Category Archives: Playroom

Basement Playroom – Final

The basement playroom ended up being a huge transformation if only because covering the tile made the room look entirely different. Here’s the final reveal.





The art on the back wall here includes a color wheel wreath from Land of Nod, a weird print of an animal on a bicycle from IKEA, and a sasquatch drawn by my brother-in-law. We also added the overhead fan. (I was told not to move the train track on the floor in the right corner of this photo because it was a “masterpiece.” I don’t like to stand in the way of art.)




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We covered the ledge with Kallax storage shelves from Ikea, which turned this entire wasted wall into useful storage. We can come up with a different solution when the kids are older, but for now it prevents them from jumping to their doom every day. We used black shelves instead of white solely because we already had two black ones, and it was not worth the money to buy four new shelves just for the sake of color. Also, my boys treat furniture the way wild apes might if they encountered laminate pressboard in their native environment, so there’s no point in dropping dollars on furniture. (To wit: The couch down here was inherited from my parents for the low, low cost of free.)






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The cork board in the art corner here was a project we completed for the kitchen in our old house, and we moved it to the play room to display the kid’s work. Full instructions can be found here.





The print next to the door is from ArtStar, which is a great Web site that promotes affordable, collectible art.


The Little Collector portion of the site is entirely devoted to kid art, including this portrait of Fisher Price Little People. Every adult who walks into the room asks about it. Some find it hilarious; others find it to be “dead-eyed.” I love it.

The other piece of art that I really love in the room is hard to see in the shots because the frame is so reflective, but it’s the patent drawings of Lego minifigures. Available from Patent Prints and Eye Catching Patents.






Basement Playroom – Stage 3

The ceramic floor tile made the room feel cold and unwelcoming. Unfortunately, it also wrapped up along the wall to act as a baseboard, so it would have been unnecessarily complicated to rip it all out. (Guess how I know–Andy removed one of the baseboard tiles and it took half the drywall with it. Plan aborted.) Our solution was to add traditional baseboard on top of the tile along the wall, and to use FLOR carpet tiles on the floor.

I found this pattern (Fall in Line-Jade) of FLOR tiles on sale (marked down from $13 per tile to $8.49 per tile), so I got a good deal. (Also check the outlet page.) The wall colors were inspired by the stripes in the FLOR tiles.


I love carpet tiles for a kid’s room not only for the pattern and color, but also for practical reasons–when the kids inevitably spill, we can replace the affected squares rather than scrapping the whole carpet or living with gross stains.(Be sure to buy more tiles than you need for just this purpose. We have an extra box in reserve.) As an added bonus, FLOR is an eco-friendly company–more than 50 percent of the materials in the carpet are made from recyclables.

The carpet tiles come with instructions on how to place them so I won’t belabor it here, but essentially you need to start in the middle and work your way to the walls, so that you’re making cuts along the walls and not in the middle. Because this room was a large rectangle, Andy worked his way in a cross pattern, like so.

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You can see the improved baseboards in this shot, as well as the cuts that still need to be made along the walls.

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And here it is with the cuts complete. For some reason, it did not occur to me to move all of this crap out of the way before taking the photo. Realism.596


Basement Playroom – Stage 2

While the wainscoting work was going on, we also painted the basement walls blue and green. It’s a kid’s playroom so we had license to go a little bananas with color.  Nobody is inspired to play Halloween dinosaur ghost* in a beige room.

*actual game played by my children at least once a week.



The north and south walls are Meridian Blue by Benjamin Moore.


The west wall is painted with Shades of Spring, with yellow Banan-Appeal in the window wells to reflect the minimal light that comes in.

Just a note here because I don’t think I’ve mentioned it elsewhere–we used Benjamin Moore Natura throughout the entire house because I insisted on using zero-VOC paint. It’s odorless and there’s no subsequent off-gassing so it’s much healthier for your indoor environment–especially important for rooms where kids are going to spend a lot of time. We used low-VOC paint in the past that was a gummy nightmare to apply. Not so with Natura–it goes on like a dream. There’s my pitch. Use it.


