a color scheme for the space. (Artwork colors, furniture paint colors)

6) I don’t mind a clean, neutral wall, but a coat of colorful, kid-friendly paint in the alcove would also be an easy way to help define the play area.

The whole thing could come together easily in a weekend, and your kids are sure to LOVE having their own space. Because I’ve picked items from Ikea, I’ve given the space a more contemporary feel. But if your taste runs more traditional, you could implement the same plan, but just pick our more traditional furniture, bins and frames. I hope that helps, Melissa!

Design Mom Readers, if this were your space, what would you do?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carrie March 2, 2007 at 10:19 am

WOW! I love you, DesignMom! Never before have I seen such a easy-to-follow, inexpensive way to design a room. I am a new reader of your blog, but I love your ideas. You are so creative & inspiring!!!


2 sarah cool March 2, 2007 at 10:40 am

Um, DesignMom? You are incredible.

Would you like to come to my home for the weekend and design?? :-)

Cincinnati is lovely!


3 Azúcar March 2, 2007 at 10:47 am

I would also consider a floating table top. Attach a small ‘table top’ to the wall with hardware–it could just be a cut-to-fit piece of painted MDF if you like. Although the table won’t be moveable, it might save a little space. If you or your DH are handy, consider using hinges and a latch to make the floating table top fold out of the way.


4 Ton March 2, 2007 at 10:51 am

Design Mom! You are amazing. I want you to walk through my house and tell me what you would do to combine functionality AND personality! Wonderful ideas.


5 Kristi March 2, 2007 at 11:05 am

What great ideas, now all I need is a little cubby space! They don’t call you design mom for nothing, lol!!


6 Melissa March 2, 2007 at 11:40 am

Thank you Design Mom! I think I’m going to head down to Ikea THIS WEEKEND.

I wish I could pick your brain like this for every square inch of my house.


7 daisy March 2, 2007 at 12:30 pm

I’ve discovered Magnetic paint. You paint it on and then paint the wall any color you want…so it can be the same as all the other walls or different and then you can put up any pictures your child or children draw up with just a magnet. It’s better than the refrigerator. This might be fun on the wall in that space. You can find magnetic paint at any hardware store like Lowe’s or HomeDepot.


8 Bek March 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm

Melissa, if I can give you a word of advice about the table (it is cheaper than the floating one..) get the little LAK side tables at IKEA (they are 10$$) and laminated so they clean easily. When they get too dirty, you can buy a new one (and they come in great colors.. OR use the LAK floating shelf for the table. It is just wide enough for the art projects (then head up to the kitchen section and buy the kitchen metal strips and various cutlery holders that attache w/ magnets…they are perfect for art supplies….)

One time we even used paint chips (we cut them square) and made a cool mosiac and then mod podged it. :-)


9 Bek March 2, 2007 at 1:12 pm

OH…at IKEA they have galvanized metal pails in the gardening section that are awesome and there are metal boxes in the organization section (for the modern feel). In the garden section they have great square baskets that fit the PBK basket liners (much cheaper). I find that when I use small baskets it keeps the toys from accumulating too much AND the kids can find what they need. :-)


10 jordan March 2, 2007 at 1:15 pm


This is awesome. You need to come decorate my house.


11 Bek March 2, 2007 at 1:21 pm

Sorry, one more thing (we are doing our own kids play rooms) they have a product now that I saw in a kitchen. It is like a tray that attaches to a wall and folds down when used and then folds up against a wall when NOT being used. This could be a good option.

It won’t work in our house because my kids will stand on them….


12 melissa March 2, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Wow. So many helpful comments too. I’ll send Design Mom some of the pictures once we are done with it!

Thanks a lot!


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