In mid-July 2020, Apartment34 founder Erin Hiemstra still had high hopes that her 5-year-old son, Carter, would kick off kindergarten in a real classroom. “I was devastated when we learned it wouldn’t happen, especially because it’s an important milestone for kids,” she says. Hiemstra couldn’t make up for all the experiences Carter would miss out on (recess, meeting new friends), but she could reimagine the closet in his bedroom as a rad workspace. 

On a Sunday afternoon, the seasoned renovator and her husband installed a modular shelving system from California Closets’s Martha Stewart collection, customized to fit the measurements of the 3-by-4-foot nook. “It needed to not only be functional for right now but far into the future, too,” she says. Other than the coats and a laundry basket, the space is in no way closet-like, thanks to a clever desk setup designed for long afternoons on Zoom. Here, Hiemstra outlines the small touches that make the double-duty space feel cozy and primed for productivity.

Meet Them at Their Level 

doors painted white and navy
tall shelving units in a closet

The two-tone design on the closet walls and doors helps ground the room (after all, the 12-foot-high ceilings look like they go on forever). But Hiemstra didn’t take the dark navy hue exactly halfway—it stops right around Carter’s current height, creating an all-enveloping feeling when he’s sitting at his desk. “He needed a little punch of energy in there just as he’s giving us a little punch of energy all the time,” she explains.

Let Them Fidget

Hiemstra’s ideal desk chair would have been something made of wood and adorable, perhaps with a back shaped like bunny ears. But cuteness doesn’t equal comfort. Her son needed a chair that would help him get through the day—cue the fidget stool. The piece has a slightly rounded bottom so it wobbles as Carter moves around, helping him get rid of some of his nervous energy. 

“Trying to hold the attention of a 5-year-old on Zoom is tough,” says Hiemstra. “I wanted to give him things that can keep his eyes and hands busy.” The stainless steel board (a Container Store find) is stocked with plenty of magnets and dry-erase markers to play with. 

Encourage Independence

Carter’s closet before the makeover.

Carter’s closet after the makeover.

Keeping all the shelves open was a strategic decision: It’s easier for Carter to get himself dressed when all his clothes are in reach. “If kids don’t see something, they don’t know it’s there,” says Hiemstra. The same goes for markers, glue sticks, and crafting supplies, which live in see-through containers within his reach. 

Having a dedicated workspace has helped Carter to focus and act more grown-up, notes Hiemstra. “He’s very proud of it,” she says. “He plugs his headphones into his iPad just like his dad and says he’s going to meetings.”

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