With the arrival of their second daughter, Penelope, now 20 months, Aaron Woodley, a filmmaker, and Jennifer Evans, a stylist, knew that the house they had been living in with their six-year-old, Amelia, was too small. But rather than leaving the Toronto neighbourhood they loved, they decided to add a two-level extension to the back of the house. Their wish list for the addition was extensive: a powder room, a family room with lots of storage for toys, an office and a mud room on the main floor, and a guest bedroom with an ensuite for the upstairs.
During the five-month-long renovation, Evans began to doubt that they’d be able to get everything they wanted into such a small footprint. “We toyed with putting the family room in the basement, but being able to watch and interact with the kids on the same floor, especially since they’re still so young, made so much more sense.” To make it work, Evans looked to her own childhood home, which featured a sunken living room with lots of built-ins and views of the garden, for inspiration. By forgoing a traditional couch and coffee table set-up, the possibilities for the space opened up. A narrow-but-tall closet with sliding doors and a pint-sized powder room were added to one wall, while a built-in desk with a shelf for toy storage was added to an adjacent wall. To provide a soft place to sit, they added a custom bench with lots of colourful cushions. Inspired by Amelia’s kindergarten classroom, Evans divided the space into “zones,” and placed everything within the girls’ reach. The room now features a hangout zone, an art zone, a toy zone and an entry zone. “I love being able to eavesdrop on my daughters’ imaginary play or watch their paintings come to life while I’m busy doing other things,” she says. “It’s just like I remember growing up.”
Tip: Maximize storage space with a built-in bench. By leaving the bottom of the custom corner-seating area open, an assortment of baskets, storage boxes and caddies filled with toys can be stowed underneath. If you don’t have space beneath your seating area, consider placing baskets under a coffee table or tucked into a corner.
“Our children are at the stage where they have a ton of toys, but we know it won’t last forever,” says Evans. Realizing that down the road they would need a homework space, they designed this area as a small office with a built-in desk. In the meantime, it provides lots of handy storage for toys, with an assortment of baskets, boxes and vintage wood crates keeping them organized. An extra built-in shelf takes advantage of space that would otherwise be unusable.
Amelia loves to make art, so Evans created a dedicated area for her. By attaching a roll of drawing paper and a storage unit for art supplies directly to the wall, Evans freed up valuable floor space while still keeping everything within arm’s reach. With its mix of framed children’s drawings and professional work, the art zone fits in seamlessly with the salon-style gallery wall.
DIY Hanging paper roll
1. Measure the length of the roll of paper, then add 3 inches on each side to figure out where to hang your wall brackets. Determine what height you want the roll of paper to be and measure up from the floor. Screw the brackets in securely.
2. Cut your dowel to the required length and give the ends a quick sanding to remove any roughness. It should measure at least 3 inches longer per side than the wall bracket.
3. Thread the dowel through the paper roll and mount it onto the wall bracket. Pull the paper down and you’re ready to go!
Add some closed storage Let’s face it, not everything should be in plain view. No one wants to look at piles of shoes or sports equipment. Outfitted with hooks and easy storage systems, this narrow closet (it measures just 12 inches deep) holds everything from the baby’s stroller (hidden behind the left door) to skateboards and winter coats. Sliding doors take up less room than swinging doors and keep this space clutter-free once the panels are closed.
5 tips to get organized
1. Encourage self-sufficiency by keeping often-used kids’ items within reach.
2. Store off-season gear up high in personalized baskets.
3. Set up a drop-off station for keys, sunblock, sippy cups and anything else you need to grab as you run out the door.
4. Bull clips nailed to a wall are a handy place to store practice schedules and permission slips.
5. Install hooks everywhere!
6. Keep everything in sight with see-through baskets.
7. At the end of each season, donate or purge any items that don’t fit anymore or are beyond repair.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2014 issue with the headline "In the zone," pp. 97-102.
Want to help your children become more organized? Check out this craft video on making a decorated desk caddy: