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Portland Reveal: The 5 Design Elements Every Awesome “Big Kid” Playroom Needs



This fun, playful room right here used to be just plain gross. I’m not talking about dirty beige carpet that’s well past its prime and bad paint, I mean…it wasn’t even a real room. It was a dark storage area in the basement of the Portland Project (keep reading to see the “before”) that until we got our hands on it was, in our opinion, a total waste of potential. Yes, all homes need storage, but this was like a straight up garage-like dump pit that would be a dream for the hoardiest of hoarders that stretched across the entire length of the house.

Let’s take a look at the original floor plan so you can understand:

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That “storage” space above looks like it’d be really exciting for anyone who has a ton of stuff, but also, unless you have a business with serious inventory or your family has an inexplicable amount of equipment-heavy activities, who really needs that much space?!? Here’s what it looked like IRL:

Emily Henderson Portland Fixer Upper Traditional Before Photos Ground Floor Storage Room Edited

Because we shifted things around on the ground floor and added the second floor with three additional bedrooms and two bathrooms, we needed to find space for a laundry room but also felt like a home with (now) five bedrooms needed a larger “hang out” area…hence that expanded media room. Which then, of course, meant moving around this floor plan. We stole from the storage space to create that laundry room and pivoted the bedroom, made room for the new staircase, but also carved out a storage space that felt more than plentiful for a family who already has a garage, a mud room, and a storage shed in the backyard (which you haven’t seen yet). Here’s where we landed so you can get some context of where we are with today’s reveal:

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This room could have of course been set up as a FIFTH bedroom (it says “4” up there, but there are five rooms in total), but we thought it’d be a fun opportunity to design it as a playroom/hang out spot for the imaginary kids of the imaginary family that imaginarily live here. And, because so many of you have asked about family-friendly design slash kid room design, we’re going through the five must-have elements to keep in mind when putting together a playroom for bigger kids. Let’s do this.

Use kid-friendly textiles and materials.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 3

When you’re designing a kid-focused room, textiles are SUPER important for longevity. This is not the moment to flex your white sofa and rug muscles, folks. As angelic and well-behaved as your children might be, let’s get real…no one is immune to peanut butter and jelly smears or marker streaks. Here, we went with a velvet on a sofa from Interior Define, which is a great fabric for anyone with kids and pets, as much as you think it wouldn’t be (most people think it’s “fancy” and hence not family-friendly). You can’t snag it or pill it, plus most poly velvets are really easy to wipe (as long as you get to it quickly). Also, a patterned rug like the one we used here from Dash & Albert is key, since the color variations make it easier to hide smaller stains.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 1

Here’s another talking point that most people don’t think about in terms of being kid-friendly: art. Most framed art pieces are stitches waiting to happen if your children are rambunctious animals that flop around a room, walls included. Think about it…glass…falling off a wall, shattering, slicing skin open, let’s move on from this dark, troubling subject, but FOR REAL HOW GENIUS IS WOOD ART? We got these pieces through artist Jennifer Urquhart, and they were just the whimsical touch these walls needed, but also, there’s no fear of these being damaged really or inflicting harm. You don’t have to go seek out wood art like we did here, but there are lots of softer or shatter-proof options like wall hangings, pennants, canvas art, etc.

Inject pattern and color (but carefully).

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 9

This is not to say you need pattern and color EVERYWHERE, nor does everything (anything?) need to be crazy bright. A solid bit of advice is to riff off one primary color (here, we went with blue, obvs), and then vary the tones you use so it feels a little more pulled together. Kids toys, books and craft supplies are usually SUPER colorful as it is, so leaving the base of the room a little less over the top will go a long way to not feeling like a scene out of Willy Wonka.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 14

And in terms of pattern, have some fun…it’s a kid’s room after all, but by using one color across the board in both solids and prints, it’ll feel a touch more “grown up” while still being fun. We brought in personality through a checkered throw, wavy and polka dot-y throw pillows, a rug and, of course, the art.

Create zones for work and play.

