Kids’ Toy Storage

I always have a chuckle when I come across pictures of perfectly styled and edited nurseries for newborns. At least in terms of toys, everything is still so ideal, so simple.

In Dylan’s California room (featured on Apartment Therapy), for example, his eight toys and 20 books look so lovely and orderly on the wall-mounted shelves.

Even the bigger, full-height shelves in Oliver and Sebastien’s room in Scotland wouldn’t scratch the surface of the toy-storage needs at my house. We’d fill those in five minutes, and still have five times that much still to store.

My sister and sister-in-law are expecting their first child imminently. When I visited their place last weekend, they had his few books and toys all nicely arranged on a little shelf above his dresser. It was sweet… and naive.

Okay, maybe there’s not an avalanche of toys waiting at their doorstep yet.

In the first year of your child’s life, you buy or inherit a small library of books and bedtime stories (let’s touch on bookshelves — one of my favourite topics — another time), tactile toys, the inevitable stuffed animals, a car or two, an electronic toy (my two-year-old, Zoë, got not one, but two faux smartphones for Christmas this year), a tambourine, maraca or xylophone… Then come the blocks, puzzles, Lego, cars, dollies with their cradles and bedding and clothes and bottles and strollers.

By year three, there are dress-up clothes, the play kitchen and all its pots and pans and plates and so on, action figures, sports equipment and tub toys. All but the most ruthless and minimalist of us are buried in little people paraphernalia.

One route is to make an intensive study of purging and living minimalistically. That’s just never going to happen for me — I have too many interests, too much sentimentality and too little time. And I think I’ve passed those characteristics onto my girls already.

So… where to keep all the stuff?

My best advice is to have an assortment of storage options. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different systems will work for different kids and parents, and different storables necessitate different types of storage.

At my house, we have wall units filled with boxes, dedicated drawers in the dining room sideboard, wicker baskets tucked under tables, canvas bins stashed in corners and laundry hampers stuffed with frilly dresses, fairy wings, witches’ capes and various flamenco dresses and cheongsams transported from exotic locales by devoted grandparents.

Storage is such a huge challenge it wouldn’t do it justice to try to cover it all in one fell swoop. This month, let’s consider furniture options, and next time, I’ll look into more portable storage ideas, like baskets, bins, boxes, bags, etc.

A giant hutch is a fantastic option, as long as it won’t look too monolithic in your child’s room. You can stash easy-to-access toys in the lower shelves and hide the things you want to administer yourself up higher — Play-Doh, paints, science kits, bubblegum-making kits (no joke… my seven-year-old, Tessa, her friend Miranda and I made our own chewing gum last weekend — and trust me, you don’t want that mess happening just anytime the fancy strikes your child!). A vintage hutch will have innate character, but a new one painted a bold colour can be just as fun.

You can also take advantage of the unreachable surface on top of a higher hutch to display precious or breakable toys and collectibles, like this motley pack of vintage Steiff dogs.

This show-stopping unit makes a serious statement and incorporates loads of storage space — for hanging clothes, as well as toys in the drawers down below and on shelves in the main section. And a mirror is a must for school days — and dress-up parties.

A partially open unit like this one in Thea’s room in Dalarna, Sweden (from her mom’s blog Strawberries With Milk) offers room for display, plus doors that shut on the mess when needed.

Count me in on this option if I ever have enough space in my home. Talk about storage! Side-by-side dressers dolled up with colourful knobs and frames. I’d set aside three drawers for clothes, another for off-season clothes, and then others for Lego, games and puzzles, art supplies, Barbies, etc. (Do we have too many toys?!)

(DIY: Get the look by painting and accessorizing Ikea’s Rast or Tarva dressers.)

While it won’t hold quite as much, a vintage dresser like this would be great for sorting and organizing a mass of diverse toys into distinct categories.

We’ve dedicated two drawers — one for each girl — in our dining room sideboard (an Ikea 8-drawer Hemnes dresser) in an effort to keep toys at bay on the main floor.

