Longtime educator Karri Bowen-Poole was teaching at a local preschool when it occurred to her — “What if I took the systems we use in the classroom and incorporated them into people’s homes?”
So, Bowen-Poole set out to help parents create better play spaces for their children, smart playrooms, if you will, and she tapped D2 Interieurs designer Denise Davies to make them beautiful along the way. Together they founded Smart D2 Playrooms to create spaces customized to kids’ ages, interests and developmental needs.
“Every room deserves good design, including the playroom,” Davies says. “The perfect kids’ play spaces should be enjoyed by the kids and appreciated by the adults. Now more than ever, parents are understanding the need for well-designed educational products for their playroom.”
The duo has created play spaces in swanky Manhattan apartment buildings (with big-name residents like Nikki Hilton) as well as in home garage conversions. Bowen-Poole and Davies have also recently launched a site to sell their “smart” play products direct to consumers online.
Here, the pair shares their secrets for creating a smarter playroom in your own home.
1. Focus on physical play
“A lot of parents don’t understand the educational value of physical play,” Bowen-Poole says. “Swings are incredible for kids, for example. They balance their vestibular system.”
Think monkey bars, ropes, climbing walls or even ball pits for toddlers. For handy homeowners, Smart D2 Playrooms has developed a climbing wall with a reinforced panel that can be mounted onto any interior wall.
2. Encourage make believe
Pretend play is a great way for children to flex their imaginations. Bowen-Poole says to create areas meant for storytelling with books and dress-up clothes. “Don’t make it scripted,” she adds. “The key to longevity is not to make it one type of play. Maybe it’s a market, or maybe it’s a zoo.”
Then, tailor the idea to the child’s age group. Smaller children under three might enjoy a playhouse, while older kids would prefer a cool fort.
3. Think open-ended toys
Today’s market is flooded with battery-powered toys that talk, dance and sing. “These are fun for the kids at first, but they don’t last,” Bowen-Poole says. “If all the toys are doing the talking, the kids aren’t creating.”
She recommends going back to basics. Think floor play, blocks and animals. Unlike talking toys, art sets, Legos and tabletop set-ups encourage problem solving and risk taking. Since there isn’t one end result (like with Tickle-Me-Elmo, for example), kids continue to think of new ways to reimagine these basic toys.
4. Design is important too
“When you think of a kids’ play space, you think of primary colors and bad design,” Davies says. When she consults a client about a Smart D2 Playroom, she approaches it like any other interior. “I get to know the client, who they are, what they like and design the space like I was designing their house. But, I get to go bananas with it and push the envelope because it’s a playspace.”
By “bananas,” Davies is talking about literal banana artwork decals as well as fun touches like neon signs, bright wall murals and playful patterned rugs. Still, these whimsical details can be reflective of a family’s tastes and style.
This way, the room doesn’t have to be reserved for little ones only but can be a space for the whole family. In Bowen-Poole’s “Smart” garage, for example, a handy ceiling hook can clip on a swing or rope for her youngest children or is easily swapped for a punching bag her oldest son enjoys.
5. Don’t forget finishing touches
Like any other room in the house, a play space should have finishing decorations like throw pillows, accessories and artwork. Davies says after a project is done, D2 always returns for a “last layer,” and playrooms are no exception.
In a client’s garage design, for example, the family initially passed on extra pillows and a wallpaper statement wall. After the room was installed, the homeowner could see the design was flat and opted for some extra accessories to take it to the next level.