kids spaces

Creating a Maker Space

There’s a Maker movement afoot. It’s becoming almost mainstream these days, with Maker Spaces popping up in schools and libraries all over the country. We’re lucky to have several spaces in the area (the Fab Lab at MSI and the Maker Lab at the Chicago Public Library, as well as our Hacker Scouts group). Finn and I have always encouraged our own little makers, although encourage may not be the right word. Really we just try not to get in their way. Of course, we provide space and as many supplies as we can for them to create. To that end, we have an evolving Maker Space in our home – the basement. While I certainly don’t limit projects to that space, it is the most conducive for mess, ongoing work, and just as importantly, storage.

You’ve seen the basement before. Not surprisingly, it’s changed since then. Here is the current configuration.

Maker Space Basement

 Now I know, most people would have you think you can’t create a contemporary Maker Space without a ton of tech equipment, including a 3-D printer. And I’m sure we could make great use of a 3-D printer, as well as a host of other tech supplies. But those aren’t practical now, in either expense or for the age of our children. I prefer to be able to leave the makers largely unsupervised, to get out of their way as they create. They let me know when they need assistance and I tend not to stifle when I’m not there to tell them how adults would make it work. Or, let’s be honest, to freak out about the impending mess. 

Our Maker Space, till now, has been mostly art centered, as that’s what Emm prefers, with a variety of toy based building materials that Roan uses, although both children use each space and its materials. We have a sewing station, with plenty of fabric and thread. Not too many patterns, as they prefer to make their own. There are also felting supplies and plenty of yarn.

Maker Space Basement Sewing Nook

We have a large craft table, created from two expedits. The top is MDF covered in chalkboard oilcloth. Glue guns, paint, tape, markers, etc are all readily available, along with a large quantity of paper, cardboard, random boxes, etc. And ping-pong paddles.

Maker Space Basement Crafting Table

We have a big open space for building, with larger building supplies like cardboard and PVC tubes, ogo pods, marble run kits, blocks (we like CitiBlocks), etc as well as smaller building toys such as k’nex, legos, and the like.
Maker Space Basement

And we have the obligatory TV space, with a sofa and a Wii.  If the basement is ever clean, you can be sure the kids were enjoying extra media time. Mostly it looks like this (they were building Egypt, in case you’re wondering). And yes, he insists on wearing those headphones (decorated by the tall one for some costume event) all the time in the basement. Hates the furnace noise.

Maker Space Basement

What we don’t have down there are tools and electronics. Till this year I didn’t feel that it was safe to allow the sort of loosely supervised making that goes on down there unfettered access to those materials. There’s been plenty of electronics tinkering, robot building, arduino programming, and even wood craft happening. But it has all been supervised. Well, except for the Lego robotics. Those are currently in the school room because that’s where the child prefers to play with them.

Now Finn and I are pondering how we create a safe, creative space that includes tools and electronics. Probably something that can be removed when we have guests, as not all play date buddies are tool/electronics friendly.  I’ve been looking around for inspiration. Most of the spaces I can find are large, public Maker Spaces. Many are for older children or adults. The children’s spaces are almost all exclusively art focused, I’m sure for the same reason ours has been for so long. I’ve started a Pinterest board (of course). I’d love to make it collaborative if anyone’s interested.

I think these two tables will make a good work space for electronics, with the craft table reserved for building with wood and tools. Although I may need to relocate some of the bins.

Maker Space Basement Tinkering Tables

 And the maternity ward.

Maker Space Basement

Maybe a pegboard above the tables to hold supplies? Like the table below, but with less tech. And less tools to start.

Maker Space Basement

Perhaps a bit more like this (found here), at least to start. Screw drivers and pliers  and safety glasses and such out and accessible, with all the parts we have everywhere in a tinker bin.  The soldering iron, however, will remain a supervision only tool for several more years I think. As will any power tools. And maybe saws?

Maker Space Basement

Do any of you let your kids have access to these items? How do you set up your space? I want my children to be safe, but I also want to encourage experimentation and risk taking. I think. While not getting sued by my neighbors should their children happen to come play.





Linking up to Remodelaholic.

