The Playroom

It's been a fantasy of mine for some time to write a blog post featuring a nursery or (well, scratch that, she was 2 when I finished the room after having moved earlier in the year), bedroom, or (scratch that, too - she still slept in our room), or playroom (well, mostly they just play within arm's reach of wherever I am)...A SPACE that I've decorated for a child.  This room is now woefully out-of-date now that I am finally getting around to processing the photos 2 years later (it's 2016).  And I was on a much different budget then.  However, I'm still proud of the heart and effort that went into this little room...before Pinterest and Instagram influenced so many so heavily with its picture-perfect whole-house-is-a-backdrop white walls and no-color accents.  This room came from my own imagination and heart, and we spent many happy afternoon hours here reading and playing away.  (As long as I was with them.  As soon as I left to do anything...along they followed, haha!  As they still do!)  But I'd still love to show you this place, as even though we moved from this house last year, sold or painted much of the furniture you see, and gave away the curtains...this little room will always have a special place in my heart, exactly as it was.

If you're curious, the paint is Gray Timber Wolf by Behr, which was already on 2 of the walls when we moved in.  (The other two were red.  I think someone was experimenting with accent walls and forgot to stop painting!)  The curtains are from good ol' IKEA, as is the "reading bed" - a crib mattress on the floor for afternoon storytime where we can snuggle without worrying about a toddler falling off.  The rug is a giant all-wool number from Overstock, which, since we moved, has been donated to my son's new elementary school as a classroom reading rug.

The dresser I designed the motif for and painted myself.  The bird handles are from this seller on eBay.  The pillows I had custom-made from Sew Divine by Amanda on Etsy.  (They were actually made to match 2 sets of curtains for the sunny living room in our little 1920 Pueblo Revival house near downtown Tucson, but they found a cheerful repurposing here.)  The cloud decals are from New York Vinyl.  The bird mobile I found at a little toy shop in the same shopping center as Lots for Tots in Falmouth, Maine, along Route 1, on my bi-annual shop-alone day.  It's really special to me and today it hangs over the crib of our third child, Eloise.  I love how the morning sun catches it.  I was so scared it was going to get destroyed in the move, and it defintiely was in pieces and some of the birds bent, but virtually no permanent damage, despite my half-heart-attack when I realized one of the moving guys just crammed this artwork into the dresser!  The mobile is designed by Katsumi Komagata, and I have really come to appreciate how much intention you can create with so few design elements.  It's inspired my photography as I have been able to balance an entire image on one line, to rely on a frame or one color to unify the subjects that matter in a photograph.  When I found the mobile that day by chance, it instantly spoke to me as something that suited Bittykins - feathery light, just like her - dainty, bouncy, and spritely cheerful.

The hot air balloon lamp I created by turning an IKEA lantern upside down and tying on a little handmade basket by Kate Kinder back when she was a student selling handmade items on Etsy.  (I'm really glad I kept that basket - look at her now!)

The rolling book crate (and 3 more like it stored in the bottom of the closet), I made by buying some crates from Michael's, staining them, then attaching wheels with casters.  I followed this tutorial from 2 Sisters 2 Cities blog.  Also in the closet are 5 shelves custom made by Geoff, with a full-length mirror mounted sideways above the first shelf, which invited the children to use that shelf as a play table.  (They didn't accept that invitation, though; they mostly just climbed on the shelf.)

The wooden ironing board Geoff made and stained to match the crates.  The toy iron I found antiquing, and it had been a gift to Butterscotch on his third birthday.

The airplane I thrifted from a children's consignment shop there in Waterville, Maine.  I spotted it and loved it instantly, but didn't buy it because I didn't have a use for it.  But several months later, as the theme for her room developed around the mobile (followed by the dresser and clouds), it just seemed to fit, so when I happened upon it again on a later trip, I bought it for $4.  It's still at home atop this dresser in her now-bedroom today and has been played with as well (hmm...well, loved a little too much a time or two, but the great thing about wooden toys is they are usually repairable!).

The little wooden doll cradle is special to me too, as I remember the day we found it, almost gone forever, in a junk heap.  I uncovered it from underneath a rusted metal plank in the junk yard at "Rte 201", which is quaintly referred to as an antiques barn, near the Fairfield Antiques Mall on, you guessed it, Rte 201.  The place was just up the road from the weekly Farm Auction, which we frequented on Mondays.  The owner of Rte 201 could be found operating a giant wood stove in the basement of the 14-room 100+-year-old farm house in the middle of the property, stuffed absolutely to the brim with old clocks, baskets, machines, and chairs, just to name a few of the impressive collections.  From out of the house, the collections spilled out in every direction for at least 20 yards, including antique baby carriages from nearly every decade going back over a hundred years, old grammar school furniture, old signs, canning equipment, antique kitchen implements, things for sewing and weaving and gardening and artifacts of rural Yankee decades past. 

