The arrival of children often upends parents’ lives — and that includes their living spaces.

How do you create children’s play spaces that are safe, functional, stylish, and tidy, and can accommodate everything from toddler toys to elementary school craft projects to preteen pillow fights?

For families with the room and the inclination, dedicated in-home play spaces are popular for a number of reasons.

Winter’s colder temperatures and shorter days can restrict children’s outdoor play, making indoor entertainment all the more important. Many parents may want to encourage activities such as coloring, playing musical instruments, or reading a book rather than sitting in front of a screen. Busy parents may simply need a bit of a break while knowing their children can channel creativity or burn off energy in a safe, stimulating environment.


And finally, photo-sharing sites increasingly provide an outlet for showing off our homes — children’s play rooms included.

Tess Leeds, an interior designer from Newton, has helped many area families create their own play spaces. “More often than not, my clients are working with a combined family room and playroom, depending on the age of the kids and the size and layout of the home,” Leeds said.

Alternatively, some families use the basement or a spare sunroom, or else carve out space in the living room.

Leeds recommends starting by clearing the space and selecting a bold patterned or colored rug to set the tone. Indoor/outdoor rugs tend to be less expensive, but tufted rugs may be more comfortable for children and adults spending hours on the floor. Stain-resistant is a plus, she said, and don’t forget to include a thick pad underneath.

Safety is a prime concern, and not only for spaces intended for very young children. “From a toddler pulling up on a table to a 12-year-old having a pillow fight, the knock-over capability is something to consider,” Leeds said.


In creating the space, parents will likely want to cover electrical outlets, avoid tables with sharp edges, and bolt bookcases and other large furniture to the wall. Stylish chandeliers and pendant lights can take the place of table or floor lamps that could be easily toppled. And, of course, sight lines are important, especially with smaller children.

Any adult who has ever tripped over an errant toy knows that cleanup and storage are prime play space considerations. Organizational systems — shelves, bins, cubes, and book ledges — are hugely helpful, and must not only accommodate odd shapes but also keep playthings easily accessible.

“Kids won’t patiently sort through items to get to what they want,” said Leeds, who advises either making the toys visible or else labeling containers with pictures, which can help children find their favorites and even assist with cleanup afterwards.

Families unprepared to undertake a full play space makeover can start small.

“Chalkboard walls are a DIY project that will always be current. From ABCs to silly family portraits, even grown-ups like to draw,” Leeds said. For those who may not want to dedicate an entire wall to this endeavor, “frame out a smaller section with trim molding, paint the frame a fun color and don’t forget to hang a basket or cute pail for chalk,” she said.

Other useful, inexpensive features might include a small craft table, a beanbag chair or pillows for lounging and reading, and oversized decals for the walls. “Decals create instant fun and can be peeled off when kids age out of the design,” she said.


Finally, make sure the play space is a spot that you, as a parent, will also enjoy. “You can provide a child with oodles of toys and the perfect space to play with them but, at the end of the day, what your child really wants is quality time with you,” Leeds said.

This is what the Newton home’s play area looked like before interior designer Tess Leeds gave it a makeover.
This is what the Newton home’s play area looked like before interior designer Tess Leeds gave it a makeover.Tess Leeds

Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at rachel_lebeaux@yahoo.com.