Before and After: A Kid’s Playroom Goes from Drab to Proper British Fab

published Feb 5, 2022
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We all know that not every playroom is worth the trip. So when her longtime clients enlisted designer Stephanie DeBrincat, founder of Rockabye Mommy, to decorate this lackluster white box of a room in Anaheim Hills, California, for a 1- and 6-year-old, she nearly brought her passport along for the ride. 

“This is a client I had worked with in the past — I designed her son’s nursery — but they had this extra room upstairs she wanted to turn into the playspace for both of them,” DeBrincat says. At 225-square-feet and painted pure white with black floors, “the room was such a blank palette. With the two kids [at different ages], and wanting them both to use it for a long time, we made sure it was comfortable for the [whole] family [of all ages] to be in there.”

On Using Travel as Inspiration

Their primary inspiration: London. “This family travels a lot,” the designer says. “They were constantly out of the country pre-COVID, nonstop hopping to different places. One of their favorite places to travel was London, so we decided to come up with a London-inspired theme.” 

On the main wall, the team painted a chalkboard wall, but enlisted a muralist to paint on a permanent scene. “He used actual paint for Big Ben and Paddington Bear and the London Eye, because my client didn’t want her kids to wipe it off,” DeBrincat says. “Then, we left enough blank space for them to get up on their little stools and use chalk. That was such a fun mural to see come to life, and her daughter was so excited!”

Add Unexpected Objects for a Custom Look

Another key design moment came in the form of an iconic British telephone booth in cherry red from English Telephone Booth Co. “We thought we could make it a creative space, and put a little stool in there on the back wall.  [We] attached a clip for art so her daughter could sit in there and draw [to give it a function].” They removed the original plaques on top of the booth that said “telephone,” and replaced them with names that held meaning for them. 

Use Everyday Household Items in Unexpected Ways

Every kiddo’s play space needs the equivalent of a power desk — so they installed a custom-made play table to suit the space. “A lot of what’s on the market is small,” DeBrincat says of the choice. Along one edge, a paper roll holder from Crate & Barrel ensures they’ll always have drawing material on-hand. 

The More Textures, the Better! 

Two upholstered chairs bring in an element of texture that helps cozy up the wood table and benches. “We wanted to make it comfortable for the whole family to come enjoy, so we created a built-in seat along a wall with cushions to sit on and pillows so it’s nice and comfy,” she says. “Below that is storage, where we put toy bins and things like that.”

But the piece de resistance may well be the chandelier, which they had custom made in the shape of their monogram. “We had children’s books—Puffin classic titles—suspended from the chandelier to create this really cool piece,” the designer says, noting that their installer drilled metal cables into the spine of the book and then just secured it on the inside.

Then: Sit Back and Enjoy the Mess!

Now, how is the play room holding up? The proof is in the (British) pudding. “It’s funny, I ended up going back to this client’s house maybe a little less than a year after we completed it, and went upstairs to check out the playroom,” DeBrincat says. “My client said, ‘our daughter is up there playing; she’s so into slime!’ We were cracking up; there were glue bottles all over the floor, and I stepped in slime. But it was so nice to see her getting so much use out of it.” And the fact that she employed only hard-wearing, easily cleanable surfaces made a huge difference. “The tables can be wiped down; the cushions are natural fibers so are easy to clean; and the rug is super cleanable.” Translation: even Queen Elizabeth II would approve.