Archives for category: Toys

Parents! Don’t take this the wrong way: I’m not trying to shame you. But so many people ask me about storage when they have kids, and I think to answer this you just have to take a long look at the floor and see what’s getting between your toes. Be reassured: I have very little interest in hoovering, so feel free to take a rather blurry look at the floor. We are focussing on the toyscape, not dust bunnies or muddy footprints: the ever-encroaching army of kids’ stuff that litters any free surface of our once-calm homes.

For everyone it’s different, but I’ll bet you can name at least one plaything that you would love to put in its place, and stop spending at least a significant proportion of your day tripping over.

For us it’s cars. Races, lines, complex combinations snaking around furniture and walls, with a high-pitched Murray Walker-style commentary and glorious shrieking engines.

Looks like an opportunity to overtake....

Looks like an opportunity to overtake….

Ever since Jonas was tiny, we’ve had to respect these lines, and the story behind them: the race isn’t over until the chequered flag waves.

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

In times when we’ve needed the floor to be clear, they’ve taken snapshots of the race for future re-enactments. That’s how I’ve got reams of these photos, blurry and wonky, but with crucial information contained within.

The M25 is a trifle congested today

The M25 is a trifle congested today

Even a brief dabble in ‘track’ building (Brio wooden railway)

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

normally ended up serving as a backdrop to another race.

“Could it be that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe it wasn’t left after the chicane…”

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best-loved and most successful storage items  — those which have got you through those years of ‘entire house as playroom.’

Our particular floor/sanity saver — one which has served us so well — has been a set of hinged, lidded wicker baskets with a calico liner (see above photo). With the cars tucked up safely inside for the night, these boxes looked rather attractive stacked in an unused fireplace in the living room of our first home. For the 18 months we spent in a (cosy/small) rental, they took up residence under a window next to the sofa. They didn’t look like kid furniture, so once the lid was shut, they blended right in. Now they live in Malachy’s bedroom — holder of the race mantle these days — and have lost their fabric innards at some point or another.

We bought the set of three from B&Q at a satisfyingly low price, and they’ve served us so well, but B&Q don’t do them any more. All I can do is point you in the direction of some other savvy outlets who still offer something similar. Remember, the hinged lid is the important bit for stacking. You want a box big enough to hold your stash of vehicles (nothing more frustrating at tidy-up time than a lid that doesn’t quite close: tantrums are made of this) but small enough for you to lug from room to room when needed. Also, and maybe this is a boy way of thinking, but toys seem to work best stored in families — ie cars in one box, trains in another; Playmobil in a big tub… I don’t know: where do Little Ponies prefer to hang out? In any case, they and all their equipment should be stabled together.

So in a spirit of great stowed generosity, I’ve compiled for you a list of the places you can still buy hinged lidded wicker baskets – so that you too can clear the clutter. You’re welcome.

In at Number One, with good looks and a reasonable price point is the offering from Wilkos:

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

If you’re looking at a more advanced case of toy invasion, or simply don’t have the floorspace free for any more furniture, how about tucking this friendly storage monster under the bed?

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20 cm

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20cm

George at Asda is on the case too, with this similar-looking basket. They call it a trunk, but don’t worry, it isn’t actually that huge. The price is reasonable too.

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

You’d have to shell out more at Homebase, but you do get three for your investment — one largish trunk and two bijous containers (easier for little hands to transport).

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

A stately offering from Muji with taller dimensions — a steeper price point too.

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Finally, a couple of giant options — less wieldy, to be sure, but sometimes those collections do get rather large. This from Wilkos is a reasonable price for the size:

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with hefty measurements at 59 x 42 x 40cm

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with big bones at 59 x 42 x 40cm

And at the top end of our collection, Ikea brings you this sturdy trunk for the bulkiest items (I’m thinking Scalextric for this one: nice spacious garaging here).

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

How do you contain the chaos? I’ll bring you some more ideas in future posts, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your tidy-up time solutions!

We interrupt this series of tasteful flooring posts to warn readers of a potentially hostile takeover bid by a phenomenon some call The Beautiful Game.

The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that there is a global tournament afoot, the ups and downs of which have obsessed most members of our household for a good few weeks now. Wide-eyed in admiration at the skills and bad behaviour of those taking part, our boys have bought into the atmosphere (and a substantial chunk of the Panini sticker empire) with the dedication and stat-devouring fervour you’d expect of die-hard fans. Which they are.

Oh yes, we have three of these

Yes, we have three of these

The walls are alive with the high-definition motion of little running kicking men, and the sofa spectators agape with the drama of it all. Meanwhile I have been pondering how, even before the World Cup 2014, football is pretty much wallpaper in our lives (despite the fact of course that I would never ever sanction the application of football wallpaper in our home).

I will admit I started it: I installed a football handbasin in the boys’ bathroom.

