Playroom Ideas: How to Create a Functional, Joyful Playroom

For families with young children, a playroom can be a vital gathering space in the home. First and foremost, it must be kid-friendly. But when the room is on the main floor, it must also integrate smoothly with the rest of the house. With two play space installations recently completed, Associate Interior Designer Colleen Mulcahy has plenty of playroom ideas and key advice for those seeking to create whimsical spaces rooted in functionality. Here are her tips and actionable ideas for designing a space made for fun, durability, and longevity.

Playroom Ideas: Consider the Home as a Whole

The type of playroom you’ll create depends on where it is located in the home. Is your playroom on the main floor—incorporated into other areas in your home—or is it tucked away in its own space? In some homes, there may even be multiple play spaces: perhaps one playroom on the main floor, and a second one in the basement.

Playrooms in a distinct space — like a basement or second floor — can be easily designed solely with children’s needs in mind. “It’s okay to make a mess. It’s okay to have toys everywhere; puzzles or board games left out for days on end,” says Mulcahy. “At the end of the day, that’s what the space is intended for — a dedicated place for toys and games to live, so that they don’t end up everywhere else.”

However, playrooms that are located on the main floor must function for play while blending with the aesthetics of the rest of the home. “For one of our recent playroom installations, the first-floor playroom was very open,” says Mulcahy. “The design had to fit in with the client’s personal style. It had to flow with the rest of the house, but it still had to function at a high level for kids to enjoy and get what they wanted out of it.”

Start with Playroom Storage

Playroom ideas for storage and art
Third-floor playroom from Acampora Interiors’ Brookline Historic Refresh project. Photo by Acampora Interiors.

Once you’ve defined the big-picture needs for your kids’ playroom, the first layout and design element to consider is storage. Naturally, children collect lots of activities and toys that can easily overwhelm a space. Storage establishes visual order in a playroom and spares feet from the pain of stepping on errant Matchbox cars or Barbie shoes.

When thinking about your playroom storage, start with these questions:

●   Do your children have a specific activity or type of toy they love? If they are into Legos, for example, consider building storage specifically to house thousands of little blocks arranged by color or size.

●   Can the storage be open, or does it need to be closed? If the playroom is in a basement, it may be okay to have open shelving where you can see the toys. In a main-floor playroom, you may prefer storage with cabinet doors.

●   Is custom storage necessary for your space, or will retail finds suit your needs? This is a personal decision that your interior design team can guide you through.

When considering custom built-ins versus ready-to-ship storage solutions, Mulcahy suggests you consider the realities of your space. “For a recent playroom project we installed, we opted for built-in storage. We had the space for it and the need for it,” she explained. “It’s an older house, so it has all those twists and turns and different angles. We wanted to utilize every single inch of that space.”

Custom built-ins are a great option for all types of spaces. They can blend seamlessly into a space, or be made to look like furniture and can enhance the playroom for years to come. Built-ins do tend to be more of a commitment, however. Once installed, they are not something you can move in a year or two. If you feel unsure about the placement of your storage, you might be better off opting for modular pieces.

Playroom Ideas: Think Like a Kid

Neutral playroom ideas with pop of color
Playroom ideas with pops of color

After you’ve settled on your storage needs, it’s time to think about the other demands your family will place on the playroom. “We always think about how kid-friendly the playroom should be,” Mulcahy says. “These rooms have to be versatile. They have to be used for different activities and games—playing floor hockey, drawing in a coloring book, or assembling a big puzzle.”

Start by planning your layout with your children’s passions in mind. Then you can create distinct spaces for your children to enjoy each of their favorite activities. For example:  

  • If your children love doing puzzles, consider adding large flat surfaces where they can lay out all the pieces and work on it for several days.
  • If your child enjoys playing VR games with friends, leave an open space where the kids can walk around in their virtual space without worrying about bumping into real furniture.
  • Those little ones who love making art may enjoy having open shelving where they can display their newly-built creations.

Your children’s needs will play a crucial role in dictating the layout of the space.

