Play House

by Carmen Peota | February 8, 2018

The owners knew it was a stepping stone when they bought it four years ago. Their goal was to be on nearby Lake Minnetonka. Still, they wanted to make the house their own. After all, who knew how long it would be before they found their dream property?

In many ways, the house was almost made to order for the couple with two boys and a third on the way. Originally designed by architect (and, coincidentally, a friend) James Dayton for a family with four boys, the contemporary farmhouse had five bedrooms, a loft space over the kitchen where the kids could play, as well as a spacious family room and den. They liked its clean lines and big windows. It just needed a few touches.

For those, the owners enlisted interior designer Andrew Flesher. “This is not our forever home, so let’s not go crazy,” they told him. They just wanted help with furnishings, lighting, and rugs. And they wanted a playroom in the 2,500-square-foot unfinished basement. “In the house we’d had before, I felt we were living among the kids’ toys,” the wife says.

An all white kitchen with green chairs surrounding the center island.

The white kitchen, with its tongue-and-groove walls and ceiling, divided-glass cabinet doors, and hearth-style stove alcove, evokes farmhouse style but uses a chic, modern vocabulary. (Spacecrafting)

With not much more direction, Flesher took cues from the house itself and the owners’ choices in their previous home, which he describes as almost “glitzy.” He quickly realized his challenge: “I was trying to figure out how to marry that with a modern farmhouse.” In the end, Flesher found his design direction in the couple’s young sons (now 3, 5, and 7). The house needed to feel young and to stand up to three boys. “That was the springboard,” he says.

Just for Kids

Flesher’s kid-centric approach is obvious in the basement, where a marquee-style sign announcing “play” in lights greets you as you enter the playroom. “I thought, kids aren’t going to have sofas and chairs—that’s not fun,” he says. Instead, he designed an indoor tree house replete with several levels, a lantern, and a lookout. The walls that surround it are covered with black chalk paint and pine and birch tree decals, creating a hideout in the woods.

A play treehouse in the basement of a home.

The indoor treehouse, surrounded by woods decals, and black chalkboard paint walls makes this basement playroom a winner. (Spacecrafting)

In the new basement bathroom, Flesher added Cole & Son wallpaper in a playful Fornasetti design featuring fish that seem to be swimming in a black sea. “Bathrooms are small,” says Flesher. “I think of them as jewel boxes. They’re a great place to use fun patterns.”

 A nautical bathroom with fish wallpaper.

Cole & Son's Fornasetti wallpaper adds playful style to the basement bathroom. (Spacecrafting)

On the second level, Flesher created a cozy reading nook by removing the doors to a closet off the hallway and adding a window seat, beanbag chairs, pillows, and a bookcase—all low to the ground. “I think it’s really important to make little spaces like that for kids that have the things they need and want,” Flesher says. “They like to sit on the floor. The beanbag chairs are soft, there are no sharp corners.”

A side room adds an extra space to hang out in this home.

The dressing room off the master bedroom adds light and space for the kids to hang while mom and dad get ready. (Spacecrafting)

In another little space, the loft over the kitchen, a repurposed desk (its legs cut off to make it shorter) provides a massive surface for Legos, art, or homework. Adults in the kitchen below can hear or talk to the kids above while all are working—or playing.

A boys bedroom with two beds, and toys on the floor.

The boys' bedrooms are age- and gender-neutral, as the red, charcoal, and gray palette of the 7 year old's room illustrates. (Spacecrafting)

In the boys’ bedrooms, Flesher aimed for gender- and age-neutral colors and pieces to please their mom. “With my first two, everything was blue and baby,” she says. The youngest son’s room is painted a soft tan and has a feathery white light fixture. A wide horizontal gray-striped wallpaper and a boxy light fixture are the dominant features in the middle son’s room. And a red-and-white wallpaper and red spider-like light fixture are used in the oldest boy’s room.

A tan and white bedroom with a small bedroom and framed pictures on the wall.

The youngest boy's bedroom features soft tans and textures. (Spacecrafting)

For Adults, Too

Flesher’s family-friendly approach is less front-and-center elsewhere. In the master bedroom, the upholstered yellow headboard, simple lines of the blue sofa at the foot of the bed, and white chandelier set an elegant tone. Yet even here, choices were made with kids in mind. For example, a closet wall was removed to create a dressing room open to the suite. “We like to get ready together, and we needed more light,” the wife says. “It’s been great for the kids. They’ll just come and sit in here while we’re getting ready and hang out.”

A master bedroom with a large bed, seating and stylish rug.

The master bedroom is a fresh combination of color and pattern. (Spacecrafting)

The family room, with an off-white sectional, vintage Danish modern chairs, and a Republic of Fritz Hansen daybed, appears less kid-friendly. But Flesher insists such furnishings make sense for young families. “You’d think you’d want to go cheap when you have lots of kids around who aren’t careful with things, but you want to do the opposite,” he says, explaining that with new textile technologies, almost any fabric (except velvet) can be made stain-resistant. “If someone spills a glass of red wine on a white linen sofa, it will bead up and roll off,” he notes.

A large family room with seating, a table and exposed wooden beams.

The family room may not look it, but fabrics and furnishings are kid-friendly. (Spacecrafting)

The den is the one place in the house that seems an adults-only zone. With charcoal grass cloth by Phillip Jeffries on the walls, dark-stained woodwork and flooring, and a dark ceiling, the room is a sharp contrast to the rest of the house. “I always think a house should have one room that is warm and cozy,” Flesher says. “We need a place to hole up on a cold day in January or a dark room to watch a movie.” Yet even here, color abounds. Flesher designed the sofas (made by Patricia Edwards), covered them in patterns and colors used elsewhere in the house, and found the grass green and black rug at Aubry Angelo. “It reminds me of a chunky, hand-knitted sweater,” he says of the pattern.

A darkly colored den with brick fireplace, coffee table and seating.

The saturated colors of the den contrast with the rest of the house, yet colorful textiles lend a warm, cozy feel. (Spacecrafting)

In the end, Flesher’s design hits a sweet spot. The bright, whimsical window treatments, wallpapers, and rugs, and light fixtures that look like modern sculpture give the home a youthful, light-hearted feel, while luxurious fabrics and furnishings such as the mirrored dresser and tables in the guest room honor the owners’ preferences for sophistication and elegance. Most important, this stepping-stone house meets the needs of all the members of a young family, including the boys.

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