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Decorating a Playroom

Martha Stewart Baby, Winter 2001

A playroom, whatever its dimensions, should be as bright and full of possibilities as the child in residence. Choose toys and furnishings that will encourage and accommodate a child's imagination; provide spaces for reading, drawing, building, and dramatic play.

Versatile Components
Be inventive in matters of scale; children grow overnight, so let today's table become tomorrow's bench. Do choose a few key pieces of child-sized furniture: We like these convertible cubes that can function as either tables or chairs.

Story Time
Designate a corner of the room for reading by placing a plump armchair next to a well-stocked bookcase. Add a soft rug to allow for larger audiences; it will also provide a good spot for playing with board games and puzzles. In this attic playroom, we've lit up the reading corner with a cluster of cloudlike Chinese paper lanterns, available at Asian markets and import shops.

Below are projects with step-by-step instructions for making pumpkin pillows, an activity mat, and a drawing table, as well as ideas for wonderful walls and storing toys.

Did You Know?
Imaginative play -- role-playing, drawing, building, and pretending -- develops a child's language and social skills, coordination, and creativity.

Pumpkin Pillows
These portly pumpkin pillows are a delight to the eye and to little bottoms. We adapted an old store-bought pattern to make the small pillow, then doubled and quadrupled it to make the medium and giant ones. Our pillows are made of plush, cushiony fleece, but any sturdy fabric can be used.

Tools and Materials
Fleece or other sturdy fabric
Lightweight fabric in a contrasting color
Cotton rope
Two buttons
1-inch-wide cotton twill tape
Sewing machine
Needle and thread
Upholstery thread and large-gauge needle

Pumpkin Pillows How-To
1. Each pillow consists of 12 panels, which make six piped sections. Cut out 12 quarter moon-shaped panels. Make piping by covering a length of cotton rope with fabric (use a color that contrasts with that of your pumpkin): Fold a piece of the fabric in half, place the rope in the fold, and machine-stitch along the rope's length, staying as close to the rope as possible to encase it tightly. Trim the fabric to 1/2 inch. Sandwich the piping between each pair of panels, with the raw edge of the piping fabric flush with the flat edges of the panels and the right sides of the panels facing; stitch together using a 1/2-inch seam allowance.

2. Build pillow in sections, sewing each paneled wedge to the last; leave the final section off until after you stuff the pillow. For a handle, sew the ends of a piece of folded 1-inch-wide cotton twill tape between two of the panels. Stuff pillow with fiberfill.

3. Hand-stitch last panel in place.

4. and 5. For extra plumpness, place one button on the top of the pillow and one on the bottom; using an upholstery needle, draw upholstery thread tightly between the two buttons, and sew them both in place.


Activity Mat
Paint a canvas activity mat with an inventive map to beckon young travelers.

Tools and Materials
PVA sizing
Sewing machine
Acrylic paint; ruler
Pencil (Canvas, sizing, and paint are available at art-supply stores.)

Activity Mat How-To
1. On graph paper, sketch out a map with azure lakes and wiggly streams, parks and forests, and roads and tracks.

2. Pre-treat a large piece of unbleached painter's canvas (ours measures 6 by 7 feet) with a coat of fast-drying PVA sizing; the sizing helps the mat keep its shape and makes it receptive to both paint and sponge cleanup.

3. Fold and press the edges of the canvas, and topstitch around the perimeter. Count the number of squares of graph paper covered by your design, and lightly draw the same number of squares (they will be much larger) on the mat with a pencil. Replicate your sketch on the mat by referring to the graph paper and filling in corresponding squares with corresponding portions of the design.

4. Fill in the design with acrylic paint, and erase pencil marks.

Stenciling Shapes How-To
Use low-tack painter's tape to create stencils for painting shapes such as houses and trees. Below, we've demonstrated this technique by making a simple X.

1. Cover the area where the X will go with strips of low-tack painter's tape; then mark the X with white tape.

2. Cut gently around white tape with a utility knife (being careful to cut only through the painter's tape, not through the mat). Lift out the shape.

3. Apply paint within the lines of the stencil, brushing from the outside in to prevent paint from seeping under the tap's edges.

4. and 5. When paint is dry, pull up tape.

