Child’s Play

October 3, 2021

A Greenwich play space provides kids freedom of movement—and lots of fun.

Text by Maria LaPiana    Photography by Stefan Radtke

When Karri Bowen-Poole is at work, all she thinks about is play. It goes with the territory, though: Bowen-Poole designs one-of-a-kind children’s playrooms for a living.

The former educator designed this multi-space, multi-functional, multi-fun playroom in collaboration with a Greenwich mother of three. The client wanted it to be bright (a big ask since it’s in the basement), gender-neutral, and tailored to her very active children, ages four, eight, and ten.

“I love to create spaces that encourage kids to move…and ones that are sensory rich and inviting,” says Bowen-Poole, who founded Smart Playrooms out of her home in Rye, New York, in 2010 after teaching elementary and preschool for twelve years. The company specializes in custom child-centered play areas, and the designer leapt at the chance to transform the dark, empty basement into a modern, magical escape room.

Bowen-Poole divided the basement into areas for physical play, sports, and art/Legos, annexing a seldom-used wine cellar for the latter. She amped up the dim light from two well windows by painting all the rooms Simply White (her go-to shade by Benjamin Moore) and installed new recessed lighting throughout.

The main space feels like a gymnastics studio—or the set of American Ninja Warrior—with its monkey bars, rock wall, climbing ropes, and sundry swings and trapezes. Kids can climb across the room and drop into a ball pit. A mini sport court invites younger children to play basketball and soccer or knee hockey. Because Bowen-Poole’s playrooms are designed for longevity, she added a foosball table to the mix. She incorporated a lower-than-usual Parsons-style table that seats four kids for the art/Lego area.

Bowen-Poole prioritizes functionality in her spaces; she chooses surfaces that can handle heavy use, like laminate flooring and wall-to-wall mats where needed. Neutral tones figure prominently for a sense of sophistication; toys and sports equipment provide the requisite pops of color. When the designer first started sourcing materials, it was hard to find neutrals for kids’ spaces: “Believe it or not, not everyone wants primary colors in a playroom,” she says.

She has since made her favorite playroom essentials (including neutrals!) available through her online shop, smart2playrooms.com.