The Dresser Part the Second

Roan's Room Sept 2013 008

When we last saw the dresser for Roan’s room (a month ago, yikes!), it was looking a little bedraggled. And traditional. And not so much like something I wanted in my home. The boy decreed it should be white, which is generally a color I avoid for a small boy’s room, but in this case I decided if it got trashed I could just paint over it again. Or take the lazy way out and “let” him apply decals strategically.


I took the easy route and spray painted it. It’s not as nice a dresser as the one I got for Emm’s room, it just wasn’t worth the extra time. Two coats of spray primer and three to four of white glossy spray paint. I wanted to replace those huge knobs with these cute rings, but the boy was having none of it. He really liked the big brass handles that came with Emm’s dresser. I, mean mother that I am, wasn’t interested in paying over a hundred dollars for similar ones for a cheap dresser for a seven year old. We compromised, I agreed to re-drill things for handles, he agreed to settle on black handles from Home Depot.

And because I never miss an opportunity to move some furniture around, Roan’s room got a little switched around too. All in the name of more floor space.

Before. Cute layout, but not much play space. And the giant chair was wonderful for reading, but just too big for the room now that I’m no longer cuddling him to sleep (sniff).

Roan's Room after

And now. Much more floor space. The green chair from the basement fits nicely and a new shelf keeps the various projects off the floor when not in use. The Eames magazine table, which has been looking for a good home for a while, provides excellent storage for all the Lego and electronics catalogs he hoards. Ignore the state of that fish tank. Clearly I am.

Roan's Room Sept 2013 002

Roan's Room Sept 2013 011

Enter at your own risk however, the boy has a special section of the room for his Nerf guns.

Roan's Room Sept 2013 025


*For those of you paying close attention, you’ll note the gray sofa is no longer stuck in the stairwell (I know you’ve been worried) and can be seen in the first picture. I’m still putting our bedroom back together, but it’s getting there.*

Gift Guide for Tweens

Tweens are tricky. Still interested in toys, but wanting to feel grown-up. Drawn to items more suited to older teens, they are not really ready for the responsibility, content and/or materials those items are made from. And all the stuff marketed for them is just so bleh. Icky, stupid junk. Vampire dolls? Really? Is that the best we have to offer kids? (I know, three questions in a row, sorry). I tend to default to art supplies, but we’re getting a bit overrun with those. The kits never seem to get used here and I feel that basic materials should be available year round, so they don’t make good presents. I figure if I’m struggling to figure out good gifts, you might be as well, so here are the things we’re considering for our tween this year. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

We have a very artsy girl, she loves knitting, sewing, sculpting and all that. So I need to find gifts that speak to that love of hers, without defaulting to items I know she won’t use or that don’t feel like presents. I do like to restock some supplies at Christmas, like the clay, which goes quickly and isn’t something I keep on hand consistently. She also loves to make movies with her friends and it might be time for a camera of her own, along with some directorial advice.  Some hair chalk would add a new dimension to the costume fun.

gifts for tweens


10-year-olds still like to play with dolls sometimes and this 10-year-old is particularly obsessed with fairies. Both of these need to look more “grown-up” now though, so a new outfit that mimics what she wears all the time and a porcelain fairy might fit the bill. And of course books. She’s getting more than just these two, there will be several from the book list a few weeks ago as well.

gifts for tweens

What do you like to get for tweens? Any suggestions?
1. Daring Book  2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales 3. clay   tools 4. fairy 5. screenprinting kit 6. origami paper 7. sony bloggie  8. film making book  9. american girl clothes  10. hair chalk 

The Sewing Nook

Well, look at that. It’s a sewing nook. All ready for chaos and mayhem. That is what sewing nooks are for in your house, right? Cause it sure is here.

We finished creating Emmeth’s sewing nook this weekend. Much of the organization and clearing was done over Thanksgiving, but the final touch took a bit longer. Here’s the before.

We didn’t paint and looked to repurpose furniture we already had to create the space. I’m under no illusions at this point that my children will take care of furnishings placed anywhere near a craft area. They will find a way to leave marks and gouges, stopping just short of complete destruction.

To prep the space I pulled two large garbage bags worth of old art projects, broken toys and other ephemera out of the space, as well as selling a number of outgrown toys and books. We were able to get rid of the large storage unit by the time I was done. Whew.

