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The colourful design came straight from the experts: the kids themselves.
When David Babakaiff of Alair Homes put out a broadcast email that they were looking for a designer to work on Ronald McDonald House BC & Yukon’s playroom in Vancouver, designer Jamie Banfield of Jamie Banfield Design jumped on it. “It said, first person to say ‘we’re in,’ it’s yours,” says Banfield. “And I said, I’m pretty sure it was on my vision board—yes, we’ll do it!’”
Banfield was already very familiar with the charity’s space. Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to live close to their hospitalized child at little to no cost. And for a few years in pre-Covid times, he’d arranged for friends to celebrate his birthday by gathering to prepare a meal for the families on site. And he’d always wanted to spruce up what they called the Lego room—particularly since it wasn’t well used.
So Banfield and his team dug in to the project by talking to the experts: the kids who lived there. “I know how I want to play—I want to do Lego, arts and crafts—but we needed to do an analysis to find out why the room wasn’t getting used,” he says.
“My biggest takeaway was colour. There were notes coming back where I had to Google what colour that was,” he says, laughing. “Boys were coming back saying magenta is my favourite, girls choosing teal. It set the bar very high in my mind.”
He took the kids’ feedback to heart, and created a space that’s meant for them to creatively move. “I wanted to take away as many boundaries as possible—instead of, ‘this is a station where we only make arts and crafts, and this is dress up,’ we tried to take that all away. They imagine how they want to play,” he says.
Banfield and Alair Project Manager Allison Woo were able to gather donations from over 50 organizations to bring the space together, and Banfield’s team did much of the work when the world was isolating during the pandemic. “Life in general has been so challenging for a lot of people,” he says. “Our team has learned more out of this project than any custom home we’re working on. The amount of energy we got back from these kids—we needed it more than we realized.”
He knew it had come together the way he hoped it would when he popped by the space after it was completed. “I was in there, and one of the girls wanted to cut my hair in space—she was an astronaut cutting hair in space, and she was paying me a million dollars to cut my hair, with cash she took from the grocery store,” he says. “It’s about being who you want to be, and playing.”
Banfield designed little play houses that kids can interact with: a hair stylist’s salon, a kitchen, and a grocery store.
“As much as they wanted an open play area, they also need quiet time,” says Banfield. The padded reading nook is meant to be a quiet space to read a book (in space, of course!). “We wanted to make it sensory, cozy if they’re overstimulated.”
The cubbies are designed to be removable, to access maintenance machinery behind the wall. The peg board is designed to be played with by kids of all ages (and heights). “In my mind, they can collaborate with somebody else, or by themselves, and they can make a piece of art,” says Banfield.
The mural behind the “houses” was designed by students in the graphic design department at Vancouver Community College. And the kitchen is envied by many of the parents who visit RMH. “We thought, how do we make it safe and make mom and dad jealous?” Banfield says with a laugh. The farmhouse sink and Caesarstone countertops make it look like a grown-up’s kitchen—as do the shiplap walls and floating shelves. Midland Appliance donated real knobs for the stove to make it look high-end.
Designer Jamie Banfield.