In a playroom or child’s bedroom, something fun like the glossy bright pink Beckett dresser by SPI Baby reads “toy chest” as opposed to “clothes keeper.”

Building in a set of drawers gives a playroom a polished, thoroughly considered look, and lets you create a sturdy counter or bench on top. This low unit in the Brooklyn, N.Y., home of landscape designer Miranda Brooks and architect Bastien Halard (featured in Vogue magazine) leaves loads of room up above for displaying artwork by daughters Poppy and Violette Grey. And the punchy yellow top adds an irreverent twist of bright colour.

If you can find old store shelves or display cabinets, grab them! They tend to have unique configurations and sizes you’ll be hard-pressed to find in furniture shops. Paint them a bright hue, tuck a couple of bins or baskets into the bottom shelves to hold smaller bits and bobs, and start putting away toys. Dutch textile designer Erika Haberts of Mikodesign turned these shelves into a play kitchen for her daughters Sofia and Mila — but they could just as easily house a wide array of kids’ toys and belongings.

Sometimes simple bookshelves — wide or narrow — will do the trick. Fashion designer Ariane Goldman uses both in this play area for her daughter, Charlie Grey, in her East Hampton, N.Y., home (featured in Lonny). Use decorative boxes to corral smaller toys and hide less eye-catching ones, then arrange the more artful playthings like sculpture on the shelves.

This built-in shelving has a similar look, but incorporates a desktop and runs right up to the ceiling. A great idea that takes homework and display into account as kids get older.

Speaking of shelving, I’ve always found Ikea’s Expedit wall units particularly useful and über-afforable, a boon at my house since we’ve been adding more and more and more storage pieces over the past seven years. They’re also great as room dividers or for straight-out book storage.

In Adella and Nolan’s California playroom (featured on Apartment Therapy), four Expedit units are stacked together for maximum storage.

Here’s a smaller, simpler version in a breezy, all-white child’s room in Sweden.

Ikea carries an array of baskets and boxes that fit the Expedit cubbies perfectly. I like the woven ones in the basement playroom of blogger Nicole Shiffler featured on Design Mom.

And check out the toy real-estate in this five-by-five-cubby Expedit! Plus, the display is artful — and thoroughly inviting for kids.

It may not be an Expedit unit, but this piece in the playroom of blogger Melissa de la Fuente has the same look and the same hard-working utility.

If I had to do it again, I’d invest in a set of these smart Bulk Bins from Pottery Barn Kids. They’re designed to keep toys sorted and organized, and make tidying up as easy as possible for kids. And I do think my kids — whom, I must admit, aren’t the tidiest little gals — would use them and use them properly. Plus, the boxes’ white-picket-fence aesthetic would bring a palate-cleansing crispness to a busy playroom.

I also love the look of the 9-Bin Industrial Storage Unit from Restoration Hardware’s Baby & Child line, which has a similar design but with a great vintage-industrial ruggedness.

And in my mind, repurposed vintage pieces bring some of the most unique character to a room. These stacking metal bins are to die for. As with any vintage metal pieces, just be sure there are no sharp edges or rusty patches. Safety has to be goal number one when it comes kids’ rooms.

For more ideas, see our Organizing Kids’ Play & Work Spaces photo gallery.

Photo credits:
1. Apartment Therapy
2. A Merry Mishap blog
3. Country Living, photography by Steven Randazzo
4. Jikke’s blog
5. Jordgubbar Med Mjolk blog
7. Camille Chincholle blog
8. Hemnes 8-drawer dresser, Ikea
9. Beckett Dresser Version II, SPI Baby
10. Vogue, photography by François Halard
11. Bloesem Kids blog
12. Lonny September 2012 issue, photography by Patrick Cline
13. Babble blog, photography by
14. Apartment Therapy, photography by Alexis A./Adella & Co.
15. Charlotte’s Fancy blog
16. Design Mom
17. The O.C.D. Life blog
18. Design Mom
19. Bulk Bins, Pottery Barn Kids
20. Industrial Wire Storage 9-Bin Floor, Restoration Hardware
21. Home Bunch

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