8 Expert-Approved Ways to Carve Out a Play Area in a Small Space

published Mar 31, 2019
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(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

It doesn’t matter if you were playing with your American Girl Dolls, doodling in a coloring book, or racing a stylish set of Hot Wheels, one thing’s for sure: A child’s playroom is so, so much more than a room. It’s a place where kids can foster their creativity and, well, be kids. Chances are, you probably have some pretty wonderful memories if you were lucky enough to have your very own childhood playroom.

However, thanks to the rise of small spaces and tiny houses as well as the decline of McMansions, many of today’s kids don’t have an entire room dedicated to all their toys. But that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on all the fun. Below, a handful of interior designers share smart ways to carve out a play area in your pint-sized place:

1. Rug Ratio

Carving out a play area in an open floor plan? Create a visual barrier between work and play with some fancy flooring.

“An area rug is a great way of defining a section separate from the rest of the room and building a space around that,” says Olivia and Chloe Brookman, co-founders of lifestyle brand Olli Ella. “If you are concerned about clashing hues, choose colors and toys that complement the rest of the room’s decor, and pop all the other toys in a bedroom or bring out for occasional play.”

If you don’t want to invest in an brand-new rug, Nina Magon recommends picking up some modular flooring tiles.

“Modular flooring tiles are great because they come in a wide range of colors, are usually soft, and can be picked up and stored when not needed,” the principal at Contour Interior Design explains.

2. Fun-Sized Furniture

We know what you’re thinking: Most play areas are jam-packed with furniture in bright colors and cheeky patterns. They may be all the rage amongst the younger generation, but they’re far too juvenile for the rest of your home. Ugh.

As a happy medium, consider pint-sized versions of your favorite pieces.

“Get mini-designer pieces that fit within a room’s aesthetic but are made for kids,” says Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and vice president of style at Modsy.

Wood recommends the Ghost Chair by Starck, which is also available in a kid’s size.

3. Color Play

Cheery reds, yellows, and blues might be obvious color choices for a child’s playroom, but they’re no match for the rest of your home. If you’re integrating a play area into a tiny space, swap out the primary colors for more nuanced (but still fun!) hues.

“Instead of red, consider elevated shades like merlot, garnet, or magenta,” says interior designer Breegan Jane. “Illuminate your space with chartreuse, mint, or seafoam. Your home will still be colorfully kid-appropriate, and your options are virtually limitless.”

If you absolutely must incorporate a hue that’s typically reserved for children’s rooms—think fire engine red or bright blue—Jane recommends adding some extra depth with different shades of the same color family.

“You’ll be surprised at the difference that will make,” she explains.

4. Smart Storage

When square footage is at a premium, you can’t afford to have doll clothes and LEGOS sprawled out on the floor. Not only will investing in some designated storage space keep toys concealed, but it can also help teach your kids how to put their belongings away.

“Have a designated space for toy storage,” Wood recommends. “In small spaces, a minimalist toy chest helps keep the space tidy.”

In the market for a chic toy chest? Feast your eyes on these ridiculously stylish children’s brands that look just as good in a “grown-up’s room.”

5. The Writing On The Wall

It’s official: Your kids now have permission to create art on your walls. Well, sort of.

“Painting a wall with chalk paint,” Magon says. “This takes up no extra room and is a great place for your kids to be able to draw.”

A chalk wall allows your tots to get creative without cluttering your space with a bulky art easel. Plus, when your kids grow up, you can use the chalk wall to assign chores or jot down your weekly grocery list.

6. Beautiful Books

Just like the classic tomes that sit on your bookshelf, your child’s favorite reads can double as a design moment.

“Shallow lucite shelves are great for storing kids books,” says Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez of Dekar Design. “Having the covers on display adds a pop of color or pattern to the room.”

Of course, “Good Night Moon” and “Gone With the Wind” can always live in the same shelving unit.

“Floor to ceiling shelving can house baskets of kiddo toys and games,” says Emilie Munroe of Studio Munroe. “Focus the lower three to four shelves on children’s items and place adult-friendly photos, books and accessories on the upper levels.”

7. Lovely Layout

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A layout has the power to make or break any room. But when it comes to carving out some space for the kids to play, feel free to get creative with your space’s feng shui.

“I rearranged my living room so that I could create a play area for my daughter that felt autonomous, but connected,” says Danielle Walish, creative director for The Inside. “By floating my sofa, I opened up floor space for a pair of chairs that serve as the line between living and play rooms. Also, because the chairs have an open, airy design, the play area also doesn’t feel closed off. Everyone wins.”

8. Removable Roots

No play area is complete without a fun play house; however, most options are bulky and take up some serious real estate. Instead, opt for a compact alternative.

“Forego the big plastic play house and try a cute pop-up teepee that you can easily store away if need be,” recommends Donna Garlough, style director at Joss & Main.

Creating a play area on a budget? Flex your D.I.Y. muscle with a fun blanket fort—the options are endless!