Rompus Room Side By Side

What’s that they say about all work and no play? Well, you get it. But yeah, for a playroom (or general “kid” area), it’s important to create zones. Your room doesn’t have to be as large as this one either to do that. But carving out a little nook with a desk, chair and task light helps with focusing on things like homework and projects, while a space where baskets of toys, balls, instruments and the like a little removed from the “serious work area” limits distractions.

Also, let’s pause a moment and talk about that amazing wood basketball hoop. We got this one through The Good Mod and it’s SO GOOD. This would work just as easily in a grown man’s digs as it does in this kid playroom. And we’ll get to that swing in just a sec…

Choose lots of comfy (modular) furniture for plenty of hang out spots.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 13

When picking out furniture for a room that’s going to be used predominantly by youngins, it’s a good idea to go with more modular pieces (like those nesting coffee tables from Structube and the Interior Define sofa). The tables can easily be used individually right where they are for things like coloring, snacking, scribbling, but are also easy to split apart and move out of the way for impromptu dance parties or superhero acrobatics.

Sprinkle in the whimsy.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Playroom Saturated 11

This is the part where you take a mostly age-inclusive room and turn it into something that is obviously much more fun, spirited and jovial. If you stripped away the toys, stuffed animals, swing, and large-scale art and lighting, this would be a perfectly adult room, but it’s that “whimsy” that makes it more youth-appropriate. Here are some of the playful elements we added:

Large-scale lighting: The black floor lamp and white table spotlight (both from IKEA!) that you see in the shot right before this one are just large enough that they feel fanciful without being crazy out of scale.

Overscale art: That abstract piece by Mia Farrington above the sofa is another case of how we played with scale. Since we already had a gallery wall of sorts above the blue velvet sofa (all those cute wood pieces), we knew we wanted a single piece here, and the giant scale of this print just felt so happy and not at all serious.

Lots of pillow shapes and sizes: You don’t see it all here, but the pillows on both sofas aren’t very stiff or “elegant.” There’s a mix of squares, lumbars, round and even cutie little animal pillows to keep things from feeling too surly.

Fun elements: I’m sorry, but how cute is that rope and wood swing from Schoolhouse (just make sure it’s properly installed into a sturdy ceiling!)? The vintage toy plane we borrowed from Aurora Mills also makes our hearts happy. Plus, the larger pillows on the sofa are just the right size to toss on the floor (because all kids, for whatever reason, love being on the ground).

And that’s it! Let us know should you have any questions on any of the above topics or anything in this room we didn’t cover in terms of its renovation. We’ll be sure to pop into the comments and answer! Oh, and here’s a comprehensive Get the Look of the whole room with all the shopping links.

Emily Henderson Portland Project Rompus Room Get The Look1

1. Color Block Pillow | 2. Arrows Throw Pillow | 3. Black & White Fabric | 4. Wooden Art Collection by Jennifer Urquhart | 5. Interior Door by Metrie | 6. Sofa | 7. Interior Door Lever by Rejuvenation | 8. Rug | 9. Nesting Tables | 10. Table Lamp | 11. End Table | 12. Wooden Basketball Hoop via The Good Mod | 13. Basketball | 14. Red and Blue Basketball | 15. Guitar | 16. Wire Bins | 17. Clock | 18. Rope Swing | 19. LED lamp | 20. Buffalo Check Tray (set of 2) | 21. Desk | 22. Chair (set of 2) | 23. Pencil Box by Jennifer Urquhart | 24. Stapler | 25. Roman Shades by Hunter Douglas through Decorview  | 26. Windows by Milgard | 27. Beach Painting | 28. Mountain Painting | 29. Abstract Art by Mia Farrington | 30. Floor Lamp | 31. Caravan Day Sofa | 32. Marble Pillow | 33. Hannu Fabric | 34. Lucca Pillow | 35. Lumbar Pillow | 36. Plaid Throw | 37. Toy Airplane | 38. Wood Flooring by Hallmark Floors | 39. Pure White by Sherwin-Williams | 40. Door and Window Casing by Metrie | 41. Baseboard by Metrie 42. Beadboard by Metrie

***Photography by Sara Tramp for EHD, design and styling by Emily Henderson and Brady Tolbert (and team). JP Macy of Sierra Custom Homes was the fantastic General Contractor, and Annie Usher and the architect.

