Published on September 24, 2020

00-FEATURE-abby-clawson-low-playroom-domino Pin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

Abby Clawson Low’s three sons had one request when their family relocated from Mexico City to Dallas a few years ago. The boys—Thomas (10), Matthew (9), and Andrew (5)—wanted to sleep in the same room. There was only one hiccup: The two bunk beds, which Abby and her husband, Brian, had in Mexico wouldn’t work with the new home’s layout.

In search of a triple bunk bed, she called around but got quoted several thousand dollars for a custom-made option and came back empty-handed after visiting endless furniture showrooms. “We were down to the last week before the boys were coming home and hadn’t found the right solution,” remembers Abby (who had sent the kids to stay with their grandparents while the couple got their new house move-in ready). At the eleventh hour, she jumped on Amazon and found the perfect piece that could be express-shipped. 

With the main part of the puzzle in place, the art director got to work setting up a vibrant, inspiring space with custom (and budget-friendly) art, plus plenty of storage solutions for displaying mementos and managing clutter. This year she tweaked the areas once again to accommodate distance learning. Here are some of her tricks for designing an ever-evolving home.

Carve Out Zones to Play, Work, and Relax

Triple bunk bed in kids roomPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low
Homeschooling station with vintage Paul Rand printPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

Having all three kids sleeping in the same place left two spare bedrooms vacant, plus a large adjacent landing—forming the perfect trifecta for creating different areas to suit different functions. “I usually don’t put a lot of toys in their bedroom, because I want the boys to chill out and read,” says Abby of sticking to simple bookshelves, a woven rocker, and a small love seat for them to curl up in.

The newly converted workspace in the play zone serves as both a homeschooling station for Thomas and Matthew and an office for Brian (he helps them with homework while Abby is with Andrew during the day). Over the past few months, everyone decided it was finally time to make use of the piano they’ve had for years but barely touched. “The boys can earn Minecraft time by practicing,” explains Abby, who applied color-coded stickers on the music notes to help them learn. She also outfitted the piano with a traditional Mexican bench, which just happened to fit perfectly in the instrument’s recess, and sewed together a pillow cover with candy cane–striped fabric. 

Reimagine What You Already Own

Piano bench with striped pillowPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

Because desks were largely sold out this summer, Low repurposed an IKEA Malm console for the kids’ workstation, while Brian grabbed a vintage desk for himself that’s been with the couple for 20-plus years. Other pieces she reused: the boys’ bedroom rug that was once in their Mexico City playroom (and, before that, in the family’s property in New Jersey) and the wall-hung shelves, which have been installed in two other houses before this one. “We don’t usually like to get rid of everything and start over,” says the art director, who also used chairs, benches, and sofas from past homes to furnish the boys’ area and freshened them up with primary-hued pillows and throws. 

Build It, and They Will Organize

Playroom with Lego block storagePin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

In the playroom, “Legos kind of take over,” Abby shares with a laugh. She oversees toy traffic control with storage running below the TV to hide everything from DVDs to board games to musical instruments, and keeps lots of baskets in varying sizes for Magna-Tiles, marble runs, and play tool sets. Also: stackable bins in the form of…more Legos.

Still, the biggest organizational system came from Matthew. “We’d been at a friend’s house, and he saw that Legos could be organized by color, so he started sorting his own pieces,” Abby recalls. To encourage him, she applied circle stickers to the front of each basket to identify which hue goes where.

Maximize Overlooked Spaces

Bookshelf detail in kids roomPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low
Kids bookcase with wooden toysPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

“I try not to fill shelves with things that don’t get used unless they’re souvenirs,” says Abby, who places sentimental items and toys the kids have outgrown on out-of-reach wall-mounted surfaces. The hallway bookcase is topped with wood Creative Playthings from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, which the boys played with as babies. In the bedroom Mexican felted-wool animals, Coca-Cola piggy banks, and mini oil cans Abby made for a race car–themed birthday party line an entire wall. Until it’s time for the meaningful mementos to be passed onto the next gen, they brighten forgotten corners and double as decor.

Get Creative (and Crafty) With Art

Kids room with blue rugPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low
Fruit posters in playroomPin It
Photography and Design by Abby Clawson Low

Abby kept the walls white, but used her graphic design skills to fill them with art (a smart rental tip, too): Framed silk-screen wrappers from a friend’s chocolate company sit on the bedroom desk; an illustration from a vintage Paul Rand children’s book rounds out the homework station; and a blown-up vintage booklet cover by Vitsœ hangs beside a 1970s Herman Miller fruit poster in the playroom. “I immediately thought they’d look great as a pair,” she says. Her own custom-on-a-budget trick: Tape two pieces of colored poster board together for a cool nautical flag effect, like the pieces lining the hallways. Low lift and big impact—a theme that has served her well.

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