🪀🛼 A Space to Play
As Spring has started to emerge, I’ve been thinking a lot more about childhood and play. Spending time outside appreciating nature, going to the pool, learning tennis, and even traveling to spend time playing (aka working but with more fun involved) with my coworkers has reconnected me with some of the child-like parts of me that have been dormant for too long.
I’ve also been thinking about the physical space of childhood in large part because of Meg Conley’s extremely moving piece about letting go. Our homes, schools, and neighborhoods are their entire worlds, and they’ve probably been your entire world too for the past couple of years. So why not make them spaces of safety, fun, creativity, play, and wonder?
Here are the houses I find most inspirational for raising a family.
Location: Murray Street London NW1
List Price: £2,350,000
You would never know walking by the non-descript, mostly black exterior in a town known for being dreary that there could be a wonderland for both adults and children behind these windows. The space used to be a workshop that made clothing samples for a high street fashion brand. The current owner, artist Francesca Anfossi, made major renovations to the flat including creating bedroom spaces in the basement and infused vibrancy and personality throughout.
Upstairs you’ll find a bright, open entertaining space brimming with artwork and personalized touches. Splashes of bold colors and patterns add a striking modern flair, while the space is grounded by the original features like the brick fireplace. Cyan and yellow are used throughout in a way that feels almost like the primary you see used in most children’s things but subtly tweaked to be high design for adults too (and a great nod to print).
My favorite room in the house is the conservatory, which has been converted into a playroom with easy access to the private garden. It’s a space that is bursting with life in many ways, with abundant natural light, natural plants, and bright children’s toys and furniture strewn about. Francesca used to use the space as her studio, and it’s easy to see why. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more energizing space in London.
Francesca told The Modern House her kids “love to run and cycle around the house – it’s like a constant race. And they like to play hide and seek, and this place is perfect for that.”
Downstairs you’ll find the bedrooms which use the same color palette plus some more subdued variations. The children’s room is still quite playful, even adding citron stripes to the ceiling. The stripes throughout the space conjure up imagery of things like circuses, camping, and pool umbrellas- all places of play and unwinding.
Overall, this home feels like a highly considered place for kids to grow up where the adults and kids can have a little fun and not shy away from play and color.
Location: 19 Padlock Rd, West Wratting, Cambridge CB21 5LS, UK
List Price: £1,450,000
You can practically hear the humming of dragonflies and buzzing of bees from the garden of this home. The Prospect House was the personal (and self-designed home) of architect Jonathan Ellis-Miller. Ellis-Miller was inspired by the Case Study Houses and specifically wanted to create a version of these modernist designs for his family that specifically worked for family life.
The open floor plan home has windows on all four sides, which makes it an incredible backdrop to the garden and makes the interior spaces more adaptable. While not a fully reconfigurable design- like some of Ellis-Miller’s other residential projects- the house does have rooms that can be adapted through the use of screens. This creates the opportunity for privacy or connection depending on the mood, which is especially great for families with older kids.
Everything about the home is focused on the gardens. The simple materials make the outdoors the focal point, and each of the spaces is connected to the outdoors via a sliding glass door.
It’s the kind of place where a kid could run freely in the yard, learn about plants and animals and how to tend to a garden, and lead a life that is intimately in tune with the seasons. What could be better than that?
Location: 6880 E Windstone Trl, Scottsdale, AZ 85266
List Price: $3,750,000
There is nothing more quintessential to childhood to me than a tent. Even the least outdoorsy among us likely built tents out of blankets and chairs in our living rooms or begged our parents to set up a camping tent in the backyard. To me, this house has some of that childhood tent energy, just in a more grown-up and permanent form.
The main house consists of two dome-like structures that feel kind of like if you tried to make giant versions of those super cool geodesic dome tents with industrial-scale Tinker Toys. Every room in the house feels the effect of the design and has windows looking out to take advantage of the 5 acres of scenery, although the structure constantly reminds you that you’re basically inside of a tent.
The two structures are connected by this giant arched living and kitchen area with exposed metal rafters. The clerestory windows bring in a ton of natural light and further emphasize the tent vibes of the house, drawing your eyes up and making the line between inside and outside fuzzy.
And for a little extra playhouse bonus points, there is a large pool and hot tub in the backyard.
Location: 390 Gemstone Ln, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
List Price: $1,950,000
This modernist home in West Virginia reminds me of another kind of architecture that children are always drawn to: treehouses. While this house isn’t all wooden and perched up super high, it has an architectural feature that shows off how just how treehouse-like it really is: tree tubes.
There’s something a little science museum about having two trees growing through your living space. They’re unexpected and a touch whimsical and they make a design statement about blending the indoors and the outdoors. They throw off the perfect balance of the space in order to make room for something more interesting and beautiful to happen– kind of like children.
The modernist house also has the rooms carved out of the middle, leaving these open hallways the length of the house. It’s easy to imagine a kid running or scooting down the hall here– a feeling made even freer by the floor-to-ceiling windows and tall ceilings.
If you want to read more about how design shapes childhood, I highly recommend the book The Design of Childhood by my favorite design critic Alexandra Lange.
Inspired by the houses from this issue, I’ve decided to learn more about gardening and birdwatching. My friends at Breeze put together a specialized search just for birdwatching that has been super helpful for me to get started. I also added these books to my reading list recently A More Exciting Life: A Guide to Greater Freedom, Spontaneity, and Enjoyment and Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Domino Magazine is always a huge source of inspiration for me, especially their content about kids’ rooms. These are some of my favorite kids’ rooms they’ve featured: Hilary Duff’s kids’ rooms, this line of furniture that gives cardboard vibes in the best way possible, this bright kids’ room with a reading nook, and (surprise!) an all-white kids’ room I actually love.
I’m simply obsessed with Poppy Brent-Berkus’ room from her family’s previous home. I love the pink carpet and plush bed, the floral wallpaper, and how she was able to push her neutral-loving dads (she’s the daughter of famous interior designers Jeremiah Brent and Nate Berkus) out of their usual box. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
If I had a kid, I’d buy them some of these Vans and live vicariously through them.
They also have me wondering what a Warped Tour for kids would be like 🤔