Some people will go to great lengths to make their kids smile.

What kid wouldn’t beam at the sight of a secret passageway to a playroom? Or how about ultra-realistic murals of sharks, froggy ponds, city skylines and a huge purple hippo?

Homeowners are going over-the-top with imaginative kids rooms, crafting unusual spaces sure to earn their kids some bragging rights on the playground.


  • Location: La Vista
  • Built: Winter 2011-12
  • Designer: Russ Wiig, homeowner
  • Muralist: Holly Carey
  • Features: Concealed secret room with a large mural, chalkboard paint, attic access
  • Price: About $5,000 in materials

Eight-year-old Russell Wiig’s bedroom looks like a dream garage. It has rolling toolboxes acting as dresser drawers, a mock gas pump acting as a clock with storage and a work bench acting as a Lego build space underneath a custom-built metal bunk-bed. But it’s the secret behind the diamond-plated double doors that has his friends talking.

A tall metal locker bearing the logo of his father’s electrical company opens to reveal a secret passageway. Duck down, walk past the aquarium on your left and look right when you reach the “Top Secret” paint on the wall.

One of the walls, which slopes from 9½ feet high down to about 2 feet, is splashed with paint in the form of a three-panel mural of a shark, created by Russell’s aunt Holly Carey, a professional muralist, with a little help from his now 10-year-old sister Taylor, whose name is signed above the starfish. The same colors in the mural make up the striped walls in the play space, which also features a toy chest, bean bags, chalkboard paint and other fun details.

The idea came to their father, Russ, one day when he was bored. He poked through the wall in the attic into Russell’s bedroom.

“I poked a little hole, made it bigger and bigger and bigger, and then the ideas just started flowing,” he said.

He laid down cork on the floor for a softer play space and asked Holly to paint a blue sky on the ceiling to give the small room an airy feeling. In order to maintain access to the remaining attic space, they designed a small access door modeled after an old-fashioned safe.

He spent around $5,000 on materials to build the 10-by-13-foot secret room and estimated the project would cost $15,000 to $17,000 to have it done professionally. While his sister did the mural for free, she said she would charge around $800 to $1,200 to paint a similar mural.


  • Location: Southwest Omaha
  • Built: Spring-summer 2012
  • Designer: Libby Pantzlaff, Creative Interiors by Libby
  • Muralist: Pat Gehrman
  • Bedroom themes: Huskers, fishing, books
  • Price: Less than $5,000; additional cost for built-in bunks

Darin and Becci Jackson’s three boys have radically different tastes. So when the couple built their southwest Omaha home for the 2012 Street of Dreams, an annual showcase of upscale homes, they loaded each kid’s bedroom with personality.

Of the three rooms, it’s 9-year-old Benjamin’s book-themed room that has drawn the most reaction.

Designer Libby Pantzlaff teamed with a carpenter from ADC Custom Homes and muralist Pat Gehrman to create what looks like a stack of large books flush against the wall, with an oversized “Old Yeller” opened to a pair of illustrated pages. On the opposite wall is an L-shaped four-bunk system that Benjamin uses as a reading nook, a spot for sleepovers and a place to bounce from one bunk bed to the other. Top bunks are accessible by a small staircase, with each step painted to resemble the spine of a book, including “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Treasure Island” and “The Outsiders.” Soon, one of the books will bear the title of Benjamin’s self-authored series, “Headphone World.”

Each of the bunks has its own mounted, angled TV. In the corner of the room, near the giant stack of books, sits a circular wicker reading chair, matching the rustic color scheme of the room.

Across the hall in 11-year-old Bryce’s room, a large fishing net dangles above the headboard on his bed, upon which sits the small fish pillow that inspired the bedroom. On one wall, a wavy-topped extension pops out of the wall with a built-in fish tank. The wall surrounding it camouflages the tank with a deep green pond landscape painted by Gehrman.

The oldest, 13-year-old Blake, sleeps under a scarlet bedspread created by Pantzlaff to resemble a Nebraska letterman’s jacket that hangs in his closet. His walls are dotted with pockets of Husker flair, like a Lego kit of Memorial Stadium sitting atop his entertainment stand and a framed autographed jersey from his then-favorite player, Rex Burkhead. Now, he said, he’s partial to Ameer Abdullah.