6. Dab on railroad tracks with the end of a foam brush dipped in paint.


Drawing Paper
A giant paper scroll provides an ideal surface on which to paint, draw with markers and crayons, or simply make a mess. This fifty-yard roll of inexpensive newsprint (available at crafts or art-supply stores) cascades across an eight-foot-long bench that's eighteen inches high and deep.

Tools and Materials
Roll of 18-inch-wide newsprint
22-inch-long 3/4-inch dowel
2 rubber balls
Drill with 3/4-inch drill bit
2 latched safety cup-hooks
Safety scissors


Drawing Paper How-To
1. Drill halfway through the rubber balls. Glue one ball in place on one end of the dowel; the other must remain removable so the roll of paper can be changed.

2. Screw the cup hooks to the underside of a shelf on the wall next to the bench, and hang the dowel from the hooks with strong twine. You can hang a pair of safety scissors from the dowel, too.

3. Roll the paper out to cover the bench.


Wonderful Walls
Playroom walls look great decorated with bright pictures and maps, but when you hang them with magnet boards, foldout canvas panels, and unbreakable mirrors, the walls become part of the fun.


Magnet Boards
Your child can display his or her collected works on four-by-six-foot magnetized panels with painted wood frames. Manufactured for schools and drafting offices, these metal surfaces are also dry-erase boards, handy for puzzling out algebraic equations at a later date. For large playrooms -- or prolific children -- hang two of the boards side by side, as we've done here.

Canvas Panels
These brightly painted canvas panels are hinged to the wall, so they can fold out to create a room within a room. We created this play space using two small panels mounted opposite one large one.

Tools and Materials
Three stretchers (14 by 30 inches, 30 by 40 inches, and 30 by 36 inches)
6 square yards canvas
Wood glue
Staple gun
Latex paint
Twill tape

Canvas Panels How-To
1. Join stretcher corners, and secure with wood glue; let dry. Lay canvas over frame, and trim, leaving a 2-inch allowance. Staple canvas to frame, beginning with a single staple in the center of one side; pull canvas taut, and staple the center of the opposite side. Repeat on an adjacent side, then on the side opposite it. Continue stapling until canvas is secure. Trim edges flush with frame. Repeat to cover the other side of the frame. Paint the panels on both sides.

2. Glue twill tape on the edges of the panels to cover staples. Attach panels to the wall using two hinges per panel.


Hang an unbreakable Plexiglas mirror in the room for playing dress-up.Sources: 4-by-6-foot magnetic dry-erase board, McMaster-Carr Supply Company, 732-329-3200

24-by-36-inch Plexiglas mirror; Industrial Plastics, 212-226-2010


Storing Toys
In a well-designed playroom, every toy has its place.

Toy Ledge
Keep toys handy with an L-shaped wooden ledge that spans an entire wall of the playroom. You can build the ledge in sections.

Tools and Materials
1-by-4- and 1-by-2-inch wood measuring the length of the wall
Wood glue;
Wood screws
Lattice strip; brads
Drywall screws
Latex paint

1. Working from the top down, glue and screw a 1-by-4 onto a 1-by-2 as shown, using 1 1/2-inch screws. Glue a 1 1/4-inch lattice strip to the front edge of the shelf, and secure with brads.Sand all edges and surfaces until rounded and smooth, and paint with household latex. Attach ledge to the wall using drywall screws inserted through the 1-by-2. You can raise the ledge as your child grows taller.

Storage Bins
Rolling translucent plastic bins are ideal toy boxes: Capacious, easy to clean, and all but indestructible, they can be moved to any spot where their contents are needed. Our drawing table was constructed so that these bins fit snugly underneath, which means they're easy to tuck out of sight, despite their size.


Label the bins to encourage tidiness. To recreate the whimsical labels shown here, use stretchy white electrical tape to lay out squiggly guidelines on the broad sides of the bins, then spell out the contents -- animals, dolls, building blocks -- with press-on vinyl letters; gently remove tape guidelines.


Hidden Jungle
Create a whimsical space for storing dress-up clothes. Here, enormous jungle foliage (in the form of patterned wallpaper) sprouts behind a closet door. A rail is fitted with wood pegs topped with hollowed-out rubber balls, and a rod is available for hanging magic capes and raincoats.


Sources: 42-quart wheeled storage tote, Bed, Bath & Beyond

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