The nook is, like everything in the basement, oddly shaped. It’s tiny, about 10 feet by 3 feet, with a low ceiling. There’s a large opening, but there’s also space on either side. It’s got good light though and an electrical outlet in easy reach. I focused on creating plenty of storage for projects, keeping tools and materials in easy reach and easy for her to keep tidy. We’ll see how well that works.

When clearing things out, I found an old banner kit so Emmeth created a Sewing Corner banner to define the space. I covered our craft table with oil cloth. The finish on top had been destroyed by art projects over the years, this looks good and will be easy to clean. Finn built the peg board, the final project that took a bit longer. I had just thought we’d hang peg board on the wall, but he made a great frame for it as well.

There’s really not much to keep on there now, but I’m sure she’ll find use for all the pegs soon enough. The sewing machine sits atop my grandmother’s dresser, last seen in the office. There are narrow shelves above to display projects. The dresser holds the cutting mat, thread, rotary cutter, yarn and felting supplies. Large bins under the desk store fabric and scraps.

She’s already busy working on projects.

The Basement Grows Up

basement play space with swings and media

We’re really lucky to have a semi-finished space in the basement (which doesn’t look like this anymore since the great sofa switcheroo, I should take new photos . It’s very large and open, making it a great space to play and hang out. Unless you’re over 5’6″ (5 foot in some places), then you’re cramped and uncomfortable. But really, how many people are taller than 5’6″? Not me and really Finn enjoys crouching and banging his head on soffits. At any rate, it makes a fabulous space for the kids and since we’ve finished finishing it (it had walls and a ceiling when we moved in. And a bar and a bathtub.) its been such a luxury to not have to look at mounds of kid toys everywhere. They still creep upstairs, but in manageable amounts. However. Kids grow and change far too quickly. What worked for the space four years ago is not as effective now.

Several things remain – I like to keep the floor space as open as possible. We need a space for building large things, a space for art projects, a space for dolls/dress-up and space for games/reading/Wii, TV, lounging, etc. The space needed for dolls/dress-up, however, is shrinking as the tall one grows older. And the type of crafting space is changing. The small one still needs plenty of space for building and physical play. Here’s the current breakdown.

Supply Storage. Lots of these things are not used.

Crafting space in the weird little nook by the entrance.

Table. Needs more storage. And a better top.

Fabric storage and sewing supplies. Generally a disaster.

It’s a weird little set of nooks just inside the door. The first picture is looking to your left, then around to your right. The last picture is storage tucked under the stairs. The tall one has asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. I’d like to set up a functional area for her to sew and craft. We either need to refit this space some or move things around. There’s another strange little nook at the back, you can see it at the back of the opening photo. Here’s a close up.

We could clear out those shelves and relocate or get rid of them. The bins could move where the art area is now.

I sew but not continuously. I’m trying to think of what would help organize such a space for a child. So far every project has just resulted in fabric, thread and needles everywhere if she’s not supervised. Which she doesn’t really want to be, nor do I want to. She’s quite capable of just making things and I want to empower that. I also don’t want to pull pins out of guests. Their parents tend to frown on that sort of thing. Plus they yell. Loudly. I don’t like noise.

At any rate, crafty types, what do you like to organize your sewing/knitting/craft spaces? Which area would you choose? I’m open to replacing her table, maybe something with drawers? I’m sure I can find something thrifted or on Craigslist to paint and make cheery and cute. This will likely be part of her holiday presents, so I need to get going.


The children firmly insisted on bringing home some gourds during this week’s grocery shopping, so I finally gave in and let them each pick a few. I added some pomegranates and then let them style the centerpiece. I think they did pretty well with their composition, all things considered. It’s certainly better than my failed spray paint attempt. They keep asking if these are edible though. Anyone know the answer to that?

Works in Progress

Remember when I began working on bedrooms for Sharon’s children? Well they were recently painted and are looking much better.

Leah’s room has new furniture and a new rug and fits her request for teal, purple and hot pink.

plus these

will finish the space, as well as a chair for a reading nook and her newly repainted dresser (in purple, of course).

Danny’s room, however ended up a bit more mint than Sharon would like, a color compromise on her part. We’ll deal with that by covering large swathes of it. A large bookshelf, bright curtains and some large art should help tone down the walls. Danny was just as opinionated as his sister in the room decor, but with less of a wish list and more of a “no, don’t like that”. Tricky, but I think we’re slowly creating something everyone can live with.

