Home Touch by Mary G. Pepitone

Toy Around

A child-filled home -- and its designated play spaces -- can quickly go from cozy to cluttered with the influx of new toys around the holidays. But fostering fun in a home becomes child's play when spaces are organized and tailored to the children inhabiting them.

If there's room in your home, setting up a dedicated space for children is a way to give them a special, safe place to play, all while keeping toys, games and crafts in one spot. But more Americans are desiring a Scandinavian-style design aesthetic in their homes, one in which communal spaces in a house have furnishings that serve many purposes. That means children and their toys aren't necessarily sequestered away, says Kaci Malloy, senior sales leader for children's products at IKEA-U.S. The Swedish-founded company, IKEA, is the largest contemporary home-goods retailer in the world.

"Play is an essential part of life in that it fosters creativity, relieves stress and can bring children and adults together," Malloy says. "A silver lining of the pandemic quarantine is that parents and children have more opportunities to play together."

IKEA and LEGO have embarked on an enjoyable enterprise that incorporates imaginative building play with a storage solution that is anything but juvenile. Called BYGGLEK (boog-lee-eck), meaning "to build and play," the special boxes can be used as toy storage and also display creative LEGO builds, so a child's creations don't have to be taken apart to be put away.

"It's not about hiding children and their creativity away, it's about incorporating play into the home environment," Malloy said. "But having a lot of stuff -- or toys -- doesn't add value for a child. Choose quality over quantity."

To truly nestle into a child-centric home, one must first clear away the clutter of unused toys or playthings. This playful lifestyle embraces an environment that is both simple and functional, uncluttered and cozy.

"To create a place for play is realizing that it doesn't have to be a fancy space to be effective," Malloy said. "As children grow, their creativity will reflect their changing interests."

Play spaces can be as large as a spare room or as cozy as a special corner of the family room. Perfect play spaces combine both fun and function and need not be limited to certain play areas, Malloy says.

"Children want to be part of the home environment, too," she said. "How people play in a home depends on the physical space available and, of course, the children and adults who live there."

As varied as this space can be for each family, Malloy says there can be certain playroom practicalities. A few key pieces help turn any space -- no matter the size -- into a creative oasis for children:

-- Shelf Life. Bookshelves or shelving units can create a place for everything, so everything can be put back in place. Of course, easy access to books will encourage children to be lifelong readers, but shelves can also be a place on which children can display their latest LEGO builds. Costs for building your own bookshelf through IKEA can start at around $30.

-- Storage Stowaways. Baskets, cubbies or storage boxes can keep playthings organized and off the floor. Storage options that are mobile can fit into shelving units and allow children to not only choose their toys, but also encourage them to clean up after themselves.

Grouping similar toys in baskets not only organizes a space, it also gives children the freedom to grab a bin and go. The SLAKT storage box with caster wheels from IKEA starts at $69.

-- Play Table. Having a clean, horizontal space on which children can draw or piece a puzzle together doesn't have to be limited to a kid-sized table. No matter which style of table a child uses -- whether it's a communal dining table or coffee table -- consider a movable tabletop craft caddy for art projects. IKEA's pair of nesting tables starts around $30 and can fit most anywhere throughout a home.

As children grow and their playing preferences change, expect their creative spaces to also evolve. What may start as a haven for toddler toys can grow into a school-aged space with sophisticated building sets or board games.

In a shared space, area rugs can help define the play parameters. A rug also provides a soft place for children to play on the floor, whether they're putting together a puzzle or playing a game.

A chalkboard paint-covered area allows a family the freedom to actually draw on the walls. A space can also be personalized by designating a wall for children to hang or display their own works of art, Malloy says.

"Now, more than ever, adults need some playtime, too," she said. "Many parents are kids at heart, and creating a space for fun in the home means more opportunities for adults to hang out and play with their children, too."