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Ask Grace Mitchell’s four kids which room in their Fort Worth house is their favorite, and they’ll probably tell you the butler’s pantry. These tots are avid china collectors, obsessed with long-forgotten Wedgwood patterns and Dodie Thayer lettuce leaf ware that fetches $2,300 online for a single pitcher. Just kidding.

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Grace Mitchell

A few years ago, when Mitchell’s family moved into their 101-year-old Texas home, the designer and star of HGTV’s One of a Kind set out to reimagine the butler’s pantry to suit their lives. It’s all part of a growing trend toward repurposing forgotten nooks into spaces that inspire and delight the whole family. Back in 2018, when House Beautiful debuted the Whole Home Project—a concept house where every room was designed to help its owners live fuller, healthier lives—a storage space next to the kids’ room became known as a “Narnia Room,” since it featured a ladder to a hidden loft playroom. A simple Pinterest search reveals dozens of bloggers who have also reworked closets and those awkward under-the-stairs cupboards into play places for their kids. Even celebs like Amy Poehler are getting in on it: The Making It star has a “little cubicle” connecting her sons’ rooms where they can play.

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Grace Mitchell

“You always want to have one piece in your house that little kids remember when they come over,” Poehler told me ahead of the show’s premiere. The concept has even gone commercial, with stores like Camp installing playrooms tucked behind bookshelves, and Jessica Biel’s former Los Angeles restaurant, Au Fudge, featured a stairway to a hidden “tree house” loft in its kids’ area.

Ultimately, these converted spaces are designed to be a place that inspires kids, sparks their creativity and also keeps their toys from covering every square inch of your home. “Kids’ stuff can get super out of control,” Mitchell said. “By not having a huge space, it really helps you be thoughtful about storage potential and what your kids will really play with.”

To that end, Mitchell was strategic about where she installed storage: a bench under the window opens up to stow toys, and upper cabinets are used to corral arts-and-crafts supplies. “They’re high up enough that the kids can’t get into them on their own; they can’t just pull out the Play-Doh and make a mess,” the A Storied Style designer explained. When you’re repurposing a space where you might not always have eyes on your kids, regulating what they can—and can’t—get into is a must.

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Grace Mitchell

Mitchell also recommends giving your kids a say in the room’s design. In her pantry, she added a magnet board and vintage hangers so that her sons and daughters could hang up their favorite artwork, notes from school and other things they love. “I didn’t buy any wall art, really,” she said. “It was all about the kids and displaying what’s important to them.”

Narnia closets should also serve as a creative outlet—a world that kids create themselves, for themselves.

“I can’t count the number of hours my kids have spent at that table,” where they gather to draw and paint. It’s reason enough to consider clearing out a corner of your home. 

You can watch Grace Mitchell on One of a Kind on Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on HGTV, and follow her on Instagram at @astoriedstyle.

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