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Everything I Used to Furnish My Toddler’s (Montessori-Inspired) Playroom

Photo: Lauren Ro

We’re extremely lucky in that we have a little sunroom at the front of our house. My husband and I have dreamed about turning it into so many things, from a reading oasis filled with plants (that’s how it was staged when we first toured the place) to an exercise studio. But after we settled in, it became the de facto trash room. Instead of tropical houseplants, we stuffed it to the gills with (way too many) Amazon boxes and other detritus from the endless stream of packages we ordered for both the house and our soon-to-arrive baby, who was due less than a month after we moved in.

Two and a half years later, we’ve finally converted the sunroom from a private dump into another space we envisioned it becoming: our son Augie’s very own playroom. While the time it took meant that our living room was taken over by his countless toys, books, train tracks, and art supplies for longer than we may have wanted, it also allowed us to more thoughtfully accumulate the type of furnishings we needed to make a functional playroom that also looked as nice as any kids’ area can. Even though most of the storage, furniture, and accessories we used were already elsewhere in our home by the time we decided to make the playroom, putting everything together made it all feel new again, especially to Augie, who was so jazzed to see his own space. While everything on this list is suited to his age — 2 and a half — I imagine a lot of it will take Augie into his preschool years and beyond. I can’t say the same for the toys in the playroom, which is why you won’t find any here, because they just change too frequently. (But if you’re looking for toys to fill a playroom, Strategist’s Toy Matrix would be a good place to start.)

When Augie was a baby and only had a few possessions to his name, we used rope baskets to store his plushies and whatever else babies play with when they’re that young (I honestly cannot remember anymore). But just as quickly as he grew, so did his pile of toys. Hot Wheels, trains, train tracks, blocks, and balls were soon overflowing from the baskets and taking up most of the floor space in the living room. I don’t know why it took us nearly two years to get this expert-approved toy organizer from Ikea, but when we finally did, it was like Mary Poppins had paid a visit: Just like that, everything was in its right place, and the solid pine frame looked like something straight out of a Montessori classroom. I opted for nine of the small drawers (in yellow and green to add a bit of color) so that each category of toy would have its own spot. As I wrote before, the drawers are a bit flimsy and don’t always stay in place, but they get the job done, and Augie actually enjoys pulling them out and pushing them back in. I also like that I can use the top of the unit to display some of his larger toys.

Augie also has a lot of books. This inexpensive and sturdy bookshelf holds a surprising number of them in all sizes, though some of the smaller board books can get lost in the racks. In retrospect, I should have gotten the one in natural wood to match the other furniture in the room, but the white still looks nice.

This was our latest purchase and the one that finally kicked our butts into gear to get the playroom together. Before we got this table, Augie used our tiny coffee table for arts and crafts. After a while, his scribbles, stamping, and Play-Doh got everywhere — it was clear he needed his own, larger desk. I loved the idea of this Donald Judd-esque table with built-in storage I saw on Etsy and tried to find something similar for cheaper, but came up short. I kept searching until I stumbled upon this sweet kidney-shaped table from RAD, a Los Angeles–based company that makes everything locally out of sustainable, formaldehyde-free Euro birch. Its surface is 40 inches long and not too narrow or too wide, making it perfect for drawing or playing with one of his many train-track systems. It’s also the ideal height for Augie because you can choose from infant, toddler, and preschool heights (we went with toddler) and can even get replacement legs, like the preschool ones we got, for when your child outgrows whatever they start with. (Attaching or switching out the legs couldn’t be easier — simply screw them in, no tools required.) It’s also gorgeous; I love how the shape lets Augie nestle into the little indent when he’s seated.

Like RAD, ECR4Kids makes solid, stylish children’s furniture. I considered getting a Herman Miller–esque bentwood chair-and-table set that also appeared on the Strategist, but it was just too small for our purposes. Instead, I got these little chairs from the brand, which Augie first used at our living-room coffee table. Now he uses them with his new table from RAD, which they even match.

Once Augie finally got his own table, there was still the question about what to do with his art supplies. I bought a set of plastic rolling drawers intending to use them for that stuff, but they turned out to be so lightweight and unstable that I couldn’t see them working out long-term. Inspired by one of the experts I spoke to for Strategist’s story on toy organizers, I decided to repurpose one of our rolling carts from Ikea as a sort of art cart. It now holds construction paper, coloring books, stickers, stamps, and Play-Doh. Other supplies — like his Crayons, markers, and colored pencils — live elsewhere inside plastic bins and old tea tins, but I plan on getting this lazy Susan as a place to keep all those.

Photo: retailer

Yes, we succumbed to the cult of the Nugget, and yes, it’s pretty cool: It’s essentially a modular foam “couch” made up of four pieces that can be configured into any number of things: forts, slides, towers, tunnels, and, of course, seating. (It also happens to be a favorite of pediatric therapist Dr. Giselle Tadros, who recommended it for our story on indoor active play and says her three kids play on it “for hours.”) While it’s perpetually sold out, I managed to preorder one back in November but had to wait until January for it to arrive. There are two folding bases, one that’s thicker and firmer than the other, and two triangular blocks. For a good while, Augie used one of the bases as a “mountain” that he loved to climb and jump off of or slide down from. We’ve also used it as a couch, and it’s actually quite comfortable for full-size adults to sit on. Although the Nugget is not cheap, I can see Augie playing with — on? — it for several more years.

We didn’t have any kind of mat for Augie in the living room because we figured a rug alone was soft enough for playing on. I first heard about this play mat when the former editor-in-chief of Babylist recommended it as one of the best play mats for kids, and the brand offered to send me one following that story’s publication. I suspected it would be ideal for the playroom we kept telling ourselves we’d put together, and I was right. The material is cushy and shock-absorbent, and it makes a nice base for his train tracks. I also like that it’s double-sided: The side we use now is more rug-like, with a pattern of interlocking circles that isn’t too loud; the other has a series of vibrant circles featuring little graphics (a balloon, some trees) that Augie enjoyed hopping between when he was younger.

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Everything I Used to Furnish My Toddler’s Playroom