This past weekend saw the close of my latest interior design project: our office play nook. I never saw myself as the type of mom to give my kids a playroom, especially not in our modestly sized home. The advent of the whole playroom thing is a maximalist American trend that milks the excess of space in oversized suburban homes for what it's worth; playrooms aren't the norm in most other countries. Admittedly, most suburban homes in the U.S. are blessed with more square footage than an average sized family knows what to do with, hence, all the non-essential luxury spaces like: walk-in closets, guest rooms, offices, man caves, and, you guessed it, playrooms. Granted, I'm sure that there are plenty of smaller scale American homes that can afford to sacrifice certain spaces for the nonessential purposes of childhood recreation. Ours is an example of the latter, a home that covers our family's needs beyond measure without being incongruously huge; we are a family of four after all, and our open-concept 1400 square foot townhome is comfortable enough to grant us the luxury of personal space while keeping us close together all the same. We don't need more than that and could honestly live with less.
Our home is a standard 3 bed/2.5 bath, and because our children are still quite young, they will be room-sharing until their personal needs for privacy increase, freeing up one room in the house which, up until recently, was used exclusively as an office/workspace. Now, if you read my kid clutter post, you know that one of my secrets to controlling kid clutter is by creating play nooks throughout the more frequently inhabited areas of the home, play nooks that are easy to tidy and aesthetically harmonious with the home's design. In our case, the two areas in which we spend most of our day are the living room (downstairs) and the office (upstairs).
That said, we didn't have such a play corner upstairs which often led to file boxes being opened, office supplies being displaced, and electronics being mishandled at the curious hands of our two year old. My husband and I spend a fair amount of time in our office space. For him it's a place to pore over legal documents, communicate with clients, and advance his secondary career as a writer. For me, it's where I grade papers, plan lessons, write blog posts, and pump (usually while doing all of the above). We never leave our children downstairs without supervision (or anywhere for that matter), so we take them with us to the office when we need to work. Given the time that we spend up there, it's important that we share this space peacefully with our children.
The play corner strategy has proven to be an effective one for adulting in harmony with toddling toddlers; the play table in our living room keeps our two year old from exploring our very interesting kitchen cabinets and scaling our oh-so-climbable bookcases. Very rarely do I find myself redirecting in this area of our home so in order to achieve this same effect in the office, we'd need to create a play nook there too. I decided that the play nook would need to be entertaining enough to keep her from venturing into our workspace. It would also need to be gender neutral for baby brother to grow into, take up relatively little real-estate in the way of square footage, and run on lots of imagination fuel, maximizing the pretend-play possibilities well beyond their toddler years. And, because I'm a self-proclaimed design snob, it would have to look whimsical enough for children without being too cringy for adults.
After much brainstorming, pinning, visualizing and ultimately putting it all together, here are the results...
Throughout most of my home I've stayed within a muted color palette of soft grays, whites, and varying shades of taupe with selective pops of divergent color. However, I decided that for the sake of making this play nook the happiest little place in the house, I myself would play outside of the comfort zone of my usual color choices. I'm quite satisfied with the synergy of the colors and patterns that I chose. I love the interaction between the cool, soothing mint and warm, cheery coral; these soft pastels add color without being loud and overstimulating. The pattern play between the tribal print on the teepee and the rugby stripes on the area rug keeps things visually interesting without getting too busy. The result is that perfectly balanced sweet spot between playtime and downtime.
I chose as the centerpiece of the play nook, a trendy mint teepee with a subtle southwestern pattern. The selection of a teepee over another play table or a mini playhouse was intentional. The teepee, much like the play table downstairs, is a natural gathering point, which means most of the active play time and toy clutter will gravitate towards the teepee and not all over the office floor. In addition, it has that "grow with me" quality that I look for in larger ticket children's items; I can see the teepee evolving with my children as they go from playing "house," to having sleepovers, to using it as a cozy reading/study nook. Heck! Even I love hanging out in this teepee and I'm well into my twenties.
I dressed up the teepee with a few throw pillows, one on each side to hold open the flaps of the entryway. These pillows make the teepee an even cozier place to snuggle up with a good book or have an afternoon tea party with a few stuffed animal friends. I particularly love the way the messages on these pillows align so perfectly with the notion of exploration and happiness through imagination. Within the teepee, I've placed a "hot air balloon"canvas bin that holds their "upstairs toys" and a couple of cuddly blankets. When not in use, the toy bin is tucked away discretely in the corner of the teepee.
On the main wall we hung 18 inch white wooden letters that spell out the very function of the nook, defining the space and setting it apart from the office function of the room. They were a pain to hang, as the holes on the backs of the letters were poorly planned but my tenacious and clever husband overcame the impractical design. And I'm glad he did, as I really like the way that the letters add dimension to the wall without outshining the pieces in the forefront.
I added a sense a whimsy to my children's personalized reading chairs by accenting them with these fun cloud and sun pillows. The chairs are the regular-sized Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chairs, which I happened to catch on sale. I wouldn't recommend purchasing without a generous coupon, as they are overpriced. These chairs come in three different sizes. I chose to go with the medium size because the smallest looked like it wouldn't last past the toddler years and the largest was not significantly larger than the regular chair. I've personally sat in my kids' Anywhere Chairs and I find them to be supportive enough for my adult height and weight, comfy even, so I expect that these will be "grow with me" type items that can be used for years to come.
At the far left corner of the nook, I've styled the narrow vertical wall space with a playful unicorn head, a vibrant "Happy Place" sign, and a whimsical cloud-shaped bookshelf. The shelf is quite stable but I wouldn't load it up with much more than a small selection of books as it isn't designed to hold a lot of weight. I rotate the books from the nursery library weekly so that the selection on the cloud shelf is always fresh for teepee time.
By far, my favorite design choice for styling the teepee has got to be these LED fairy string lights. They were fairly inexpensive and do not need to be plugged into any outlets. I simply wrapped them around the poles and let them hang down the sides of the teepee fabric. My daughter loves turning them on at night before bed; it makes story time so much more magical and "hyggelig."
Perhaps having a play nook like ours does not align with minimalism in the strictest sense but it does align with a few of the principles of domestic minimalism: the intentionality of surrounding yourself only with things that bring you joy and setting strict limits on clutter. We've been mindful to avoid filling this space with an excess of toys by limiting toy storage to one modest toy bin (if the toys don't fit, it's time to declutter). Unlike most playrooms, the idea behind our nook is not to house an abundance of toys; toys are not the main attraction. It's the teepee and reading chairs that are the true stars of the play nook, acting as the launch pad for the most minimalist plaything children have: imagination.
I hope this tour of our play nook has inspired you to take on some new creative design projects in your home, for yourself or for your children. Thank you as always for your readership.
About la maestra:
Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! I'm Ali, a World Language maestra from Miami who went from hard-core maximalist to soft-core minimalist upon becoming a mother. The flexible form of minimalism that I practice, domestic minimalism, allows me to run my household efficiently and foster a home free of clutter and full of joy for my whole family. This is where I record my experiences as a wife, working mother of two, and homemaker. Thanks for stopping by.