Let These Before-and-After Playroom Photos Inspire You to Transform Your Space

Whether you've carved out space in your house for a kids' playroom or not, let's face it: it's probably not seeing a ton of play. Most playrooms these days serve as storage for all the toys and games your little ones have accrued over the years. If they do hang out in there, it's not long before they get bored. With ample space and plenty of supplies, how can this be?

We turned to Megan Schiller, founder of The Art Pantry, for answers. She specializes in revitalizing kids' playrooms by turning them into creative spaces to maximize their ingenuity and stimulate their artistic ability.

"Every design choice is rooted in my experience as a preschool teacher and art educator," she tells us. "I think about the ages of the kids, their interests, and how they play. Then I think about how to set up a space that would inspire them to explore, tinker, create, and get lost in their imagination."

Megan answered our nine most frustrating questions about how to create a playroom that keeps kids entertained for hours on end, revealing that it's not all about organization — though a little certainly doesn't hurt — and outlining how parents can let their kids get messy without ruining the furniture. For added inspiration, she also shared before-and-after photos of four different rooms she's revamped so that you can see her advice in action.

POPSUGAR: You specialize in maximizing a space's creative potential. How different is that from "organizing" a space?

Megan Schiller: When I design a space, I design an experience. My goal is to encourage children’s creative play by making it not only beautiful and functional, but also engaging and educational. Organizing always comes along for the ride, but it could never be the only thing.

PS: Is there such a thing as a playroom being too tidy?

MS: Oh, definitely. What might seem like chaos to adults is usually when kids are the most engaged and in their "flow." To me, organization means that everything has its place, and things are easy to access. Having an organized playroom is great for adults, but . . . when kids are using their toys and creative materials, it’s important to allow plenty of room for chaos, even if that means letting it stay messy for a few days while they continue their "work." When it's time to clean up, kids will know where everything goes and can easily help put things back.

PS: What is your philosophy on displaying homemade art?

MS: I think it’s really important to display kids' art and other creations. It shows them that their work is valued and helps build confidence. I also think it’s essential to allow kids to display their work on their own, giving them ownership over what and how it is displayed. In our studio, we don’t have a lot of room for my kids to display their art on their own, so we have a small area on a wall in the kitchen where they know that they can tape up their latest creation. If you cringe at the idea of kids' art haphazardly displayed all over your house, then pick one spot and give your kids some freedom within that area.

In addition to rotating art, I love picking a few special pieces and framing them or hanging them prominently in the house.

PS: What are the biggest challenges you see in the playrooms you overhaul? What mistakes are parents making most often?

MS: I’m always asked one of two questions: "Why is my playroom always a mess?" and "Why can’t my kids ever play calmly for long periods of time?"

The answer? Too much stuff. Many parents seem to think that more variety of toys will offer more opportunities to play. This usually has the opposite effect. Too many options can overwhelm kids, and they end up bouncing from one thing to the next, unable to focus, dumping out more and more toys in the process. Fewer toys is the answer! It means less opportunity to overwhelm, less mess, and more focused play. If this sounds like you, try putting half of your toys in storage and rotate them into the playroom — while removing others — every few weeks.

The best scenario is when everything has its place. I’m a minimalist at heart and believe that if our things aren’t easily accessible, we won’t use them, so why keep them around? The only way to get to this point is usually to purge, purge, purge, then organize. Once you have less stuff, it will be easier to make a place for everything.

PS: Still, getting messy is fun in theory, but not always in practice. What advice do you have to make parents less anxious about getting out the glue and glitter?

MS: I’ve been a proponent of messy art my entire life, and yet every time my 3-year-old asks to finger-paint, I tense up and almost blurt out, "Not today." But then I remember how her face beams as she squishes the cool paint through her fingers and how she rubs the paint up and down her arms saying, "Look, I'm putting on sunscreen!" I remember how this soothes her and calms her down after a busy day. So I say, "Sure, let's get out the finger paint." When it's all done and everything is clean, I realize that it actually wasn't as stressful as I had feared.

Once you find a good system to contain the mess, it really isn't as bad as it seems. When it comes to messy art like paint or glue, I always give my kids a large plastic tray to work on that will contain most of the mess and makes for easy cleanup. I just throw all of the brushes and tools onto the tray when it's over and carry everything on the tray to the sink (I made a video of this process here). I also make sure to have a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on hand for the accidental handprints on the wall.

If all else fails, limit your messy art to the warmer months when you can do it outside.

PS: What's better to have on hand, art supplies or toys?

MS: This might sound crazy, but art supplies — hands down! You can make toys with art supplies, but you can’t make art supplies with toys. I’m sure most parents have seen their kids choose to play with a cardboard box over a new fancy toy.

Although my 3-year-old loves to play with stuffed animals, she will just as easily pretend that her snack pretzels are animals, chatting with one another in funny voices.

PS: Do the parents you work with have a hard time introducing art into their playrooms?

MS: I often hear them say: "I could never let my young kids have access to art supplies like paint or scissors. They would destroy the house."

Not allowing toddlers to independently explore with creative tools and materials is a problem. If you start at a young age, by the time they are 3 or 4, they will have learned how to respect the materials and how to self-regulate. This doesn't mean giving your 1-year-old a pair of scissors and walking away. It's a process of introducing them to art supplies, allowing them to explore as you watch with a careful eye and leaving washable, toddler-safe items accessible to them from the beginning. As they become more responsible, slowly allow access to more and more materials until they are completely self-sufficient.

PS: What are the five items you always use when revamping a playroom?

MS: 1. Open bins to store toys and art supplies.

2. A large play table, so kids can freely work without knocking elbows with someone.

3. An art caddy to tote around.

4. A cozy spot to read, whether it's a beanbag, floor pillows, or a chair.

5. A place to hang kids' artwork — ideally, one that they can reach and hang themselves.

PS: This is all great for families with a room to spare, but what suggestions do you have for those without a designated playroom?

MS: Most families, including my own, don’t have a designated playroom. Young kids would rather be near their parents while they play anyway, so it works well to have mini play spaces in different areas of the house. That might mean having a bin of toys on wheels, or setting up a play kitchen in a corner of your actual kitchen. If toys are going to be stored in the living room, it's nice to have them concealed in storage that you enjoy looking at. We have two whitewashed wood rolling bins to store toys under our media credenza, and they work well with the rest of our decor. If you store most of your toys in your child's bedroom, keeping it organized makes it easier to put everything away at night so it can still be a restful place.

When it comes to finding a place for arts and crafts, you can almost always find a spot to carve out an art nook. Many of my clients choose to make space in the corner of a room, or they use their dining tables for art and designate a nearby cabinet for the supplies. Another option would be to keep art supplies in a rolling cart, and it can be wheeled to the table whenever you want.