If you are lucky enough to have a separate space in your home where children can play and keep their abundance of toys and games, it is usually in the basement. Families spend a great deal of time in these below ground spaces often with little natural light, wood panelled walls and low ceilings. Why not cheer them up with interesting colors and great storage areas?

I’m often asked if you can paint over wood panel or wood veneered walls, both of which are very common in North American basements. Yes, you can. In fact, it’s not a good idea to remove the paneling unless you are prepared for a large repair job on the walls. Paint is the next solution, but the panels must be properly prepared for the paint to adhere. It’s imperative to clean the surface first with tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) or a mixture of water and vinegar to remove grease and dirt, and then apply a coat of high adhesion primer, which adheres to the stain and varnish on the existing panel surface. Once the primer is on, a couple of coats of fresh water-based paint will produce an immediate transformation. You can not disguise the indented lines on the wood, so instead, incorporate them into your design by creating stripes— the added bonus is that the measuring is already done for you.

Whatever the surface you are covering, choose colors that are bright and cheerful and will reflect the light. If you have a creative bent or are feeling adventuresome, try your hand at a mural. Use all the available tools to make the job easier, such as photocopiers, tracing, stenciling, stamping and faux paint techniques. You will be dazzled by what you can accomplish.

Furnishings should be practical and comfortable rather than fancy, with hard-wearing surfaces. Low game tables and brightly patterned floor pillows or bean bags that are child-friendly are a great idea. Good overhead lighting is more efficient and safer than lamps— no cords to trip over. Install a dimmer for quieter times while watching TV or a movie.

Storage is one of the most important elements in a child’s playroom. Children acquire “stuff” at an alarming rate and unless it can be tucked away out of sight, their rooms will never look clean. Today there are plenty of affordable storage solutions. Transparent plastic boxes can be used for easy identification of clothing, toys or art supplies; baskets and bins come in a variety of sizes and materials including heavy cardboard, metal, wicker or canvas.

Metal dust bins make ideal containers for toys; they can be decorated with paint and because they are aluminum, they do not need priming. But it is advisable to protect your designs with several coats of varnish.

Decorating and renovation stores sell raw furniture that is meant to be painted or stained in your own personal style. The advantage to these pieces is that they require no stripping or sanding. Once primed they can be painted simply with a child’s favorite colors and they can be stained, stenciled or decoupaged in patterns to complement the room. Second-hand furniture is easily transformed with all the same techniques. More preparation is required however. The up side to this is that a dresser or storage trunk can be completely updated as your child grows from the baby years to pre-teen.

Look for ways to conceal the clutter. Inexpensive fabrics come in fabulous prints, or you can create your own patterns. Use Velcro or grommets to hang over shelves or replace a cupboard door. This makes easy and safer access for little fingers.

Make the most of every inch of your home for keeping everyday items at bay. Think ‘under’ for children so they can tidy up themselves— under the stairs, under the bed, a row of baskets under a bench. Although children will never admit it, life in an organized space is simpler. If you can add style and a touch of whimsy to the practical approach, all the better.

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Travel, September 2015
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