Our Kid’s Attic Playroom -Update (and Mini-Reveal) + The Five Parenting Fails/Mistakes I Made

Welcome to the first post that Brian and I shot on our own since we’ve been social distancing up at the mountain house. But first, as you know, I love a disclaimer. A.) This isn’t finished – I have more plans and it’s not styled to camera or professionally shot, because B.) This is how we are living and frankly it’s good enough (but maybe I’ll feel motivated to do the projects I have in mind over the next couple months as we live up here. So stayed tuned for an eventual “full reveal”). In the meantime, if you want some tips from a real mom on playrooms, arts and crafts, as well as some parenting fails then keep reading. Thank you for sharing your time here – hopefully, it’s an escape right now.

Now let’s revisit the past. When we bought the house there was a pull-down ladder to this space, that the kids were obviously obsessed with.

The steep pull-down ladder (top left) that leads up to the attic was very dangerous because it was hard to pull down, could easily fall too fast on someone, and had sharp metal bits. Once up there, there were even more additional (read: dangerous) places to climb. The cubby (bottom left) was extremely treacherous as you could actually fall through the gap down to the second floor but the stationary ladder on the right is totally fine for ages 3 +(but we are likely still going to update it).

Back then, there was a window but that was the only source of natural light and it was not in the best shape, same with the wall-to-wall carpet. It was all at least 30 years old and could use a refresh.

Many of you already know and have seen this part, but once we realized how epic that space could be, we decided to lose the closet in the room and put in stairs instead of a ladder (we did consider a spiral staircase for a bit, not sure why we gave up that idea..)

So basically you enter the play attic through the kid’s room via those stairs, truly making it their own little suite. We will eventually put some sort of “pull out” closet where that little tree/stump vignette is, but for now they don’t need one.

Watch this video to see how it all flows (it’s so hard to show in photos)…

Here we are as of now. We really wanted this space to be theirs, where they would entertain themselves safely for hours without us (keep reading to see how that’s going). Once you get up there we have a few different zones – “arts and crafts,” a “grocery store”, “the costume zone” (NOT dress up, says Charlie), and “the hideaway”.

We’ve had that table and chair set up for 3 years (since we’ve been up here – yes almost THREE YEARS in July). They are getting too tall for it and bumping the storage bins underneath with their knees, but otherwise, it’s been great and it’s super affordable and cute.

They make a huge disgusting mess almost daily, but they do play for a long time up there by themselves – and that’s kinda the point of that place. It’s somewhere they can contain their messes (ha). We put an echo dot up there and they listen to soundtracks (Aladdin, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Frozen 1 and 2) and draw/color, or make robots, etc. We honestly can’t even hear them downstairs. But at this point, they are old enough that if one of them got hurt the other would come scream for us (when they were younger we had a baby monitor connected to the kitchen).

The peg art wall is awesome. I was skeptical at first, but it’s super easy to customize, and kinda genius. There’s so many ways to hold ANYTHING and it looks really cute, too. I wish I had done this so badly in LA (we attempted something fancier there before we knew how amazing this system is, read about that “fail” here).

Parenting Fail #1

A typical failing of mine is thinking my kids are ready for things they just aren’t. Things like “jewelry making,” “paper mache,” or all different types of painting alone, inside, on carpet. Yes, of course, they can do those things but mostly need help from us to not make the biggest mess, with mod podge all over the carpet and paint all over the walls. For instance, they love stamps so I bought a bunch of stamp pads and stamps and decanted them into the wall pockets (easy access!), just to find them later all dried up and ink all over the walls (I think this was a younger kid who was over playing, not ours, but still). It’s like I have a fantasy of them needing all these options but then they end up not knowing what to do with them.

Parenting Fail #2:

Oh has anyone made the “cute stack of board games and puzzles” fail? It’s an oldie but a goodie. Here’s how you do it, it’s super easy! You take a cute stack of games (Candyland, Monopoly, any puzzle really – the smaller pieces the better!) and style them into the perfect pyramid, then simply leave them in a room full of toddlers. Come back an hour later to every. Single. Small. Part taken out and mixed together. You can do it, too!!

