February 13, 2005
A tiger lurks behind the door stalking his prey. Sierra Wagner and her friends crouch behind a mosquito net, squealing in terrified delight.
Fifteen miles away, 10-year-old Jonathan Forrest and his friends storm the castle on a quest to reclaim his Xbox.
In a playroom designed to cultivate the imagination, nothing is out of bounds. With input from the kids, parents can create a hideaway where their children will indulge their imaginations — and keep themselves out of trouble.
Coming from an artistic family was definitely an asset when Jennifer Wagner of Mesa set out to create a playroom for her children. Wagner’s father, a painter, was pulled in to do the ceilings while her husband did some of the woodwork.
"It’s a fun thing to do with the kids," Wagner says. "I’m amazed at how proud my kids are of this room."
Eight-year-old Pierce Wagner chose the jungle as the theme for the playroom he shares with his brother, Gabe, 6, and sisters Sierra, 7, and Isabel, 4 months. Giving Pierce the choice was only fair: The room was supposed to be his, but mom decided all three kids needed a place to make a mess.
"I thought honestly (the boys) would be better friends if they share a room," says Wagner, a muralist. "And I wouldn’t have to see three messy rooms. By the time I got to the end of the hall and saw all their rooms, I was losing it."
So the boys moved in together, and the toys were relegated to the playroom.
"The bedroom is strictly for quiet time to spend reading or sleeping," Wagner says. "If the kids can’t sleep, they won’t be able to get out of bed to play with toys."
Wagner put the room together for $300.
The mosquito net, which is the focal point of the room, was $30 at Burlington Coat Factory. Wagner got fabric at Wal-Mart for $7 a yard to make the pillows Sierra and her friends like to curl up on. The other accessories, including the fake plants, were on sale at Michaels.
"I am like the cheapie queen, OK?" Wagner says.
Wagner scoured her home for furniture, including a chest of drawers the family repainted to fit the jungle theme. Basket storage bins, which are "cheaper and cuter than plastic," were also repainted.
Paint, the biggest expense in the room, totaled $200, Wagner says. She suggests using stain or eggshell finish, not semigloss or glossy paints, which tend to lose the image in the glare of light coming in the window. Wallpaper is not a good idea — kids tend to amuse themselves by picking at it.
Debbie Forrest and her family, also of Mesa, did more than the average do -it-your-selfer when they created a playroom for Jonathan, 10, and Eric, 9. They built a castle.
Swords, armor and iron gates hang on walls painted to look like Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest. Beams of sunlight shine through the room’s large windows and hit the castle wall. Steep carpeted stairs lead to a loft where the brothers and their friends play video games, watch movies and have sleepovers. A wrought-iron grate keeps the boys from leaping to the beds below.
Forrest found her inspiration for the room when the family visited castles on a trip to Spain last year.
"Our boys liked swords and stuff, so it made sense," says the mother of seven, who recently was named Mother of the Year by Mesa.
The family hauled in the stone and laid it on the walls. The doors to the bathroom and closet below the loft were fashioned in a rustic style with iron knockers. A friend in New York picked up the iron fences. The forest murals were created by artist Katherine Levitt.
After spending hours creating a playroom, parents should know when to let go. The room was designed for the kids, and they’re the ones who will be using it.
"Things are going to be messy and things can break (in the playroom)," Wagner says. "You have to be at peace with it."