Malia Stenerson enjoys the circus-themed playroom created for her daughters, Skylar, left, and Journey. Credit: interior room Photos by Raquel Langworthy; room styling by Charlotte Safavi; mom and daughters' photo by stacy zarin-goldberg

Artist Malia Stenerson has a playful streak—and not only when it comes to the vivid abstract canvases she paints. “Play is a driving force in how I live my life,” she says. “I wear hats and fascinators, costume jewelry, lots of color and expressive makeup. I believe how we dress and interact with the world should be playful.”

This philosophy extends to her family’s Chevy Chase home, where she lives with her husband, Todd, and their daughters Journey, 6, and Skylar, 4. The house isn’t just filled with Stenerson’s colorful art—you’ll also find real toys used as home accessories (including a glass kaleidoscope and an oversize Slinky) plus an array of whimsical furnishings, such as an antique gumball machine in the foyer.

When Stenerson decided to decorate her daughters’ bedrooms and shared playroom in 2013, she turned to designer Regan Billingsley of Kensington. Like Stenerson, Billingsley graduated from Pratt Institute in New York, a private college with programs in art, design and architecture. The plan was to transform the builder-grade finished attic into a lively, inspirational playroom, while turning the girls’ bedrooms into quiet, serene spaces that they could grow into.


Stenerson remembers going to the circus for the first time with her mom when she was 8 years old. “It seemed so
powerful and big,” she says. “It captured a spark of imagination for me, and it stayed.” The vibrant playroom that Billingsley designed was inspired by Stenerson’s love of the circus, as well as her collection of vintage circus toys.

The playroom’s palette was drawn from a colorful striped Ikea rug that used to be in Stenerson’s art studio. A custom seat cushion in pearl vinyl with a candy-striped trim was added to an existing window seat. On top is a mass of playful pillows: Ruffled, edged in pom-pom trim or fringed, the pillows are in a variety of vibrant hues and can move around easily to other seating areas within the room.


Billingsley also brought in Meaghan McNamara of Kensington’s McNamara Design to create a “circus tent” by painting a rainbow of stripes beneath the eaves. In addition to fitting in with the theme, the painted ceiling and the vintage disco ball that hangs from it designate an area for performances. Textured green and fuchsia felt, purchased at, frames the “stage.” When the girls don’t feel like performing, they pull in a table and chairs from Ikea.

A green leather chair and ottoman from CB2 and a yellow velvet lounger purchased at Ikea provide comfortable seating for grown-ups watching the show. Vintage marquee-style lights spell out “PLAY” and double as wall art.  Hooks mounted on the wall hold costumes.


Although the space is full of areas to play and have fun in, Stenerson made sure to incorporate quieter spots, as well, such as the window seat, which can act as a reading nook. “The girls can read, or stare at the stars at night, or simply watch people on the sidewalk outside,” she says.


“We needed places for the adults to sit when the kids were having play dates,” Billingsley says of the American Leather sofa in fuchsia. A custom-designed Lucite table by Plexi-Craft is filled with pom-poms—proof that playful touches can be incorporated into unexpected places.



For the bedrooms, Billingsley set out to create calm and pretty spaces that the girls wouldn’t outgrow too quickly. “Even though I predominantly used pink, I worked in grays and charcoals to make the baby pinks more sophisticated,” she says. Though the rooms are different, the shared palette ties them together.


In Skylar’s room, a table from Serena & Lily brings subtle pattern and texture to the space. The mirrored jewelry box reflects light and adds a touch of glamour.


The Roman shades and the floor lamp are trimmed with crystal beads while the drapes hang from Lucite curtain rods. The overall effect? The space feels more grown-up than girly.

To soften the hard edges of Skylar’s bed, Billingsley added sheer linen drapes with pink ties to each of its four posts. The wall behind the bed was painted strawberry pink, and a trundle bed—perfect for sleepovers—tucks neatly underneath.
In the corner of the room, a pale pink linen armchair from Restoration Hardware sits next to botanical-print drapes in a fabric from Elizabeth Aiken. Billingsley edged them in a girly grosgrain ribbon, which can be removed when Skylar gets older.


There’s a hint of the circus in the wood carnival horse sculpture that sits atop Skylar’s chest of drawers, which came from Restoration Hardware.

Journey’s bedroom has a woodsy bunk bed from Restoration Hardware, with an upper bunk for corralling favorite stuffed animals, hosting sleepovers or spending quiet time reading alone. A faux antique mirrored vanity in a corner of the bedroom adds shine and serves as a practical place to experiment with jewelry and makeup as Journey gets older. The wall behind it is painted in pink and white stripes that are edged in charcoal. The curtains in this room have a petite geometric print that’s edgier than those in Skylar’s room, though Billingsley softened them with a pink grosgrain ribbon trim.


The mercury glass lamp base, mirrored vanity and Venetian-style mirror bounce light around the room, making it feel larger.


Rather than buying traditional art, Billingsley had a custom woodcut monogram made for each girl’s room. “They added individual personality,” she says.

The bottom bunk, where Journey sleeps, has pink and gray bedding along with a custom-made lumbar pillow. To the left, a mirrored chest from Pottery Barn adds a touch of bling.