Lesson learned.

But I didn’t know this at the time, so for the event my team went to all the craft stores and styled it with supplies that looked good, not knowing they would essentially just be dumped all over the ground, and our friends with small kids would put those pretty scandi wood beads in their mouths. While those art walls on Pinterest are fun to look at, definitely consider what your kids are ready for and what they really can play with independently from you – because that is the goal. Again, we wanted this space to be theirs, free to do what they want and again keeping it CONTAINED.

So we keep paints, puzzles, liquid glues, jewelry making supplies and board games downstairs in the family room cabinet where we can at least try to control how many we have out at a time (they are older now anyway, and actually want to play the games).

So what do our kids really want? Easy access to the following:

  1. Basic art paper – white paper, colorful construction paper, origami paper (shiny/metallic), tissue paper and they love post-its for whatever reason.
  2. Drawing supplies – markers, erasable colored pencils, and while we have crayons Birdie refuses to use them because according to her, she is “an artist like a growmup, and growmups don’t use crayons.” We’ve tried different types of watercolor markers or easy glide, but they really just like the thin cheap washable Crayola markers in bulk (they are finally great about putting caps on after years of “this is the last marker I’m going to buy you if you can’t take care of it” lecture).
  3. Tape – MY GOSH THEY LOVE TAPE. Why do kids love tape so much???? Now, you don’t have to buy cute washi tape like we did (although I think it was crazy affordable for like 30 colors on Amazon), because they are just as happy with blue painters tape or white masking tape. Just TAPE.
  4. Glue – Sticks, NOT liquid white glue. Sure, they can handle the liquid stuff, but if it gets clogged they’ll just take off the lid to try to use it and then knock it over, leave it on its side and then yes, it will spill all over your carpet but nobody will tell you for days until its too dried and crusty to get it off. True Story.
  5. Easy makers supplies: Pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, string, scissors. If you look closely you’ll see stamps and embroidery string, but we don’t use those – they just sit there, FYI.

The kids have easy access with this system. They can take the cups of markers/pencils off and put on desk when they are coloring, then back when not in use. Once I honed in on what they actually use vs. what needed more parental help, it’s been really great.

I wanted to display their art in a cute easy way – with these clips (similar) that I think were 3 for $20 at Crate and Kids (but are sold out now) and this really cute rail. The paper roll on wood with leather straps is from Etsy and its SO ADORABLE, but my fantasy of the kids painting a collective mural on it has never happened. It’s been that same scribble and tic tac toe game for four months.

Now to the store. Santa got this for them the first Christmas we were up here and it’s still VERY popular.

What’s so special about it is the conveyer belt moves with a crank, but that’s not all – the “product” BEEPS when it gets scanned. It’s incredibly fun because it feels so real, so “adult.”

Parenting Fail #3 + #4

Kids like stuff that feels more real and adult-y and less beautiful. For instance, I could have bought them a really pretty scandi-inspired shopping cart, but when I showed it to them online they opted for the metal one because that’s what “growmups” use. They don’t want it to look like a TOY. Same with our pots, pans, and cooking utensils in our play kitchen in LA – they prefer the metal ones to the pretty painted gray and natural wood tones. They even like our cleaned out recycled cracker boxes and tuna cans for the store (truly, it looks like a real Albertsons cracker aisle at times).

I’m going to keep talking about this while I have you. It became a joke over Christmas when I thought I did a smart affordable hack by buying raw ornaments and decor – wood, papier mâché, or unfinished ceramics. So simple! So chic! I thought it would look all quiet and scandi, but super affordable since they were really just pre-finished supplies. But Birdie had different ideas and every time I looked around she was “decorating them” with pink and purple markers, gluing sparkles all over them, thinking of course that these were meant to be colored or painted (which they were, typically). She couldn’t get her mind around why you would want something light raw wood when it could be pink and purple!!! We were not aligned stylistically (but don’t worry, I just encouraged her beautiful decorating then hid the rest).

