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Before & After: A Designer Mom Gives Her Sons a Stylish, Eclectic Playroom

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As a professional designer, Sarah Storms of Styled by Storms may have a leg up on pulling rooms together. But that doesn’t mean she had the bandwidth to decorate every last space in her own New Jersey home right away, back when her family moved into it in November 2019. Almost twice as large as her previous residence and “in need of a lot of love,” the house had plenty of projects to tackle. The non-essential, more decorative ones, like her sons’ playroom, fell to the bottom of the list.

Motivated by the One Room Challenge makeover franchise that took place last fall, Storms decided to join in the renovating fun with this area. “I was tired of hiding the playroom behind closed doors and decided to focus on giving the playroom the personality it deserved,” she says. “The goal for this renovation was to create a moody, creative space that could be functional and grow with our family.  I didn’t want to infantilize any of the design elements just because they were children.”

Storms began her design plan by commissioning custom built-ins painted in Benjamin Moore’s Tarrytown Green (HC-134) for storing boards games, puzzles, art supplies, legos, magnet tiles, and everything in between. Because the adjacent living room also has a set of built-ins flanking the fireplace, Storms wanted to maintain that same height and design across both rooms’ cabinetry for balance and symmetry.  So she went the custom route. Sure, IKEA would have been cheaper (and that’s what was in her last home’s play area), but these built-ins would match the others and standup to wear and tear better over time, which justified the investment.

Prior to their installation, painters worked on readying the walls for Schumacher’s Giove wallpaper, a bold pattern that features intertwined snakes in shades of emerald and sapphire. This whimsical backdrop sets the tone for the rest of the colorful accents and spirited touches that unfold in the space’s design (not to mention all the fun the boys have within the rooms’ four walls).

“The largest part of the job was also the most time-consuming, which was smoothing all of the thick texture from the ceiling and walls,” Storms says on the scope of the prep work for the wall coverings. “It took the painter nine five-gallon buckets of joint compound to do. It was extremely messy, smelly, and did not dry quickly due to the humidity.”

The closet doors, ceiling, and trim work — with moldings original to the 100-year-old house! — also got a fresh coat of paint, and Storms and her husband added new brass replacement screens to the room’s radiator box before it received its own paint job, too.

Once the bones of the space were set, Storms turned her attention to assembling a mix of kid-friendly pieces of furniture that also jibe with the rest of her home’s eclectic decor. “The table and chairs were about function first,” says Storms. She painted the IKEA table Benjamin Moore’s Bordéaux Red (1365), turning it into a focal point as it contrasts with the bespoke green cabinetry, then added brass casters for mobility.

“This would allow the table to be easily moved around the room so it could be used for puzzles and games, but could also be pushed against the wall for fort building or obstacle courses,” she says. Constructed of heavy-duty acrylic, the table’s chairs can be wiped cleaned of any messes and stacked up to save floor space when not in use.

For a sustainable element, and to add some extra soul to the space, Storms deliberately sought out secondhand furnishings for pretty much everything else in the room, save the textiles and a few small prints hanging on the walls.

“The petite club chairs are my grandmother’s that were refinished and reupholstered in Schumacher cut velvet, and the 1950s Persian wool rug is durable and beautiful,” she says. “I love incorporating vintage antiques, even in more modern spaces. They add a layer of warmth that can’t be achieved with ‘new’ items.” 

Sourced from Facebook Marketplace, the ship paintings are also vintage, and the large, “Gucci inspired” tiger is from Etsy and framed in vintage older frame.  “I wanted some kind of David Bowie gentleman art and this tiger fit the bill,” says Storms. “A little bit of whimsy makes the room feel fun and not stuffy.” 

From start to finish, the playroom took about nine weeks to complete. The end result made it totally worth it, especially now that the children have a space to truly call their own. “The boys want to invite everyone they know for playdates,” says Storms. “They think the snakes are really cool and like that they can easily find their toys without digging through bins.”

Storms herself also has now a room that she’s proud of, as both a mom and a designer. I love that the playroom is an extension of our home,” she says. “It is a beautiful and happy room that could be used even for an adult gathering.  Good design is forever, and it’s something to really think about when making thematic decisions.”

Danielle Blundell

Home Editor

Danielle Blundell is AT’s Home Director and covers decorating and design. She loves homes, heels, the history of art, and hockey—but not necessarily always in that order.

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