We left the east wall white so that we could decorate it with a stencil. We found a circle stencil pattern and used the wall colors from the other three walls. Here’s how it turned out:


The problem, of course, is that it looked incredibly stupid. Wah-wuh. So we scrapped that idea and my mom and I scoured wallpaper books looking for a pattern to complement the already painted walls. (Nothing like designing backwards.) We found this one:


It’s supposed to be hung vertically but my mom had the idea to run it horizontally along the wall.

Here’s the result:


Good save.

Basement Playroom – Stage 1

We weren’t sure what to do with the bench seating along the left side of the room. It probably worked well for resting between billiard shots, but it was a waste of space for our purposes. Also, the kids kept walking along the top and launching themselves onto the tile floor. We’re not made of ER co-pays, so we had to cover the ledge–at least until our kids outgrow their positions as President and C.E.O. of Bad Decisions, Incorporated. (They will, right?)

So as a refresher, here is the original look. (And no, that’s not the ghost on the right. This isn’t Three Men and a Baby. It’s just Andy’s shadow.)


The first thing Andy did was gleefully rip out that weird brown carpeting on top of the ledge. The right portion of the seating opened into a deep storage cabinet, revealing a complete human skeleton. No, just kidding. It only contained a retro boom box that had probably been sitting there untouched since the addition was completed in 1988. We had a quick Billy Ocean dance party and then added it to the donation pile. (The boom box, not Billy Ocean. He’s a timeless treasure.)

Andy replaced the top of the ledge with new plywood to keep the surface even. Then we had to figure out what to do about the tile that was everywhere in the room. All those grout lines had kind of a TRON effect. It would have been really expensive and a huge mess to replace them, not to mention that every time we remove something, we uncover four more problems. (I think that was Jay-Z‘s original lyric —  “I’ve got one problem and then I find four more” but it didn’t rhyme so he scrapped it. He was so frustrated that eventually he had 99 problems and history was made. That’s a true story I just made up.)

Our solution was to cover the tile along the ledge with white wainscoting. We painted the wainscoting sheets before they were applied to the wall, and then Andy attached them to the tile with a combination of glue and liquid nails. Here it is in progress:

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The tile already looks less overwhelming just with this portion covered.

Basement Playroom – Original

There’s a standard unfinished basement under the original portion of the house, but when the previous owners renovated in 1988, they added an extra basement room. (The addition room is a few feet lower than the original basement to allow for more head room.) They used it as a billiards room; we are turning it into the playroom.

Here’s what it looked like originally:


We added the heat source in the corner because the room does not have its own heating. This is a garage heater with a built-in thermostat, so it turns on automatically when it gets too cold in the room. It was the most cost-effective solution and much safer than having space-heaters within reach of the kids.


This square really puzzled us when we bought the house, but we later figured it must have been the support for a dart board. Or they just really liked the look of random squares.


This is the dart board after Andy took a sledgehammer to it. The whole left side of the room had this bench seating, covered with brown indoor/outdoor carpeting.


Here’s additional seating, with the odd little drop-off behind the door. (The two steps you can see outside the door lead to the unfinished part of the basement.)


Here’s a view of the right side of the wall after Andy removed the pool cue holders from the wall.

In its original form, this room was cold, dark, and very mustardy. We fix that.

Playroom Art: House 1.0


I had an old gumball machine that I hadn’t used in years, and now that gumballs are a choking hazard for half of my household, it was time to do something else with it. The solution? Turn it into a light for the playroom. And it was so easy.

1.) Start with an ordinary gumball machine.


2.) Unscrew the top of the gumball machine and the top bracing mechanism. I also took out some of the lower “guts” to make room for more lights. All pulled out easily.

3.) Take the wall plug and push it through to the bottom and out through the side.


4.) Wind the lights around the center pole, as though you were decorating a very small Christmas tree. I used a 300 strand of colored lights because that’s what I had leftover from Christmas, and that turned out to be a lot of lights. I ended up pushing some down into the lower portion, which has the fun effect of making the gumball dispenser area glow. The 300 strand is maybe too many lights, while the 100 strand looked too puny. A 200 strand (or two 100 strands) seems to be the Goldilocks number.

