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HomeDecoratingHow to Setup A Living Room and Playroom in One
living room and playroom in one

How to Setup A Living Room and Playroom in One

Our house is on the small side – only 1,000 square feet and we are pretty limited in what we can do space-wise. It’s no secret we’re wanting to upgrade soon but, in the meantime – in the words of Tim Gunn – we have to make it work.

living room and playroom in one

It was really no big deal to have a small house before we had a kid. Now, sometimes things feel smaller than they really are. The area where this was the biggest challenge is the living room – we don’t really have an entry, so as soon as you walk in the door, you’re in the living room. It’s also the space we all spend the most time in.

I wanted to create a space that was both adult and kid-friendly. I think I did a pretty good job accomplishing that, and I wanted to share the tricks I learned along the way.

If you don’t have time to read this whole post, here’s a quick summary:

  • Swap out bulky, non-functioning furniture for furniture that has drawers, cubbies, cabinets, etc… and use those storage areas for toys
  • Baskets with lids are your friend
  • Make sure said furniture and baskets seamlessly blend with your current style (this means, don’t go for the primary-colored kid furniture. Choose something that is more adult-feeling).
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter. Don’t be afraid to toss duplicate toys (for example, multiple sets of blocks when just one set will do). Then, try to assign the baskets you’ve purchased categories (all loose toys go in one, all blocks in another, etc.)
  • Use negative space to your advantage, as well as hidden space. The area beside your couch that no one will see when they walk in the door? Perfect to slide that activity table into. Or, the small space between a bookshelf and a wall? Slip a few large puzzles there. You get the idea.

There’s the summary, but now lets get to the details. Here’s what our living room looks like today (the first pic is the same as above, just with no overlay!) –

kid friendly living room and playroom

living room playroom combination

You can’t see any toys, huh? It doesn’t even look like a kid lives here. It’s all in the art of illusion + functional furniture and storage.

Here’s how I did it:

I swapped out large, less functional pieces of furniture for ones that looked good + offered a ton of storage.

The best example of this is the white bookshelves I had in our “entry” (which I’m putting in quotes because we don’t really have an entry… you just kind of spill into our living room once you’re through the front door). This is what I used to have in our entry –

bookshelves in living room

You can probably guess everything on the lower shelves didn’t last very long when Ezra got mobile. And you would guess correctly.

baby and bookshelves

Before I removed the bookshelves, I gave them a fair shot. I cleared everything off the lower shelves and bought a few baskets from Home Goods that I could store Ezra-friendly things in that would be at his level.

This worked for awhile but I started to really dislike the look of it; the baskets had no lids so the toys were still visible when put away and it started to feel like I was living in a miniature toy store at all times. And while I really don’t mind my house looking like Toys r Us when Ezra is up and playing… when he goes to bed, I like to relax and feel like the living room is a peaceful place.

Ezra had a set of dressers in his room, one of which was a 2-door cabinet with two shelves in it. It wasn’t really doing much good in his room so I brought it out to the living room. I divided up the bookshelves and temporarily kept one in the living room and the other went into his room for more book and toy storage; now both are in his room since he’s got quite the library going on.

living room entry

This cabinet is vintage Eames-era and is actually the third part to a dresser that is connected together with a vanity table (which can be closed, turning it into a super long desk). This piece is timeless and was an awesome Craigslist score (only $150 for all three pieces!).

It is surprisingly roomy inside and is perfect for holding all sorts of boy-type things –

kid friendly living room storage

I keep all of Ezra’s big toys in this cabinet. Cleanup is super easy; just toss it all in and shut the door. He loves running back out here after naps, or in the morning, and getting all his toys out. It’s like it’s all new for him, every time.

Similarly, I de-cluttered the accent wall area of our living room to make more play space and more negative space.

We got rid of our oversized chair and bought this glider on Black Friday last year. For a little while, I had one of the white bookshelves that had previously been in our entry beside the new chair, but Ezra got to the point where he was pulling the books I’d left on the top shelf off and ripping pages out of them so it was time for that to go. So, now we have this stand from IKEA in its place and the up-side is that both pieces take up way less room which means there’s more space to playOn top of that, I’m a huge fan of negative space; sometimes your eyes just need a break. This chair + table combination make this wall a lot less busy and easier on the eyes. It’s also one of the first things you see when you walk into our house so I didn’t want anything too crazy happening.

Living room with armchair

I hide Ezra’s activity cube behind this chair just to keep it out of the way while he is asleep or napping. When he was smaller and still used his swing, I pushed the swing behind the chair – at the time, it was the tan oversized one – to keep it out of the way but still give him plenty of room to swing, and it also gave him something interesting to look at while he was swinging since it faced the front door.

living room arm chair

I added storage baskets with lids to keep toys corralled, but still give the look of an adult room.

I had been using uncovered baskets but, like I said, I started to hate the look. I found these lidded baskets at Home Goods in the clearance section for $9.99 each and they fit perfectly on the shelf. They are so deep and hold a ton of toys. Each one is just about halfway full so there’s definitely room to store more things as time goes on.

tall bookshelf in living room

Ignore the center frame on top of this shelf – it has no picture in it yet and I keep forgetting to get one printed for it until I’m dusting (or taking pictures for the blog…). Anyway, I also use the small space between the shelf and the wall to squeeze in some extra storage. Ezra’s popper is there, and so is my yoga mat.

toy storage baskets in living room

I realize these lids might not make it very long since they’re woven and my boy is kind of wild but… in the meantime, they get the job done. (Update: A year later, these baskets have held up really well! I don’t know if you can tell in the photos, but the center of each basket has a little wooden square – those were ripped off by Ezra, but that was no big deal because I put these baskets on the shelves backward anyway, with the wooden thing (now a blank square) facing the back of the bookshelf.)

toy storage in living room

Aslan approves of the toy selection in this drawer. Mostly he wants Sophie the Giraffe since she squeaks.

Lastly, I used out of the way spaces to store large toys which makes them not visible when they aren’t in use.

Apart from that small space between the tall bookshelf and the wall, the only other out of the way place to store large toys was beside the couch. I keep an activity table and large toy car there (the car is there in the picture below, it’s just turned to the side and the table is blocking its view).

couch in kid friendly living room

I have a dog and cat who like to perch so the sofa table actually doubles as their lookout post. There’s a little cushion on there that they love sitting on and looking out the big window. It also makes for a good get-away spot for them when Ezra’s after their tails.

Other small changes I made were to change out our wool rug for a cotton one that is a lot easier to clean, plus I actually keep blankets on the couch for sticky fingers and dirty paws. There is also a child protection lock on the drawer of the tv stand to keep curious fingers out.

I’m pretty happy overall with the changes and I feel like it’s a good balance of design + fun. I really am looking forward to eventually having a dedicated playroom, though. But, in the meantime, our living room playroom combo is making it work 🙂

  • December 2, 2013

    Wonderful tour, thanks for the ideas and inspiration! We live in an 18th-century three-room flat in Europe – kitchen, bedroom, and living room, each as a separate room – and I’m trying to reorganize the living room to accommodate our now six-month-old baby’s playtime as well as our need for clean, open, uncluttered adult space. I really like what you’ve done here and are glad you shared.

    • December 2, 2013

      AM glad … blame the baby for that 😉

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