Informal living areas

Ever since we remodeled our kitchen last year and took down the wall that separated it from the dining room, we've found that this area is where we spend most of our time together as a family. As a matter of fact, this bright and open space has become the very center of activity in our home. Here meals are prepared, bills paid, politics discussed, menus debated, and weekends planned.

This combination kitchen-dining room is the informal living area my wife and I had always dreamed of. Yet we soon realized that our young daughter had no place here for her creative play. At two years she is too little to sit at the dining table or on the stools at the kitchen counter. Thus it seemed her projects were always banished to the kitchen floor.

Our kitchen is laid out in the ''classic triangle,'' the strategic placement of appliances, sink, and workplace allowing one to move throughout the kitchen with the greatest efficiency in preparing any meal. I envisioned coming home from work at night and finding my wife breezing through new gourmet recipes. Instead, it was as if she were competing in a steeplechase: jumping over a Lego-block wall here, a Tinkertoy fence there.

It quickly became obvious that our daughter needed, and deserved, a little space of her own. In surveying the situation I found a space at the end of a row of kitchen cabinets and against a blank wall that measures approximately 2 by 4 feet. This is no more space than any two people would take up in a crowded elevator, yet there is plenty of room for a small table and a child-size chair. Using an extra shelf that came out of one of our new kitchen cabinets, I bought some attachable oak legs that match our dining table and assembled her table in less than 10 minutes.

In one of those many new stores devoted to organizing space and lives, I found an ingenious system of wire baskets that could be attached together on a common grid to make shelves for her drawing paper and crayons.

The finishing touch was to hang, directly above this little table, an acrylic plastic-framed picture she had painted and given to me for Father's Day. Since we're always praising her prolific artistic accomplishments, this type of unbreakable frame can be easily disassembled and a new masterpiece popped in from time to time.

This was a simple project that, granted, is not going to win any architectural or decorating awards. But it certainly is functional and fun to have a place where we can all be together and share a sense of creativity and accomplishment.

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