Once Linda Birkinbine's two daughters had outgrown their toys, she stowed the American Girl dolls in a closet and tucked the Beanie Babies out of sight. Then, with help from interior designer Sandy Nelson, she recast their basement playroom into a teen haven complete with a game table, sew-ing nook and enough room to start a revolution.
A "Dance Dance Revolution," that is.
"When my daughters had friends over, they moved into the great room, and that displaced us," she says. "They would hook up the DDR mat there, so the coffee table had to be moved. My good furniture was getting dinged up."
It used to be that kids seeking time alone, or with friends, had only one option - the bedroom. Even then, they often had to compete with any sibling that shared the room with them.
These days, though, with the average new build getting bigger, the average family getting smaller, and the average parents more willing to accommodate their kids than their own parents ever were, "kid zones" are proliferating.
They're popping up everywhere, from the basement to the attic, from spare bedrooms to walk-in closets. And they serve a multitude of purposes. A curtained reading nook with built-ins creates a cozy library for the resident bookworm. A barre installed in a basement corner lets the budding ballerina perfect her plies.
"We have the ability to make things comfortable for our kids, and we do," Nelson says, explaining parents' motivation to create kid zones. "These are public spaces that kids can share with their friends, rather than inviting their friends into their private spaces."
In some families, carving out such zones means that parents and children aren't vying for the same space. In others, it's a chance to spend quality time pursuing common interests.
When Susan and Kenneth Surdej had their Lancaster house built in 1999, Susan designated a section of the finished basement as a craft room for her and daughter Kaitlin. At the time, Kaitlin was 3, so she used her 10-foot counter for modeling Play-Doh or painting rocks the family collected on vacation. Now that she's 10, she is learning to sew and scrapbooking with Mom.
"It's a functional space," Surdej says. "One wall is pegboard for our collection of scissors and a 6-foot dry erase board. Kaitlin has two cabinets for supplies and a whole organizing tray with all the things that she needs to play school."
Although the craft nook is primarily functional, Kaitlin decorates it with the projects she has created. "It's definitely the most used room in the house," Surdej adds. "When the two of us get into the middle of something and I want to make dinner, or she wants to go outside and play, we can just leave everything. It's not on the dining room table. It's not in anybody's way."
Parents are more inclined than ever to create such zones for their kids, according to interior designer M.F. Chapman, and not just in the basement. The advantage of a kid zone on the main floor is that parents can keep an eye on their children without interfering.
"What we're seeing is parents finding a way to make kids come out of their bedrooms," says Chapman, founder of I.S. Design, a California firm specializing in designing and decorating children's spaces. "It used to be that the child's bedroom had to be a play area, study area, socializing area. But parents, especially parents of older kids, don't want them in their rooms because of the Internet. So more adults are adapting adult areas so kids can be in more public spaces."
It's the same idea as a kitchen picture window with a view of the backyard, she adds. "The parents aren't sitting over their kids' shoulders, but the kids are in a public space, so they're less likely to do something they shouldn't be doing."
That was one reason Paolina Hubbard didn't mind pulling up the white carpet on her family's formal living room and converting it to a game/TV room for her two teenagers and their friends.
"I had a few reservations about it at first, but I felt much better knowing that it would be used," Hubbard says. "Our house is fairly large, and our living room was one of those pretty rooms that didn't get utilized. We felt that we don't utilize all the space that we have to begin with, so why should we refinish the basement?"
Besides, Hubbard prefers her kids socializing in the heart of the family's Angola house. "I didn't like them in the basement for sleepovers. It just felt too removed, like it was a whole other world.
"I want them to feel comfortable that we're not on top of them, but I feel much more comfortable knowing they're right there. And they know we're here, too."