Spare Room? Make It a Playroom!

Transform a dull spare room into a romper room on a $500 budget.

By Joanne Camas

Interior-design television shows make redecorating look easy. Lightning transformations — from clutter-strewn hovel to stylish palace — happen in minutes as teams of painters and carpenters take orders from the latest designer-in-demand.

Embarking on your own refurbishing project, without a work crew standing by, can be daunting. But it doesn't have to be. We gave New York City-based interior designer Laura Greenberg a $500 budget and asked her how to turn a dull spare bedroom into a colorful haven that would have any visiting grandchild jumping up and down with joy.

Brighten Up!

"To start, repaint the room using bright colors that will stimulate your grandchild and create a fun environment that he or she can look forward to visiting," says Greenberg. Kids love to draw pictures. And teens like to keep phone numbers and notes handy. So paint a portion of the room with chalkboard paint, suggests Greenberg. Your grandchild will have a ball doodling and jotting things down on the walls.

Tip: Coat the walls with chalkboard paint. Find it in black from Benjamin Moore's Studio Finishes collection, no. 307. Go to

Wild 'n Wacky Walls

A bulletin-board picture rail that spans the interior of a room creates the ideal space for hanging your grandchild's artwork. And it won't damage the walls like thumbtacks and tape will, says Greenberg.

Tip: Cover bulletin-board picture rails or classic bulletin boards with inexpensive fabric that coordinates with the wall color — presto! — you have an attractive way to showcase artwork, notes, and photos. Cost: $46 per cork bulletin board. Go to

Kid-Friendly Flooring

Choosing sturdy flooring that's comfortable and easy to clean is key to keeping a playroom carefree. We've all seen the damage a glass of fruit juice can do, never mind brightly colored markers.

Tip: Greenberg recommends FLOR's carpeting tiles. "You can purchase the squares individually in a variety of colors and textures. Then create rugs of any size with them," she says. FLOR tiles can be washed in the sink. What's more, they're environmentally sound, produced with recycled materials. Cost: $7.49 - $20 per 19.7" x 19.7" tile. Go to

Fun & Functional Furnishings

When it comes to furniture, you have to balance a tightrope between practicality and affordability. If you want to have space in the room for your grandchild to sleep, as well as play, that can be tricky. The price tags on cribs and beds can quickly bust a budget.

Tip: Greenberg favors Ikea furniture. "Certain models adjust as your grandchild grows. For example, the crib transforms into a twin bed, and the extendable bed can be adjusted as a child grows taller," she says. Go to

Smart Storage

All those toys and games you want to fill the play room with can present a storage challenge. Greenberg suggests going on scavenger hunts at tag sales to search for an antique hope chest or trunk. "This can be painted and reused as an attractive toy chest."

Tip: Find upcoming tag sales near you at Cost: $50 to $100 or more, depending on the trunk's condition — and your haggling skills!

Designer Decals

On a bare-bones budget? Greenberg has just the tip for you. "In one project, we took the colors from existing furniture in a room, vibrant reds and apple greens, and designed around those. The red became the color of one of the walls. On the opposite wall, which was cream-colored, we attached red decals in a diagonal line."

Tip: Scope out Blik's stylish decals. Cost: $15 and up. Check out the ABC theme, or the Wee gallery sets that include Safari and Garden themes. Go to

Jump In

What are you waiting for? Select a wall color. Sketch a simple plan for how you'd like your grandchild's new playroom to look. Then get started. If your grandchild is older, ask for input on ideas. You may even put her to work with a paintbrush and a stencil. Grab a video camera and you've got the makings of your very own homegrown interior-design show.


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