5.) Turn down the lights, and it will glow. (As far as I know, it cannot rock a mic like a vandal.)


6.) The glass gets hot after a while, so do not leave the lights on for long stretches (overnight would be a bad idea) and make sure to keep it out of reach of kids. LED lights would generate less heat, so I recommend those. Enjoy!

Playroom Art: House 1.0



The ferris wheel art in the basement was leftover from my son’s circus-themed first birthday party.

I took quilting and embroidery circles and spray painted them black. My mom helped me tie string to look like spokes (we superglued the knots to make them sturdy) and then bought blue and red takeout boxes from Oriental Trading Company to use as the gondolas. (We also superglued the top gondolas in place because they were hanging a little wonky when they were freewheeling.) The base is a piece from the bargain bin at Ikea.

It was just enough work that I placed the ferris wheel in the play room after the party because I didn’t have the heart to disassemble it after making all of those spokes.

Playroom Art: House 1.0

The flagship location of the Land of Nod (900 W. North Ave., Chicago, 312-475-9903) has a dramatic, whimsical piece of art behind the checkout counter.



My iPhone photos are not doing it justice, but it consists of dinosaur toys affixed to an enormous canvas, unified by blue paint. I loved it and decided to try it myself. This idea works with almost any theme or toy  so you can customize it to your kid’s room or play room. I chose outer space.

I bought this bucket full of space-themed goodies at a craft store for about $15 (with a coupon), not bad bang for the buck considering it came with enough pieces to fill a canvas.
I used an old canvas from a previous failed art project, but you can get them at any art store. I played with the arrangement of the space objects which included two space shuttles, two rockets, a satellite, a lunar module and plenty of astronauts. Once I was reasonably happy with the arrangement, I hot glued the pieces to the canvas, then spray painted the whole shebang silver. (In retrospect, I wish I had randomized the orientation of the astronauts a bit more, something that wasn’t as evident until spray painted, so keep that in mind if you are working on your own project.)
The end result, hanging in the play room. When my toddler saw it, he gasped and said “That is so cool. Look at the outer space!” The total cost was $21 for the toys and spray paint, and it took less than an hour total (excluding spray paint drying time.) Happy crafting!


Basement Playroom Makeover: House 1.0

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The house came complete with a retro, wood-paneled basement that we turned it into a playroom on a pretty tight budget. So how do you turn a Brady Bunch basement into a crisp white kid zone? See below.

First up, tips on how to paint the paneling.

1.) Sand it to get the sheen off. This is messy—masks recommended. We used an electric sander on the main part of the paneling, and then hand-sanded into the grooves. It took a weekend to complete.

2.) Wash the walls down to remove the grit.

3.) Prime the walls using Kilz primer. This effectively covers the knots in the knotty pine and gives a surface for the paint to grip to. This step took us a weekend and some weeknights after the kids went to sleep.

4.) Paint the walls using semi-gloss white paint. This took two coats.

5.) After we finished the walls, they looked so fresh and white that the ceiling looked drab so we painted that as well.

Before and after view down the basement stairs:



Another before and after view. Totally de-knotty pined.



The curtains and window seat were created from cute sheets I found at Urban Outfitters. The shelves are IKEA, and the train table — the bargain of my life — was obtained for $25 at a kiddie consignment sale.



We turned the nook into a reading spot and toy storage. The decals are from Etsy, the pillows are Marimekko, and the pads were covered by Urban Outfitters sheets.



My mom created toy bins in the seats by sewing canvas bags and velcro-ing them around the top so they can be removed and cleaned.


The cockpit was made by my husband (the door behind it hides the sump pump, so we don’t need to access it).



Expedit shelving and Sophie the Giraffe should be issued upon a child’s birth alongside those blue and pink striped newborn blankets. The shelvingand bins are Ikea; the couch is re-purposed from my parents house. The art along the back is homemade — a spaceman collage, ferris wheel and gumball light. The play table and rug are from the Land of Nod outlet in Naperville.


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My husband had to make a door out of knotty pine so we could keep the kids out of the unfinished part of the basement. The result is here, complete with cat door.



And there you have it! A basement play room for some sweat equity and a whole lotta white paint.