Updated: Nov 20
Welcome to the heartwarming story of how Be In Wonder Design, in collaboration with Natalie's Charity, brought a touch of magic into the lives of a special family. Join me, Vanessa, your Multi-Sensory Playroom Designer as I take you through the incredible journey of crafting a whimsical children's playroom wonderland in the GTA.
A Collaborative Endeavor to Spread Joy
Last summer Natalie Abkarian-Cimini had reached out to me asking if I would be interested in collaborating on a project. Her and her boys were in the middle of working so hard fundraising money by selling name crayons, loot bags, and personalized party favors at local markets as well as online. Their goal was to raise $5000 and gift one family with a neurodiverse child/ren a multi sensory purpose playroom. It was like the stars aligned when she contacted me as my eldest son JDs Wonderland was in the middle of raising money for sick kids and had surpassed his goal of $1000. He had an additional $400 that he wanted to donate and after my conversation with Natalie, he knew that this is what he wanted the money to go towards.
Crafting a Dream Space for a Worthy Cause
The purpose behind Be In Wonder Design is to bridge the gap between home and school connections and make a difference in as many family's lives as possible. With 20 years of experience in Early Childhood and Development, including working 4 years as an Educational Resource Facilitator with children and adults with special needs, I bring all of my expertise into every project I design.
The Delightful Journey Unfolds
Before we even had a family to work with, there were certain elements that I knew I wanted to include within the playroom design - especially a movement space. I had asked Natalie if she wouldn't mind that we bring my friend Emily from Movement Rooms onto the team for this project and of course, she was thrilled! Emily is passionate about family well-being, active play, and beautiful woodworking. She has also become a really good friend of mine so I always enjoy collaborating and working with her!
Transforming Dreams into Reality
Natalie and her boys continued to work so hard with their fundraising as well as all of the behind-the-scenes logistics. By October it was finally time to announce that entries were open to families! Our goal was to have this space completed before the winter holidays. Within a couple of weeks we had the perfect family to work with, Kathy and Craig who had two beautiful children 3 year old boy as well as a 1 year old daughter. Our first step was to set up a zoom call to let the family know that they were the lucky winners. By the end of that call, I am pretty sure we were all in tears! It was such a touching experience and being able to gift something like this to a family was truly the best feeling ever!
From Vision to Reality: Building a Dream Playroom
The next step after our call was to set up an in person consultation within the family's home. This would give us an opportunity to discuss their needs, wants, as well as the children's interests. It would also give us a chance to physically see the space that we were working with and then take pictures and measurements to be able to begin the design process.
Here we are outside of the family's home, about to knock on the door for the first time ever. We were so excited to meet them in person! I love how thoughtful Natalie is, she knew their little guy is dino obsessed and his favourite colour is green so she picked up those super cute balloons!
The initial meeting went really well. Some happy tears were shed once again, and we were all just so thrilled to be able to work with Kathy, Craig, their two children, and gift them this incredible space. Our consultation allowed us time to really delve into the family's daily struggles, their wishes for the space, as well as the kids' interests. We discussed the children's needs and strengths as that also helps to guide me within the design. The family wasn't attached to anything within the existing space and they were open to all suggestions. Thankfully Natalie took some great before photos:
When Being Moody is a Good Thing
We were hopeful that the project would be completed before the winter holidays but with the busyness of the season, some much-needed time away, as well as a few hard-hit viruses back to back, we postponed the installation for the new year. The first document that was uploaded to the family's client portal was a mood board. When I work with clients, the purpose of the mood board is to give them a sense of what the space will look like and feel like as well as an idea of some of the items that will be included. Here is an example of a mood board for this family's sensory playroom design (it is not the exact one as things changed along the way based on orders, budget, and finding the perfect elements for the space):
Creating Zones of Play for Children’s Playrooms
When working with families and designing a space for children, I like to create different zones. Similar to a classroom, having multiple areas of play helps to create a better sense of flow within the space. For this particular family I had planned for a gross motor play space, small world play, sensory play, open-ended play, creative play, dramatic play, and a special little space that I like to call the "zen den". Some things that we knew about the kids included green as a favourite colour, love for dinosaurs, Peppa Pig, love for small spaces, tight hugs, music, lights, and swinging/hanging. As soon as I saw their under the stairs closet, I knew exactly what I wanted to do!