Oh, the skylights and that window – they make this room so dreamy. And yes the skylights blackout if we were to ever make this a bedroom (and open to let out air in the summer since the window is inoperable). As a reminder, we had to either do a really high window or this shape because of the two roof lines that create that V, and we LOVE the whimsy of the diamond-shaped window.

The carpet – I love this wall to wall carpet so much. It’s from Stark and I love that it has a simple pattern which makes it feel more high end and special, but not too contrast-y. As a reminder we put 1/2″ memory foam carpet pad underneath it, making it basically a padded room – it’s actually kinda bouncy and wonderful. I also only wear Uggs now, so life always feels bouncy.

Onto the other side of the room – where we have our large spinny mushrooms, obviously.

Those following closely (I love you, truly, thank you) you might remember me buying these mushrooms at the flea market almost 2 years ago. We had just bought the house and I didn’t know what they would be for, but I knew that I had to have these two CRAZY HEAVY spinny mushrooms for our cabin. They were just so unique. Please disregard the black eye-patch on the stool – this is organic content guys!

I go back and forth all the time on recovering them, but I’m just not sure what they would be. I think ideally they would be white, but that seems stupid in a kid’s space. So maybe just a brighter green? Or a green with tiny polka dots? OR since we brought red in with the store, maybe red with big white dots like toadstools???? Oh, SHOOT that would be so cute. I could patch on or quilt the white fabric circles so it looks really random and handmade. Lord knows I need another project right now (not being facetious – I have to stay busy to stay sane so yes, I NEED another physical project to do).

As of right now that painting is there mostly because it was an empty wall and I had an extra pretty painting, but I want to use that space for something they’ll use more – either vertical book pockets or just more wall space to display their art, not mine.

Parenting Fail #5:

Last one (for now). Give up your dreams of your kids hanging their cute costumes on hooks unless you run childhood like the military and they only have 2 perfectly curated costumes, each. We had six hooks at one point on that wall because indeed styled out hanging costumes would look really cute for a photo. But they could never get them to stay on hooks, and then it always looked SO MESSY because they have a lot of masks and shields and garbage, as they like to don “baby unicorn princess” and “ninja vet,” etc. They really just wanted to be able to shove them in their cubbies when they are done, which works way better. So the bottom three cubbies are just for costumes/imagination play.

Onto the area that I really do intend to finish – the secret headquarters/hideaway.

We have great intentions (and actually met with a local carpenter before everything went down) to move the ladder to the front, and either paint the ladder or build a new one that is lighter wood (more like the railing going up the stairs). Then we have thought seriously about knocking out the 1/2 wall up top (it’s not load-bearing) and installing those railings all the way across so you can see more. Yes, almost like a jail, but a really cute scandi-jail! I also think that little area above would be the perfect place to either paint or wallpaper something magical and special (likely dark as they really treat it like it’s a secret space). The wall behind those cubbies could have something more special going on too like some sort of paint, mural, wallpaper, or decals…

Oh, If you are eyeing that light wood safe, DO NOT. I got it on Etsy from a maker in Poland and while it’s awesome in theory, it came in 200 parts and took me about 4 hours to get it to the point it’s at now and I can’t get the door to stay on, (but the cranks do move – it’s meant to be actually functional which is so fun). I might try to fix it while we are up here because it’s so dope in theory.

So there’s where we are now with the play attic that gets more use than I could ever have dreamt. If you want to see a walk and talk – check out the video that Brian and I quickly made below (just wait for the ad to play). Like everyone, we are learning to do a lot less and care about perfection even less. This room will eventually be styled out with more ideal looks and shot like a magazine, but it’s a magical little space for us to escape during this time and make paper plate jellyfish, recycled robots, and write letters to grandparents.

Now I’d love to know your parenting fails. I know that a lot of mine have to do with me being a stylist and caring more about aesthetics than most people who are frankly more practical than I have been in the past. But surely someone can relate to having failed ideas for kids room, especially in our early parenting years… Do dish.

Fin Mark