Approach Layout with Functionality in Mind

When considering how to incorporate your children’s favorite things into their playroom, functionality is vital. Some things that you don’t need to consider in designing adult spaces must be thought out in kids’ playrooms.

●   Envision distinct spaces. Different activities have different spatial requirements. One of our favorite playroom ideas is to think about establishing stations where your kids can enjoy the types of play they love.

●   Keep furniture kid-friendly. We love adding poufs or beanbags to playrooms. They are a fun seating option, and they’re highly portable. Even the smallest hands can move them from crafting table to reading nook and back again. Poufs and beanbags are also a safe option in rooms where children might be roughhousing—no sharp edges to hit heads on!

●   Embrace soft flooring. Rugs are an essential element in a kids’ playroom. They add warmth and coziness while also protecting your wood floors from damage and your kids from a hard landing. “We love cut-to-fit rugs,” Mulcahy shares. “We try to think about how soft, cushy, and cozy the flooring is in the design phase. You want to select a rug that’s both durable and soft.”

●   Make storage accessible. Select fun hardware that’s easy for little hands to operate. Also, think about height: Your kids are more likely to put away their toys if they can easily reach the shelving.

Play Up the Pattern (& Texture)

Even if your playroom abuts an adult space in your home, at the end of the day, these rooms are for your children. It’s okay—and encouraged—to embrace color, patterns, and textures that are joyful and expressive. If the playroom is on the main floor, you can simply amp up some of the patterns or color schemes you use elsewhere in the home. If the playroom is tucked away, it’s even easier to incorporate bold elements.

One of our favorite playroom ideas is incorporating a variety of textures; an especially valuable tool in a designer’s toolbox. There’s extensive research about the benefits of sensory play, so adding a variety of textures to the space is fun and beneficial for childhood development!

Shaggy or sequined throw pillows, brightly patterned rugs, and woven poufs are all easy ways to infuse your space with some personality. Of course, functionality always plays a role in children’s spaces. No matter what colors or textures you embrace, select durable fabrics and materials. “We always try to stick to performance fabrics, especially when it comes to seating because you have kids grabbing and climbing up,” says Mulcahy.

When selecting fabrics, it’s also important to choose those that are easy to clean. At some point, your upholstery is likely to come in contact with a marker tip or the remnants of a PB&J.

Room to Grow

Playroom with games and framed art
Playroom from Acampora Interiors’ Wellesley New Traditional project. Photo by Joyelle West.

Kids’ interests will evolve over time. Your five-year-old who’s passionate about pirates today might be into dinosaurs in a few years. It’s wise not to lean too heavily into a theme in a playroom because the design likely won’t represent your kids’ interests forever.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make nods to their favorite things, just consider some restraint while adding them in. For the pirate-obsessed child, you may paint the walls of the playroom a seaworthy blue or incorporate accent pillows with thematically appropriate covers that can be swapped out when the pirate mania fades. “We try not to follow the trends,” Mulcahy notes. We like to keep everything timeless and functional. Storage will never go out of style.”

Another feature our team loves for playroom ideas is a cozy daybed. These versatile furniture pieces are great for children of any age. For little ones, they’re perfect for reading or playing games on an iPad. As your children get older, daybeds are the perfect cozy nook for friends to crash during sleepovers.

Small Playroom Ideas

Small playroom ideas

Some homes don’t have dedicated playroom spaces. Just because a room needs to serve multiple purposes doesn’t mean it can’t be as functional and fun as a separate playroom. All that’s required is a bit of creativity.

Small spaces are where multipurpose pieces come in especially handy. A large ottoman with storage can serve as a tabletop for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while housing building blocks under the tufted surface. Custom built-ins can also help small playroom spaces get the greatest mileage in terms of storage. Built-in cabinets take advantage of little nooks and crannies store-bought furniture might not be able to utilize.

One of our favorite small playroom ideas is to incorporate children’s toys and interests into your design: “If you don’t have the space to store it, then put it on display,” Mulcahy says. “Make it part of the room!”

Establishing a fun and functional kids’ playroom is an enjoyable and rewarding design project. A focus on storage and an eye toward your children’s interests can help you build a playroom that will bring your family laughter and happiness in a space you love.