Designing for children – The Barretstown project!

I had always been a fan of the great work they did at Barretstown – an organisation that provides amazing support for families and children affected by serious illness. So when I was asked to ‘ design a children’s space which would function as a crèche for part of the year and a nature room for another part of the year?

I didn’t hesitate for a moment………’absolutely’!

The Brief

There were more than a few challenges in the brief – designing and managing the refurbishment of a what was originally an apple store, recently  converted to a finance office and was now destined to become a crèche cum nature study area.

The dark blue carpet tiles looked dark and dated and the walls were a light shade of yellow, which gave the space a ‘washed out’ feel. It had little natural light, was an awkward shaped space; we had a small budget, and a very short lead-time – 8 weeks in total!

Images of the space before the new design!

Images of the space before the new design!

The Design Concept

The main challenge was to come up with a theme that would be suitable for a broad age range. (0-5yrs and 8-17yrs) After exploring various options, we decided on a ‘woodland’ theme.   It seemed a natural choice for a space that was set at the edge of a wooded area. But more importantly, the woodland theme provided a myriad of design options. It was ideally suited to the crèche and for the older group it provided the ideal backdrop for a nature study space.

I wanted to create a space that would inspire and energise the children. So I chose a fresh, modern colour scheme – a vivid green with lots of white and splashes of primary reds and yellows. I decided on a lime green marmoleum which is a natural material,  low maintenance and comes in a large range of colour options. It’s ideal for children’s workspaces where spillages are a regular occurrence. However in the real world, budget is a key consideration and we were very fortunate to have a local supplier offer 45sqm of carpet tiles pro bono. Carpet tiles are tactile and soft underfoot and will also work well even if they are more difficult  to clean. To redress the balance,hey were the perfect colour and we got an additional quantity for replacement purposes. My lovely marmoleum was fitted in the bathroom!


View of main room comprising three areas

As the main room was a long and narrow in shape, (51 sqm in total 2.76m in width) I divided it into distinct areas:

  • A wet area with sinks, worktops and storage for nature study.
  • A play /seated area for toddlers with storage for toys
  • A seated area for the older age group to study/draw


Nature Study Area


Nature study area

The idea of the nature study area was to create a focus for the older age group, where collections from the wood and gardens could be studied, stored and displayed. It was positioned at the bathroom end of the main room which made sense for plumbing also. I sourced flexible taps with pullout nozzles to allow the children to have fun. The sinks were placed at different heights to ensure they were accessible to all. I sourced two medium sized Belfast sinks which were ideal as they were larger and deeper than standard sinks.

The block coloured large decals brought the space to life  and I was very grateful to and snuggleduststudios for their support.  The limited budget would not stretch to all the custom decals so I decided to create and draw some of the murals myself so that they worked seamlessly with the theme.


Low storage for children and a nature themed mural

In so far as I could, I ensured that furniture was at 450 mm height for the toddlers. I incorporated low level storage units with pull out bins to create a neat and practical storage area for toys that would also allow the children access to both pull out and put away…….learning to be responsible in a fun way!



Playful and practical bathroom sinks

In keeping with the woodland theme, I wanted the bathroom to be bright, modern and most of all…. fun!

With regulations and accessibility playing a critical role in the design, I knew I needed to extend the bathroom. The previous bathroom facilities consisted of a separate room with a toilet and another one with a  handbasin. The first task was to create a much larger single bathroom which far exceeded normal wheelchair accessibility standards.. I sourced two circular mirrors and we made up an MDF frame  and painted yellow to follow on with the nature theme. This was finished off with lie green taps that everyone loved .

I installed two handbasins, one for the smaller children at 450cm and the second one at normal heightYou need to feel big, even when you’re small!!


The Quiet Room


Children’s rest area

For the quiet room I created a space which included:

  • A sleeping/resting area with storage
  • A small kitchen area
  • A reading area with book storage

The small kitchen unit included storage for food and drinks for both children and staff /parents for coffees etc. I was able to incorporate a bookcase and more storage so that children could find a quiet corner and read or be read to. The woodland scheme was continued in this area but in a quieter way as befitted the purpose of the space. I decorated with white walls, wall decals and my custom made quieter autumn tree with warmer orange colours provided by sitting squirrel and acorns !

The seating banquette with ample storage was covered with a graphic  and colour- coordinated fabric and coordinated perfectly with the bright green carpet tiles- ideal for this space.

Animal decals help to create playful woodland theme

Animal decals help to create playful woodland theme

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there when the first families arrived for Barretstown’s first family programme but I was told the families loved the crèche, which gave them a much-needed space.

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to contribute in a small way to Barretstown and to have had such great support from the Barretstown team – a truly inspiring group of people.


new plaque for the woodland creche

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