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?