Slippery slope: I installed this basin in the boys' bathroom -- Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Dear Future Me, This is just a slippery slope…/ Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Then we decided that in the interests of garden preservation we would not bother with a classic lawn. We have a pitch. Made of plastic. You don’t have to mow it, you can’t wear it out, and, come rain or shine, your players remain clean. It is the best investment we ever made.

Turf laws - fake grass is the best purchase ever

Turf laws: fake grass is the soundest purchase ever

Days are measured by the amount of football playing opportunities. Some interesting tweaks to the accepted rules of play sometimes make an appearance….

What happens when you mix football with breakfast time

Malachy discovers that his new cereal-inspired goalie kit has some design flaws….

So we knew what we were doing: we designed with the boys in mind. However the boys took this idea and ran with it. And that’s when the subtle nod to personality turned into an all-pervading house style.

Artwork? Sure! As long as it's red. With a football /pocket money bargain and ubiquitous team calendar in background

Artwork on my wall? Sure! As long as it’s red. With a football.

We kept the boys’ bedroom walls for the most part a fresh white, in keeping with the rest of the house. A few feature colours, like a brightly painted wall colour or striking curtains, were emphasized by the lack of pattern elsewhere.

Until blue-tack happened. And then Caspar found a ‘wonderful’ painting for £1.50 in a junk shop. And we realised that the passing of each year means the opportunity to hang a new team calendar with athletically posed gurning player photos.

Starter for ten: Which team does.... ah yes, well done

Starter for ten: Which team does…. ah yes, well done

When you’ve been successful in some area of junior level football, you get to keep a carefully moulded and easily breakable trophy to display for ever and ever in your room. Nothing must stand in its way.

Trophy fives

Trophy fives. Books take a back seat

And the clever folks in the football business know that whatever they make, we will buy. Duvets, lamps, clocks, watches, bath flannels, even Monopoly. And football cards. I can’t even begin to explain the joys of football cards and stickers.

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: cover it with as much tat as you can

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: spread your bets (that is City Monopoly for those who were wondering)

So as you prepare to bid adieu to the World Cup in Brazil — with the breathtaking, inspiring, bitey, frenetic, heartbreaking, staying-up-late, virtuoso fun of it all — remember us. Football is not going away any time soon. It’s here, and no amount of tasteful interior design influence can do anything about it.

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

It’s 8.45 on a school day morning. I turn the corner out of the kitchen wielding lunch boxes, clump up the three stairs into the hallway and holler the “Shoes ohnnnnnnn!!!” command up the stairs.

Nothing.

Three more steps up the main staircase (the smart orange line one). “SHOES TIME! It’s time to put on your shoes!” The cat rounds the corner from the kitchen and meows helpfully in response. She reaches the front door and starts sharpening her claws on the mat. There is no other sound.

I sprint up the first flight of stairs. Silence. Up another. Jonas’s room: empty. If I listen very hard I can just hear discussions, but muffled. More flights of stairs, check an empty Malachy’s room, and I am finally at the top. It is most definitely time to get shoes on by now. But no-one is in Caspar’s room, and the voices are still muted. This is when I open the cupboard doors….

Bespoke board games hideaway

Bespoke board games hideaway

Despite the fact that I put an awful lot of thought into Caspar’s cupboard, I had no idea it would prove quite so popular. For this is in fact a small boy equivalent of a clandestine poker den, minus the whisky and high stakes, although come to think of it, Monopoly is normally the game of choice. Like the world at the back of the wardrobe, Caspar’s cupboard takes you out of the general run of things. You can’t hear the “Shoes on!” shout, the lighting is dim, the shelves around you are full of enticing toys and Lego.

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

As I mentioned last time, I had harboured plans to make use of the eaves spaces for storage in the attic bedroom. I had heard friends tell of amazing designs by loft conversion firms and well-known wardrobe makers. I started by chatting with a carpenter I knew about commissioning something that incorporated all the storage needs for the room into that one area. I listed the elements I wanted in there: drawers or shelves for clothes, hanging space, book shelves, significant amounts of toy storage. I also wanted to use as much of the area as possible, despite the fact that the back wall followed the line of the sloping roof, and there were structural beams straddling the front that shouldn’t be removed. However reading up about costs for these sorts of designs, and then getting the jaw-dropping bespoke quote, I realised very quickly that this work commanded a luxury budget that certainly wouldn’t fit in with our modest plans.   So I decided to design it myself, using as basic methods as I could, and see what was possible. The joiner on our team of builders was Si, who just promised me, “You design it, I’ll build it.” Bearing in mind his time was my money, I went back to my wish list and tried to pare it all back to its simplest form.

For clothes storage I really wanted a chest of drawers, but drawers are, as you can imagine, a complex and time-consuming thing to make from scratch. I realised that it would be perfectly possible to insert an existing chest of drawers into a space and build around them. Finding them was my first task: made so much easier by the Ikea website, which lists the dimensions of all its furniture. From the comfort of my desk, I found the largest chest of drawers to fit the space between beams on the left (also Malm, satisfyingly, so matching the bed). This then left another strut to fit around, which I felt could delineate the hanging wardrobe space. Then, the remaining, largest gap could be for the toy storage cupboard.

