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My New Embrace-the-Chaos Design Aesthetic

Erin Zammett Ruddy

This little nook you see in the photo sits between my living room and dining room. We used to have a bench there and real-people art hanging above. We did our best to keep kid stuff only in the playroom and in their rooms. And pushpinned to the bulletin boards over our desks, of course.

A friend was once walking around my main floor and commented, “Where do you hide all your kid crap? My house is overflowing with it.” (I have a stainless-steel refrigerator so no homemade magnets or art projects hanging there, either.) I was proud of that comment. I liked to keep things separate so that my house could still feel like adults lived there. Maybe it’s symbolic of how I see myself as a parent: My whole life is not about my children so my whole house shouldn’t be about them, either.

But then these children got older and needed somewhere to do their art and homework that wasn’t my kitchen or dining room tables. Or down in the playroom where, frankly, I don’t want to have to be all the time. Giving them a little space of their own on the main floor meant that we could all hang out and they could do their own thing while I still have an eye on them (I have the kind of children that pretty much always need an eye on them).

Plus: Is My Playroom OCD Normal?

As we all know, kids like to create stuff and they like to see it hung up and, bonus, it can look kind of cool. Especially when you curate, as I do (Nora will often scribble a few lines on a piece of paper—those do not make the wall). It's also cheaper than the giant painting Nick and I really want in that spot but can't afford right now (there is no actual painting, it’s more an idea of a painting—something oversized and abstractish with a nature-theme and some splashes of actual color to liven up our very beige palate—made by a real artist, not Pottery Barn or Ballard Designs).

And so, for now, we have this burlap-wrapped fiberboard (which was originally in our laundry room) screwed into our wall, where we can tack up anything we like. Some of it is homework-related to help Alex (a letter and number chart, for example), some of it is seasonal (the snowmen need to come down stat) and, yes, some of it is mine that Alex and I worked on together. I had originally just been tacking stuff to the wall there hoping to get some real art soon but then we figured what the hell. What’s more colorful and fun and mood-boosting than kid art? So we moved the burlap piece up there and made it more permanent.

This burlap-wrapped fiberboard has a name. It's called homasote and you can buy a four-foot-by-eight-foot panel from Home Depot for less than $30. This one, in the interest of full disclosure, was made for me by a design team at Real Simple who came to my house about three years ago. They were there to overhaul my laundry room for a story, transforming it from dingy unfinished basement to bright-yellow super-organized room complete with hanging racks and an art corner for Alex. The idea was that having a spot to display the kids' art in my laundry room would make it a place that looked fun and inviting so we’d all want to be in there a lot while I expertly fought stains and washed and folded. As if. I’m lucky if I get in there once a week and I can't remember the last time I treated a stain--or folded anything properly. And so this cool-looking board was just sitting there unused.

Plus: My Playroom Redo! 

I asked Nick what he thought and he agreed to give it a shot. So we moved it up and we both love it. The natural fiber goes perfectly with our décor and the texture gives the flat wall some oomph. It's between my china cabinet and our fireplace which are both pretty formal and traditional so it gives a nice balance to the room. When people walk in our front door, they see a very adult-looking space with just a hint o' kid. When I walk in the front door, my eye goes right there and I always think, nice. It’s the perfect way to include our children in the design without letting their stuff completely take over.

So, what do you think? Do you have anything like this in your house? Do you have some space that’s just for adult stuff or do your kids’ have their stamp in every room? Any other ideas for displaying kid art in the adult space? Let me know! I’m in a DIY mood these days!

Also, don't forget to come visit me over at!