The owner collected many of these items from the farm auction, and sometimes, I would see him there.  Thin and barely noticeable among the herd of winter-worn Mainers, he would occasionally acknowledge me or make eye contact.  It always felt earned.   He was not only tolerant of the children; he was, I think, eventually fond of our company, though you might not be able to tell from outward expression.  The day I found the cradle, he wanted $20 for it.  I expressed my reservations about the condition of the wood, its general wobbliness, and the scuffed-up 1940s-era decal of a little girl with a larger-than-life black and white-spotted mushroom.  “Aught-aught wool.  Little aught-aught steel wool take that right off.”  But he wouldn’t budge on the price.  He just turned around and walked off.  Well, what do I do now?  Is he waiting for me to follow him?  I just stood there, listening to the November crows and the sound of my kids’ boots scraping around in the ice-wet gray salt.  I realized a car hadn’t passed in quite some time and that we were likely the only people who’d been there that day.  Did I offend him?   Do I just leave?  What the heck is aught-aught wool, anyway?  We’d only lived there a couple months, and I was beginning to feel like I’d landed on another planet.  Everything was so different from Tucson.  I felt so so so so alone.  Caw, caw...scrape, scrape...echo, echo, echo... 10 months ago on a Tuesday morning like this one, I'd have been power-walking from office to office for my sales job, beaming smiles and chatting it up in between hours of aggregate time with my face to a screen.  Now here I am with my no-makeup face, letting the sun warm it, with no schedule and no screens.

Then he appeared, with 00-grade super-fine steel wool, and a little oil besides. The decal dissipated almost instantly.  He turned a screwdriver to stabilize the cradle, his hands useful relics themselves.  Then he squinted at me and said, “$10?”  I returned his offer with a $10 bill and an equally unsteady smile.  It was the first of many interactions like this.  Almost weekly from then on, we’d pop in.  Sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn’t, sometimes he wasn’t but left the door unlocked anyway.  One particularly miserable snowy November day, the kids played with a dollhouse while he tinkered with a lamp in his warm office, surrounded by books.  We didn’t exchange any words or direct eye contact.  I think he looked up at us through his glasses once.  But it finally didn’t feel totally awkward.  I guess he figured, if we had a question, we’d ask, right?

About a month later, he managed to explain how to tell how old this box I found was by how it was constructed and its hardware – all in 1 or 2 sentences.  The man was a wealth of knowledge, bottled up.  I gave the treasure box to my son for Christmas that year, and it still houses all his best trinkets, nature-found treasures, and other little-boy pocket contents.  As the weather warmed, I also purchased a beautiful extra-large mirror and a child-size wheelbarrow from the yard.

Sadly, in the months just before we moved, the authorities made him pack up the contents of this yard into several 18-wheeler-size trailers, which were still parked in the yard when we moved.  Our last time there just the kids and me, I pulled up in awe and parked the car in the mud (it was mud season).  I got out of the car in disbelief to look around.  The barren mud between our car and the farmhouse seemed like a mile-long tundra.  He must have heard me pull up, because he came to the top doorstep in an instant, hands jammed in his pockets, staring back at me with a similar expression.  He didn’t say anything, and I tried to scatter words across the ice.  He walked closer since he couldn’t hear me.  I was torn between getting in and driving away to avoid the awkward or just repeating myself.  I repeated myself.  And I took the kids out of the car.  They dug in the mud.  I scuffed my boots in the mud.  And I unearthed broken pieces of a sky-aqua dish.  I asked him if I could have these pieces, and for how much.  He said I could just have them.  I thanked him, perhaps too much.  At the time, I was pregnant with Eloise but didn’t know it yet.  A year ago today, I completed a round mirror frame made with those pieces, which now rests on the mantle in the bedroom we share with her.

I’ve really gotten sidetracked here, but the point of the story is that Geoff and I sanded and stained the cradle for Bittykins for Christmas that year, and I filled it with some bedding and a little Waldorf babydoll I made for her, complete with strawberry-blonde hair tufts to match hers. Christmas Eve Eve, we lost power, but Geoff and I completed the children's toys together in the basement by candlelight, singing carols while we sewed and painted.  To this day, the cradle rocks beside her bed, and we’ve had a lot of fun laying her new baby sister in it….in her new space.  It’s funny how all we do on the inside of our homes we think is all us…but is so much influenced by what goes on outside of our homes.  We really bring the outside in.  But I hope you’ve enjoyed this little inside-out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of your spaces.  Would love to see photos!  Like a little visit!  'Til next time, may all you bring in to your home reflect what you want to give out, and may the world become your playroom.