Business partners Denise Davies and Karri Bowen-Poole initially connected in the digital realm (“it was Instagram love at first sight,” they wrote in an email), but they eventually teamed up last year to bring a more analog endeavor to life: designing custom educational playrooms that mix good design with a smorgasbord of opportunities for play, an endeavor they dubbed Project Playroom.
And it turns out there’s good reason for the focus on aesthetics: In addition to Montessori’s ideas, Davies and Bowen-Poole also follow the Reggio Emilia approach, in which environments rich in possibility and experience are central to a student-centered curriculum. In other words, kids need engaging, thought-provoking things to explore in their play areas. Project Playroom also strives for customization, especially in an era where one-size-fits-all play spaces are practically de rigueur in luxury high-rises.
In Greenwich, Connecticut, for example, they transformed a three-car garage into a rec room for three kids, complete with a climbing wall that looks more site-specific Pop Art than gym class, with personalized, pint-sized nooks for each child. For Nicky Hilton Rothschild’s home, the pair created a candy-themed wall mural and a midcentury chic dollhouse complete with graphic turquoise wallpaper and Scandinavian-style furniture.
Though these spaces are decidedly kid-friendly, the designers don’t talk down to the junior set where design is concerned: In their projects you’ll discover pedigreed details like the Eames Hang-It-All, custom neon signage, LEGO walls, and Warholian banana wallpaper. “Bold colors can be sophisticated and modern, and every room deserves good design, including the playroom,” says Davies. “The perfect kids’ play spaces should be enjoyed by kids and appreciated by adults—after all, color makes everyone happy.”
This summer, the pair will introduce Smart à la Carte, an online shop featuring some of the elements they use in their playroom designs. Parents will find mats, balance beams, wall decals, neon signs, indoor swings, climbing ropes, and the elements needed to build a climbing wall.
Their timing couldn’t be better, it seems. The firm has seen interest tick upward since the stay-at-home orders went into effect in March, as parents see—in real time—what is and isn’t working for their kids. And in an era when parks, schools, and summer camp are on pause, parents are looking to encourage physical activity. “[These kinds of schemes] used to be something that was really only included in the outdoor space or in parks,” the duo adds, “but educational research continues to remind us how important moving, climbing, and swinging are to developing minds and bodies.”
Parents also have their own interests at hand: “They really do not want to spend time in the playroom—probably because it is a disaster!” Davies and Bowen-Poole both observe. And “they also realize they need their kids to spend time in the playroom so they can work.”
As families have adjusted to online remote learning this year, chances are a lot of screen-weary kids are ready to turn off their tablets.
Full article with images can be found here