April 22, 2024

Architectural Concepts Guide

Elevating Home Design Standards

These Big-Budget Playrooms Will Make You Wish You Were a Kid Again

6 min read

When Shellie and Perry Pardoe moved from northern Utah to Salt Lake City, they quickly realized that as empty-nesters, they didn’t need all five bedrooms in their house. But they did look forward to visits from their seven grandchildren and other young members of the family. 

So they spent about $30,000 to turn one of the bedrooms into a “fantasy reading forest” playroom for the grandkids, complete with treehouses, a climbing wall and a hideaway with two swinging hammocks.

“It transports you into this other, fantasy world,” said Shellie Pardoe, 56. “It’s hard to take it all in when you first walk in the door.”

Wealthy homeowners are spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on elaborate playrooms for their children. Some parents hope these creative spaces will help promote healthy development and learning, said Karri Bowen-Poole of New York-based Smart Playrooms. Others decided to improve their playrooms after seeing them underused during pandemic lockdowns. Many of these playground-like spaces are just as much fun for the adults as they are for the children, parents said.

During the pandemic lockdowns, “the playroom and the children and the toys were driving the grown-ups bananas,” said Anne Gillyard of Washington, D.C.,-based grOH! Playrooms. “We saw this shift where grown-ups needed not only someone to help contain the clutter and to make the space feel better, but also to create a space where children are learning.” 

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That was the case for North Carolina resident Ashley George, 37. She and her husband, 42-year-old private-equity executive Alan George, delayed breaking ground on a roughly $2 million home near Charlotte when early pandemic lockdowns began. In the ensuing months, they decided to change the plans for their new house after watching their three young children play together. 

“I saw how we used our old playroom, and I realized that all it ends up being is space where my children throw all their toys,” said Ashley George. “They didn’t really go in there. So I really wanted to bring it to life.” 

The Georges commissioned Bowen-Poole to design a playroom in their new house with monkey bars, swings, foam pits, a climbing wall and a slide, at a cost of roughly $10,000.

Now the children run to the new playroom each day after school, Ashley George said. Her 5-year-old loves challenging herself on the monkey bars: “She is so proud of herself.”

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When Mason Tenet was nearing a year old, his pediatrician recommended helping the infant learn to pull himself up, an important step in motor-skill development at that age. So his parents, Tiana and John Tenet, enlisted grOH! to create a playroom in their Chevy Chase, Md., home with a foam pit, monkey bars, two playhouses and a mural with a rock-climbing wall.

The Tenets’ Soho-themed playroom has a climbing wall, monkey bars and playhouses.

Laura Metzler Photography

The Tenets also hired grOH! to create an outdoor play space.

Laura Metzler Photography

Tiana Tenet, the co-founder of the private-chef services company The Culinistas, said she wanted to not only optimize her son’s development, but build a beautiful playspace in their roughly 7,000-square-foot house. Her pediatrician recommended grOH!, which created a playroom for the Tenets at a cost of over $10,000. 

John Tenet is co-founder of defense-technology companies Chaos Industries and Epirus. The Tenets, who are both in their 30s, had moved to Maryland from Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, so they decided to give the new playroom a Soho theme. The Tenets also had grOH! create an outdoor play space, and are currently building a beach-themed playroom in their Hamptons house, which they expect to complete at the end of this year.

Mason’s motor skills are now on track, as are those of his 1-year-old brother, Ryder, Tiana Tenet said. Mason is “moving and grooving,” said Gillyard, noting that environmental change isn’t always enough but can support specialists’ treatment. 

The playroom at New York City condominium 11 Hoyt has a slide.

Seth Caplan

At 11 Hoyt, the playroom opens to an outdoor playground.

Jennifer Young

Tiana Tenet said her sons haven’t yet begun to explore some parts of the playroom, like the climbing wall and monkey bars, preferring the playhouses and foam pit. She’s not rushing it; she hopes the playroom will age with them as they grow into using its more challenging facets. 

These days, luxury playrooms are often intended to be spaces that parents and children can enjoy together, said Rina Kukaj of Michaelis Boyd, an interior-design firm that created the butterfly-themed playroom at New York City condominium 11 Hoyt. The playroom has become a popular meeting spot for parents, she said. It opens to an outdoor playground, which is near a grilling area that parents can use with their friends while supervising their children. 

Real-estate developer Nick Candy, 50, and his wife, Holly Valance, 40, spent about $350,000 building a playroom for their two daughters, Luka and Nova, in their Los Angeles home, which they bought in 2018 for $28.5 million. The couple wanted a light-filled space the adults could enjoy too, said Candy, who has developed mixed-use projects like One Hyde Park in London. 

Nick Candy and Holly Valance converted a garage in their Los Angeles home into an ice cream-themed playroom.

Candy London

In the Candys’ playroom, a pink spiral slide leads to a ball pit.

Candy London

They used Candy London, Candy’s interior-design and development management firm, to create a space with two ice cream shop-themed playhouses connected by a bridge. A pink spiral slide leads to a ball pit. The floors, which look like wood, are made of rubber for safety, and there is ample storage for toys. The girls like to make slime at the arts-and-crafts table and read in the teepee swing, Valance said. 

The couple, who live primarily in London, didn’t tell the children about the new playroom until it was complete, preferring to surprise them. “I asked Luka to come and help me with something in the ‘garage,’” said Valance. When the 5-year-old saw the space, she shrieked and jumped immediately into the ballpit. “I think her tiny mind almost exploded.”

Now that the playroom is complete, the whole family spends time there, said Valance.

“The girls play, I read and have coffee in there at dawn,” said Valance. “We funnily all end up in there, even my husband, which I think is a great sign.” 

The girls, now ages 6 and 9, are attending school in the U.K., Valance said, so they have put the house on the market asking $85 million.

Many playrooms are designed around a theme or central idea, said Michael Whiston of Silver Hill Atelier, which built a Central Park-inspired playroom at the Manhattan condominium 1289 Lexington. 

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Perry Pardoe, 61, who has a construction and mining-equipment business, and his wife wanted to use their playroom to help inspire a love of reading in their grandchildren.

In the two-story space, books like “Treasure Island” and “Alice in Wonderland” are painted on the wall along with a mural depicting trees and waterfalls. Local builder Jamie Walker outfitted the first floor with a climbing wall and an art area. The second floor has the hammock hideaway, a treehouse-like balcony and a reading nook with bookshelves, said Walker.

The couple surprised their grandchildren with the playroom for Christmas in 2017.

“They didn’t see it or know anything about it until we revealed it on Christmas Day,” said Shellie Pardoe. When they unveiled the space, the children flocked to the climbing wall and treehouse. 

Her teenage nieces and nephews also like to sleep in the playroom’s loft, she said, and when her Texas-based niece came into town recently, she brought her two sets of twins over to play. But the playroom’s main user has become Shellie Pardoe herself. “I go in there to read all the time!”


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