Moving the dresser that Sharon hates, but her husband loves, into the closet and removing the closet doors, was a win for both and created much needed floor space for eventual book and toy storage.

Are your children opinionated about their spaces? How do you handle it?

The Weekly Room

This week’s Craigslist Weekly Room is a shared children’s bedroom. I grew up in a shared room till I was a teenager and while I was very happy to get my own space, there is still something charming in my memories of shared space.

For this space I found two wooden beds, not matching, but similar, as in the inspiration picture above. They could easily be painted, but I also think they would be perfectly lovely as is if they are not too beat up. Paired with a large steel shelving unit (this is a room for boys, steel is good) to corral all those things children accumulate, as well as a soft gray rug for wrestling matches, a dresser, a fun magazine stand, and wooden chairs (which I would definitely paint), you have a simple shared space for two active boys.

I’d finish the room with bedding in similar tones, some steel letters over each bed to echo the steel bookcase, dark curtains to encourage sleeping in (yeah, right), and plenty of baskets for storage.

What do you think, is it important for beds and furniture to match in a shared space?

The Weekly Room is a series in which I challenge myself to create an idea board from furniture found entirely on Craigslist. All furnishings must be in good condition and only one IKEA item is allowed per board. Unless otherwise specified, furnishings in the Weekly Room can be found in the Chicago Craigslist. All sources are on the Pinterest board, the pins for which are updated weekly as well. If you have a room or city you’d like me to try, let me know.

Alternatives to Fall Decorating

modern fall decor

I like fall, but I’ve never been into seasonal decorating. I don’t change out my mantel or have door decor that changes with the seasons. Perhaps it’s because I switch things around so much anyway it just doesn’t seem necessary to find an excuse for change. When you have children, however, there are certain expectations. Pumpkins, for example. This year, I’m interested in finding ways to keep the idea of holiday decor without feeling like I’m compromising aesthetics. I really like the spray painted pumpkins above. I might even go for pink, although let’s face it, that’s a long shot. The pumpkin dioramas are super cute too and the kids are already coming up with ideas.

black paper cone wreath

I’m also loving this dahlia wreath. I’m not usually the crafty type, but I think even I could find the patience to make this.

What about you, do you like to decorate for fall?

Other Sources

Anatomy of a Room: The Five Year Old Girl

Today we’re going to look at plans to redo this bedroom for a five-year old girl. To illustrate her wishes for the room, Leah, like any other five-year old, drew me a picture. It was pink, teal and purple stripes. Her mother was less than enthused with the plan. So how to take this to something workable? Well since I’ve already worked with one client that demanded everything be purple and another who wanted rainbow with extra green, I felt fairly sure I was up to the challenge.

The color scheme, via Leah.

Which I translated from stripes to teal walls, purple dresser & headboard, pink accents. Trim, ceiling and closet doors remain cream.

The furniture plan. Sharon wanted much more storage in a style that would grow with her daughter, as well as a desk for craft projects and later homework. Seating for friends, a comfy family reading chair and a soft rug completed the needs assessment. So here’s the plan. I’ve placed a headboard and dresser similar to what she has in the idea board, as both are staying. They’re white now, but will be painted purple.

The dresser stays in the little nook, shown below, while two large bookshelves will replace the small white one currently in the space. The desk will go between the two bookshelves. The dark wood of the bookshelves and desk will help ground the brighter colors in the space and provide a space for the eye to rest. The bed moves to the far corner and sits on an angle, so the reading chair can move near the closet. Leaving plenty of floor space for playing, slumber parties and lots of fun. A soft rug in a bright color finishes things off.

And then a ton of accessories.

Fun wall art, some decals to brighten up the closet doors, plenty of little hooks jewelry, fun suitcases for the polly pockets, colorful bins for the stuffed animals that seem to multiply during the night. Leah was a little (ok a lot) worried when the wall color was just teal, no stripes, but I think all these bright colors in the bedding and accessories, not to mention the painted furniture, will create a space that’s both uniquely her and one that her mom can stand to see every morning. We’ll be on a shopping and painting spree this month and I hope to show you the completed space in September (what?).

What do you think, could you go this bright in your child’s room? Sharon has two spaces I’m planning for her,  later this week we’ll look at her son Danny’s much more subdued space.


Sources for everything on my Pinterest board.

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