Forgotten corners make a great children's hideaway

February 03, 2007|by CHRISTINE BRUN / Copley News Service

Children love to play "pretend," and there is no better place to play than somewhere that makes them feel snug and cozy. While such an area might seem difficult to find in a small home, remember that someone who is only 36 inches tall can squeeze a lot out of a quite ordinary space that is barely noticed by an adult.

If you think you can't spare the space to designate as a playroom for your children or grandchildren, take a second look. You might find the perfect spot on a back porch, in a hall or under a stairway.

A modest central hallway in my grandmother's 1930s Spanish Revival house remains in my memory as the perfect play area. It couldn't have been any more than 10 or 12 feet long, but it had memorable wooden drawers with clear glass knobs that hid treasures - board games meant just for us grandchildren.


No one else bothered to bend down to that bottom drawer to pull out Chinese checkers, marbles or Parcheesi. This place was especially magical because we could close the door between the hall and the dining room, plus both of the bedroom doors, thus transforming the hall into a place of our own.

It is precisely this kind of spot that might be right in front of you, but you haven't seen it because you're looking through the eyes of an adult.

Consider an underutilized walk-in closet that could be shared by the little people in your life. First, check to make sure there is absolutely no chance that a child could be locked into the closet and not be able to get out. A stationary door knob and no catch or latch might be the best idea.

Or remove the door completely and replace it with a curtain. That way you can shield the contents of the closet from public view and create the sense of seclusion for your child while still making it easy for him or her to come and go.

In a house where I once lived, I had just such a closet in my guest room. The long dresses and winter coats that hung in there created a pathway to a secret place in the back of the closet. A friend's little girls loved to crawl back there, snuggle in on pillows and blankets I provided, and read stories. I installed a light fixture that could be operated with a pull-chain, and while it was not convenient storage space, the girls loved it.

The under-stairs playroom shown here would be uncomfortable for an adult but just right for small children. The flooring is practical carpet tile that is at once soft, yet tough enough to handle spills from bottles or cups. Shelves are provided for games, books, crafts and toys. Add a few pillows, and this spot might also be equipped to suffice as a nap station.

You might create space in your child's bedroom by purchasing a bunk bed with extra room under the bed, similar to those used in college dorm rooms. It is easy to hang fabric curtains all the way around the bed and make a mini retreat, right in the middle of the room.

Providing a special kingdom for play for your child will be worth the while on several levels. You get to organize the toys into one corner, and when your children go there to play, you know exactly where to find them. Meanwhile, they think they've gone on an exciting adventure.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112.

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