Once the mood board was completed I moved forward with a floor plan, 3D rendering and suggested product list. We then set up a team meeting with the family where we had an opportunity to go over all of the documents, ideas, and finalize a concrete plan. Natalie completed all of the approved orders and once we had everything ready to go we set up an installation date.
Organized Chaos with a Dream Ending
It definitely got a lot messier before it got any better! Natalie's husband and Emily's coworker Tavis also donated their time to help us bring this space together which was incredibly helpful. I should also mention, that before we booked our installation date, we had discussed with the family the possibility of them having someone remove the existing fireplace that was under the TV, move the existing light and install a new flush mount ceiling light, as well as remove the door on the closet that lead to under the stairs. They had all three things completed before we moved in for our install which was amazing! It was a long 10-hour installation day with every little detail accounted for. There were a couple of things still waiting to arrive but take a look at these after photos:
Magnetic Play, Art Display, Small World Play and Closed Toy Storage
Sensory Swing, Gross Motor Play, Open Ended Play Toy Storage
Creation Station and Dramatic Play
Under The Stairs Zen Den
Going with the Flow of Change
A few things had changed with the design along the way. This often happens as things need to be tweaked, moved around, and edited to be perfect for each family. In my original design, I wanted a rock climbing wall within the climbing structure. We had discussed this element with the family and we all loved the idea. However, once Emily and her team built the actual structure, she realized that it would pose a risk when climbing the ladder to have rock climbing holds on the wall. We collectively decided it would be best without it and the family could possibly add the rock holds in the future. I really didn't want a blank wall and I also didn't want more wall decals. I had suggested some asymmetrical slats on the wall for a simple yet cool design aesthetic and a way to complete the final look. I absolutely love the way it turned out and I am so glad that we were all on the same page! I also asked Emily and her team to build a house frame around the family's existing kitchen with a shelf. Not only does it look super cute but it also serves as additional storage, win-win!
Unveiling the Wonder: A Space for Smiles and Laughter
And then the finale ... the best part of this ENTIRE process was seeing the family's reaction. It was such a late night so baby sis had already headed to bed but big brother had a chance to scope out the scene and he immediately knew how to navigate his new multi-sensory playroom. It was absolutely incredible to see and witness. He naturally went from zone to zone, interacting with the space, engaging with materials and invitations to play while smiling from ear to ear! Check out the photos below and I dare you not to smile!
A special shout out to the following vendors who donated their items to this project which was SO generous of them:
Here are some more items that I sourced for this design that really helped create the multi-sensory playroom feel:
The Joy of Creating Playroom Spaces That Make a Difference
It's pretty amazing to see what can be accomplished when like-minded individuals come together to support others and give back. As a neurodiverse mom myself, this project hit close to home and to see the impact that it has had on the family is truly the best feeling ever. I KNOW what these spaces do for families, but to hear it firsthand from them is the best compliment I could receive.
Some words from Kathy:
"In terms of the kids and the space, they love it!!!!!! S has been trying to climb the ladder. D too has made it to the top and we have been practicing climbing across it. S really likes the whiteboard. She has been drawing on it and figuring out the magnets. D loves the swing and watching the dinosaur movie in it. He also is in love with the zen den and the boat. After a busy day at daycare, the kids have come home and we have really seen a shift in their moods. Before, they were irritable and after spending time in the space, they are more calm. D even came up for dinner without complaining and would sit and eat dinner at the table with the family. It has been such a positive space for them!!! This experience has been so wonderful. And, the space is beautiful. As stated before, there are no words to express the gratitude we have. Our hearts are full. Thank you!"
The Power of Playroom Design
This heartfelt reaction from the family served as a testament to the power of creating magical spaces! Witnessing the transformative impact on their daily lives was the greatest reward. I look forward to being able to create wonder-filled spaces for deserving families again.
For more kid's play and decor inspiration such as stem learning, favourite literature, puzzles, board games, canopies, lighting, rugs etc. please click HERE.
If you are interested in discussing designs for your child(ren) you can book a free consultation call with me HERE.
Thank you for being here and I look forward to connecting with you!
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