Here’s How a Professional Playroom Designer Turned Her Garage into the Ultimate Play Space
Karri Bowen-Poole has been designing play spaces for 13 years through her company, Smart Playrooms, but it was only recently that she created a dedicated space for play in her own home. Lest you think the cobbler’s children had no shoes, Bowen-Poole had only lived in her house for a few years and two of her kids were already off to college and careers and she had indeed set up a space for her youngest daughter in the basement, but it wasn’t particularly enticing.
So Bowen-Poole weighed her options. “I thought I could either redo the whole basement and put the money in there or do my garage,” says Bowen-Poole. For some families giving up the garage would have been a non-starter, but Bowen-Poole’s family didn’t even park a car in their one-car garage and it was a smaller space and therefore less expensive to update. Plus, Bowen-Poole is an avid gardener and realized that she could remake the tired structure into a destination within her backyard design.
After the transformation, the garage has become the go-to hangout spot for Bowen-Poole’s youngest daughter, Ella, 14, and her teenage friends. “I’ll find three girls in the hammocks just giggling and laughing and pushing each other,” says Bowen-Poole. ‘That’s the goal: I just want them to be kids, have fun, and just relax and kind of reset. My focus is to let kids just continue to be kids. There are so many pressures on kids these days. I really wanted a space that just lets it all go.” But the space is more than a teenage hang zone: Bowen-Poole uses the former garage for yoga and home workouts, and her older kids love the slick workout space when they’re back at home too.
Here’s how Bowen-Poole put her decades of experience designing play spaces to work in her own home.
1. Start with a blank canvas.
Before Bowen-Poole could have any fun with the playful elements, she needed to get the garage whipped into shape. She hired a contractor to pour new concrete for the floor and cut plywood to cover up the walls, giving her a clean surface she could easily mount things on. Then they used a whole ton of white paint to create a bright, white space.
2. A cushioned floor is crucial.
Bowen-Poole is a huge fan of vinyl floor mats (so much so that she sells them through her online shop Project Playroom). “It’s press foam and it’s so good for things like handstands, yoga, even the punching bag: It gives you a little bit of cushion, but it’s not such a big amount that you can’t do basic stuff too,” she says. For the garage, Bowen-Poole went for a custom mat that covers the entire floor. However, it’s not glued down. Bowen-Poole always recommends leaving mats unglued so that you can roll them up if needed (like say if she ever wanted to park her car in the garage during extreme weather).
3. Create a flexible design.
Bowen-Poole’s garage is not large, so in order to fit in all the many activities she knew her family would enjoy, she needed to design a space that could easily adapt and change. Yogibo’s Modju floor cushions can be moved around for hanging out or as a soft landing space for climbing. “I love that they’re transition pieces. You can create different things with them,” she says. The ceiling-mounted hooks can hold a variety of play equipment, including a punching bag (her son’s favorite) and yoga hammocks (her younger daughter’s preferred seat).
4. Use what you’ve got.
The garage already had a storage loft overhead, so Bowen-Poole incorporated it into her design, replacing the old ladder with wall-mounted bars you can climb up. Additional mats and cushions upstairs transformed the former storage space into a lounge area. Bowen-Poole also took advantage of the high ceiling, running climbing holds up to the roof’s peak.
5. Go ahead, monkey around.
Some parents might have skipped the monkey bars for older kids, but Bowen-Poole knew they’d still get used by teens hanging out in the space — and that movement is still super important for older kids. Plus, those bars make an excellent place for a full-grown adult to s-t-r-e-t-c-h.
6. Be intentional with color.
Bowen-Poole wanted the space to be a calm-enough spot to do her yoga and meditate, but also be appealing to her tween, so she used bright color sparingly and strategically. The walls are white, while the floor and mats are calm neutrals. The only bright colors are the handholds of the climbing wall, while the kids’ various pieces of gear, like skateboards and outside games add another layer of color.
7. Don’t sweat the storage.
Bowen-Poole’s organization and storage is refreshingly simple and affordable. An 8-cube shelf holds gear on one wall, and there are wall-mounted hooks that you can find at a home improvement store.
Want to see more of Smart Playrooms’s work? Check out this playroom before and after.
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