For more Portland Project Room Reveals: Living Room | Staircase | Office | Master Bedroom | Master Bathroom | KitchenDining Room | Powder BathroomGuest Bathroom | Hall Bathroom | Laundry Room | Guest Bedrooms | Media Room | Family Room | Secret Room

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0 responses to “Portland Reveal: The 5 Design Elements Every Awesome “Big Kid” Playroom Needs

    1. Yes of course! I spent most of my childhood playing HORSE in the Chicago Bulls bomber jacket I stole from my brother so… ::hand slapping forehead::

    2. Haha, good point, my daughter is the one in our family enjoying basketball, not my son. At this point, anyway. They’re young so we will see where their interests/skills end up. My daughter and husband like to play together (picture a preschool version of the Father of the Bride scene… makes me teary every time). So I thought I might surprise him with this because he’d LOVE it. Wish it wasn’t a thousand bucks for a basketball hoop. (I totally get paying artists more for their skill and not mass produced stuff, but sheesh.) Looks like we are stuck with the ugly plastic for awhile longer…

    3. Gosh, yes. This is what we need. Hoops and giant pencil boxes and pillows and swings. Take me back to playful times!

  1. Beautiful! We have a basement that needs to be finished and I love these looks. How tall were the ceilings? We’re trying to figure out our ceiling situation, they’re kinda low. Thanks!

  2. I’m confused about whose house this is and what this design project was about. Did I miss something in the post?

    1. I was also confused! If you start from the main blog page, you can see that it’s tagged as part of the Portland House, but if you follow the link from directly Instagram, there’s no info noting that in the post itself.

    2. I’m just as confused. I kept scrolling to the top to make sure I wasn’t missing a tag. It’s the Portland house I think? They put a reveal inside a “how to” post which is so strange, but at least we got a reveal?!?!

      1. Ah, after my second cup of coffee I see it is referenced in the title of the post and is indeed The Portland Project! (Arlyn, was it always in the title , or was ‘Portland’ added after these initial comments? Asking in part to ascertain if driving before my brain gets it’s full 2 cups of coffee is perhaps unadvisable -I mean, if I didn’t see ‘Portland’ when I looked for that word specifically, then what might I not see out on the road.!?)

        1. Ha!! It was added in after I saw the comments. It was one of those things that we’re so familiar with that it was a “duh” moment of “of course they will know what this is even if we tell them NOTHING.”

          1. Ohhhh, good! You’ve restored my faith in myself (aaand coffee!). Oddly, even though I was personally in the stunning Portland Project, I was not 100% certain.!? Thank you : )

  3. Do you mean RUMPUS room?
    Playrooms don’t need sofas in my book.
    I’d put more open space for play and coloring. Maybe mats for tumbling. Places to make forts and use giant blocks.

    1. And large tables for arts and crafts, and lot’s of storage for materials and toys. This looks more like a family room to me., just add a tv. Eitherway it’s pretty

    2. I actually was thinking, “If I were a kid, I’d be standing on those coffee tables, stacking them like blocks, standing on the sofa, etc!”

    3. I can see this if the kids are older, but it so nice to have an adult sitting area in kids’ spaces. My son’s bedroom doesn’t really have that and it’s really uncomfortable to perch on his toy chest while he plays. My kids are big readers too, so having a couch to read together would be a must for any play room of mine. But yeah, I like the idea of the movable coffee tables because kids do love a wide open space for trains, cartwheels, MMA fighting, etc.

  4. I would like to see more of the transformation – I have a similar storage area in my basement. What is the ceiling height?

  5. What type of flooring did you use and how did you decide? We are at a standstill in our basement remodel because I can’t for the life of me decide on a flooring material, let alone tone/color.

  6. Love this bright basement playroom and I’m looking to update my playroom very low cost. Did you just paint the wood paneling? I’m trying to figure out how you got from wood paneling to bright white room. Thanks!

  7. I like this strategy of revealing the Portland project through these how-to posts. Makes it much more accessible than “look at this fancy house that you’ll never be able to afford and, ethically, maybe shouldn’t even strive for.” These tips are useful and seem like they’d translate to lots of spaces!

    Is the sofa a bright blue? It looks bright in the photos, but on the mood board it’s more of a navy. Thanks!

