At first glance, very little indicates that Sarah Dinnick and husband Colin Webster’s forward-thinking home is bustling with three lively kids, ages 5, 8 and 10. No toys litter the living room, and very few signs of young life peek out among the contemporary furnishings, extensive art collection and handsome antiques that populate the elegant main floor. But upstairs, it’s another story.
The entire third floor of the renovated Georgian-style house in Toronto’s tree-lined Annex neighbourhood is a sensational, and no less stylish, kid zone. “I always thought, wouldn’t it be great to have all their stuff up there on the third floor,” admits Sarah, a graphic designer, who, in planning the renovation, envisioned sophisticated adult spaces and comfortable kid rooms. In other words: healthy separation, rather than segregation.
An easy flow links the contemporary public spaces on the lower levels to the cozy, carpeted third floor, which houses a large playroom, a bathroom and two bedrooms (Grace, 10, has her own, eight-year-old Nicholas and five-year-old Christian share). A skylight at the top of the stairs brightens the already airy space.
“I wanted to carry on the simplicity of the rest of the house. But I also wanted it to be bright and cheerful, not kiddie,” says Sarah, who bucked the trend of obvious colours and juvenile themes and opted instead for a calm palette and uncluttered aesthetic. “There’s no gimmicky kid stuff anywhere.”
Indeed, the playroom is perfectly simple. Thinking of how kids play, Sarah favoured open spaces over lots of furniture. Two closets organize much of the potential chaos — clothes and games in one, art supplies in the other. Cushy window seats hide more storage, while open shelving cleverly displays toys.
In the hallway, magnetic wall strips exhibit colourful family snaps, and elsewhere, a built-in bulletin board sports a revolving gallery of eye-catching images, some produced by the kids, others clipped from magazines. “It’s like an inspiration board. I don’t know if the kids ever look at it, but I love it,” says Sarah.
Down the hall, Nicholas and Christian’s room is a modest, boyish space, complete with bunk beds and a calm beige, blue and white colour scheme. Grace, on the other hand, chose a strong hit of acid green for her room—seen in her funky Tord Boontje pendant light and the modern area rug that anchors her pretty daybed — and a raspberry linen chair that once belonged to Grace’s great-grandmother, also named Grace.
“I don’t think kids’ rooms need to be big,” says Sarah, who’s managed to create distinct sleep, relax and play zones in each bedroom.
“I like having a real work space in the bedrooms, so the children can doodle and spend time alone.”
With a move just around the corner, Sarah is planning a similar third-floor kid space for the family’s next house. “It works so well. It’s a real oasis for them, and it’s great for me.”
Choose wall-to-wall carpeting to unify a play space and absorb noise. Try cushiony carpets made from natural fibres such as wool as they emit fewer toxic gases and are softer than hardwood or sisal. Cork and rubber flooring (both available as tiles, panels or rolls) are also good alternatives for a soft play surface.
Classic warm white is an ideal backdrop for a playroom’s plethora of colourful toys and gadgets. To add some “wow,” paint a single wall in a vibrant shade that can easily be changed. Bonus: Don’t worry about choosing paint finishes, most are now easy to clean.
Consider storage solutions with fun little doors or cubbies. Look for pieces with wheels and tuck them into unused spaces, until you roll them out at clean-up time.
Dual-purpose items are space-efficient and fun. Choose a table that doubles as a chalkboard, or a chair that transforms into a table.
Use durable outdoor fabrics for upholstery. They withstand wear-and-tear and are waterproof, so accidental spills won’t be a worry. Don’t be afraid to mix patterns — floral prints paired with bold stripes and graphic shapes add an upbeat, eclectic feel to any playroom.
Mark the room as a “kid space” by hanging framed self-portraits and prized creations. Encourage kids to show off their favourite photos and sketches with a magnetic bulletin board, a safe alternative to tacks.
7. Display Objects
Use colourful toys and books as sculpture. Open shelving works as interesting display, allowing children to easily see, access and put away their favourite things.