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

The cupboard doors were going to be fitted with handles for opening, but then we noticed that the Malm chest of drawers had a sloping diagonal finger grip at the top instead. We designed the doors in the same way, and it keeps the storage wall flush and neat.

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Since the space went back so far into the eaves, I also made use of the area behind the chest of drawers to made a bookcase accessed from next to the bed. I modelled the design on some shelves we already had: with varying depths and heights for each shelf. They look very sweet, nestled into the wall, and fit all the different sized books that a child tends to have, as well.

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

The toy storage cupboard takes up most of the rest of the depth of the eaves. I think I ended up sectioning off about 80 sq cm of floor space right around the back, which couldn’t realistically be accessed from any point. But the rest of it is completely functional.

For the shelving inside the toy cupboard, I measured various storage boxes which we keep our toys in, as well as running a quick survey of the dimensions of Ikea’s line of containers. There seemed to be a general link at around 30 cm: some were this length, others longer but still at a 30 cm depth. So I decided 35 cm would be a useful depth for the shelves.

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Then I checked on the heights of various boxes, and designed the height of the shelves accordingly. It was a bit painstaking, but worth it, as the shelves are now perfectly set up for pretty much anything we want to put on them. We use them for chunky items of clothing, as well. Of course, as Caspar grows older, there will doubtless be many changes of use. But I think the design can take it. I asked for the corners all to be rounded, so that crawling into the cupboard wouldn’t cause unnecessary injury. It’s all made of painted MDF, a far cry from the tulip wood and walnut we could have commissioned, but actually affordable, and fit for purpose, even smart in its own way.

Multi-function storage

Multi-function storage (and it won’t have your eye out)

We fixed in a wardrobe lighting set, so that you can see what you’re doing. It clearly provides exactly the right ambience for a few undercover games meetings. Sadly these are sometimes interrupted by a Real World representative on a raiding party (shouting “Shoes on!”), but the school day is not that long, and normal service can be resumed by 4 pm. In any case, as everyone knows, a game of Monopoly was never finished in a day.

It’s coming up to birthday time of year in our house. Jonas and Caspar have been hard at work writing their wish lists, and we have been noting the items with interest. Caspar’s list is minimalist, I guess he is ensuring that he’ll get his top favourites. There are five suggestions on there, one of which is a pair of signed Ronaldo football boots, apparently available for the bargain price of £309.99 from a sporting memorabilia website. It’s possible a 7-year-old will be disappointed later this month.

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo's signed boot

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo’s signed boot

Jonas on the other hand has scribed a short legal document with scores out of ten (tickets to a Chelsea match, 11.6/10: extreme giver satisfaction rating) stretching to 57 items. There is a pleasing variety of presents for reasonable prices, including a Lego Glow-in-the-dark Racing Car at an encouraging 8.4/10, and Some More BBQ Sauce From KFC: this not to be recommended at an all-time low score of 4/10. Specifics ensure that all expectations will be met: A Trip To Yo-Sushi at 7.45pm reaps 10/10, but please read the timings carefully for full point capture here. A donation of £100 will garner top score of 13/10. I should think so too.

Floating around the middle of the list at a respectable 7/10 was Cardboard Box To Make A House Out Of, which was so surprisingly wholesome I had to check it for small print. I did then remember that a few years ago we purchased a new washing machine, and the cardboard packaging from this provided hours of fun outside in the garden with some paints, some of which were used to decorate the box and transform it into a “house.” More pertinent for scientific study, this entry on the present wish list seems to confirm the old adage “Kids! They spend more time playing with the box it came in!” I was about to proffer my new-found evidence to some market researchers as a tip for future manufacturing trends.

However it would seem that someone has already leapt on that opportunity: you can purchase a cardboard house from eBay for your child to decorate and play in. Really! And only pay £32.99.

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Almost hyperventilating at the cynicism of the toy profiteers, I ventured down to the cellar to find a couple of the large removals boxes we had managed to empty of old CDs and junk. A little soggy around the bottom (the one and only link our cellar floor may have with The Great British Bake-Off), they were nevertheless huge and housey. Which was just what we wanted. In a fit of generosity I brought them up into the kitchen before birthdays for general craft and decoration fun.

Toy box

Toy box

A little parental involvement became necessary around the door and window cutting, thankfully intercepting Malachy’s attempts at slash and stab with a table knife before too much blood was lost.

Cowboy builders, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Cowboy builders, you ain’t seen nothing yet

Now the yellow felt pen is apparently officially ‘run out’ and actually the cat has played more inside the boxes than anyone else, but for an afternoon of creativity these worked perfectly.

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

And Jonas’s present list is now down to 56 items.

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