    1. Glad to hear! We kind of figured the same and while some rooms can obviously run as pure inspiration pieces, some lend themselves to something a little more servicable (or so we like to think!). And the sofa fabric is coming off a little brighter than it is in real life. I actually have that same fabric on a different sofa from Interior Define and while it’s not quite dark, inky navy, it’s more of a cobalt blue.

  8. I love the wooden art, but I have to say as someone with two insane kids and a ton of framed art in the house, shattered glass has never been an issue for us. That being said, the room looks great!

  9. This is from a previous post but I’m going to ask her because I’m not sure where else to ask!

    Where did the desk chair come from in this post?

    The one listed is not the same pictured. The one pictured is beautiful! I want it!

  10. You mention velvet for kid-friendly upholstery, and I’ve found leather wipes down well. What about stain-resistant fabric like your previous dining chairs in your current LA house? A post about different fabrics (durability, cleanability, etc.) and/or reupholstering furniture would be really useful. I’ve never bought upholstered furniture before, despite being in my 30s, but I’ve just inherited two good-quality arm chairs that seem worth recovering, and I’m not sure where to start, what style options I might have (e.g. eliminating the skirt, adding tufting, or what type of fabric would be best for a baby/dog household and for a piece I’d like to last as long as possible.

  11. I’m sorry but where will you store children’s toys? I am gobsmacked at this design, I have to say. This is like designing the mountain house (full of snow) with no mudroom. A playroom with no storage? Wow.
    I understand style is important but by golly I thought that the whole point of bringing in a designer was to guarantee functionality and then have form on top of that. I have worked with interior designs before and the good ones understand that the family has to live there first and foremost . This is not good design, sorry.

  12. WHERE DO THE TOYS GO?? I see zero storage for toys; not even a storage ottoman or lone basket (I saw the linked wire bins – they’re not in the real-life pictures so, to me, they don’t count).

    This room could not be a better danger zone if it tried. Perhaps the perspective is different in real life, but it looks like anyone actually swinging on the rope swing is going to slam into the wall. Those wooden nesting stools are just jumping-off points waiting to happen, or a slippery addition to a game of ‘Don’t Touch the Floor;’ either way, someone is going to knock their teeth out on them. WHY is a stapler included in a playroom? WHO GIVES KIDS A STAPLER?? So they can staple the “really easy to wipe (as long as you get to it quickly)” couch cushions to a $249 throw pillow or a $225 lumbar pillow or to the $4,215 “day sofa” (re: expensive futon) with a skull-smacking wooden frame? Or maybe just shoot staples at each other before they staple their finger?

    And there are FULL-SIZE BASKETBALLS in this room. ::smacks forehead:: No kid is going to stand the appropriate distance away from the hoop and gently lob the balls to swish through the net. They’re going to bomb the balls as hard as they can to pinball between the floor and the ceiling and (through the grace of God) into the hoop. I hope whoever bought this house enjoys cleaning scuff marks off of white walls; that’s definitely what I want to do with my free time. (Also, does no one else have a “no balls in the house” rule?)

    I wish there were a big, child-friendly coffee table so multiple children could color or do art projects together. This house is obviously aspirational for the majority of us, and it would’ve been awesome to see cleverly-designed toy storage with zero budgetary restraints. Or, at the very least, a room you could send your kids to play without feeling like you were just waiting for either a gigantic crash or similarly worrisome silence. I’m sure there are more problems, but I’ll leave it to everyone else to point them out. VERDICT: pretty blue and white (so it’s on-brand), but completely impractical.

    1. I am not sure I agree. My 5 year old plays just fine in a family room similar to this. She is fine with staplers and considerate with balls. She prefers to color at a desk and I think it is more ergonomic than bending over a coffee table. And when she was younger we taught her certain drawers with scissors or staplers were out of bounds (and added child locks if needed.) They have a big storage room on the same floor – I have read many articles about having a “toy library” and limiting number of toys available to kids all at once to promote creativity. Your concerns may be reasonable for your situation and your kids but they do not make this a bad room or an impractical one for all families. I have taken some inspiration from this post – although my pillows will come from Homegoods and H&M. 🙂

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