Benjamin’s room became the most expensive of the bunch. A duplicate of the handcrafted book display and staircase would run about $4,000 today. Darin Jackson estimated Blake’s comforter cost around $1,200, while Bryce’s fish wall cost about $3,500, though he said costs were discounted because the house participated in the Street of Dreams show.

When the three brothers come out of their specialized caves, they often convene in the basement in the wrestling room, a spot for their former wrestler of a dad to show current wrestlers Blake and Bryce a few pointers. Complete with a personalized wall pad, a wrestling mat, lighting, lockers, a bench and rubber flooring, the room’s total cost was more than $8,500.


  • Location: Elkhorn area
  • Built: Fall-winter 2012-13
  • Designer/muralist: Lisa Janvrin, homeowner
  • Features: Cityscape mural, customized changing station, travel theme
  • Price: About $2,000 in materials

Raising a boy comes with plenty of action, noise and chaos. So Elkhorn-area designer Lisa Janvrin devised a plan: Build a nursery/bedroom for her firstborn son, Luca, tailored to be serene.

She envisioned a room where Luca would wake up calmly to the sound of white noise, begin his day on a positive, stress-free note, then end his day with story time and a gentle ease into sleep.

To achieve that effect, she kept most toys out of the room. Instead there are his favorite stories, like “The Pout-Pout Fish,” “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site” and “Corduroy.” A changing station with a subtle light is built into the closet, while nearby sits a dock for Lisa to play relaxing white noise on her smart phone.

The room, which she and husband James built throughout the pregnancy, has a neutral grayscale color scheme with gold accents, balancing age-neutrality with lively touches appropriate for someone Luca’s age. When Luca’s siblings or other guests come to stay, the room is a serviceable guest space.

“I didn’t want to make it too childish,” Janvrin said. “I kind of want it to be a little mature, but also whimsical.”

Elements of travel appear throughout the room, including the painted skyline, postmark-styled outlet covers and a collection of framed postcards, pictures, maps and a family crest in the entryway.

By repurposing pieces like old suitcases and her grandfather’s hand-built dresser, she was able to save some money. A $1,000 award for finishing third in Frog Tape’s “Earn Your Stripes” contest helped ease some of her $2,000 cost, too. If someone wanted to build a similar room, she estimated it would cost around $5,000 to $6,000 to have it done professionally.


  • Location: Northwest Omaha
  • Built: Spring 2003
  • Designer: Pam Carroll, Pam Carroll Planning & Design
  • Muralist: J.J. Carroll
  • Features: Colorful wildlife mural, treehouse loft, reading nook
  • Price: $2,500 for mural

Step into the upstairs playroom in Jane and Bob Slezak’s northwest Omaha home and you’re bombarded with color.

Purples, blues, pinks and greens explode out of the walls. Every inch is covered with bright, fun-colored animals that give the room a wild feel. Poles leading up where the walls meet create the illusion of a tent top, which is painted in a draping style across the ceiling.

Omaha-native J.J. Carroll, the son of the home’s interior designer, painted the mural in 2003 for $2,500, the cost of supplies, a flight from the East Coast and a rental car. Rhinos, zebras, giraffes and a smiling purple hippo centerpiece, with windows arching along its spine, bring the room to life. In one corner of the playroom, a small built-in loft area is painted to look like a treehouse.

“Whenever I would have friends over, we would play in there and we would kind of pretend that it actually was a jungle,” said Anna Slezak, the couple’s now 16-year-old daughter. “We pretended like we lived in the little tree loft; it was always fun. We would play role-playing games, it would be like our version of house.”

Carved into the wall in the short entryway leading into the room is a reading area with a built-in window seat. Bookshelves in the small space act as one of the most frequently visited elements of the space now that the kids are older.

When the Slezaks built their house and playroom, Scott (22), Anna (16) and Brett (14) were all under the age of 11. They frequently used the room to play with toys and video games, watch TV and have sleepovers, but now the space gets less use, as the kids are busy with friends and after-school activities like tennis.

“It isn’t quite the hangout that it used to be, but I wouldn’t have the nerve to paint it over,” Jane Slezak said. “I’m hoping someday when I sell this house, that somebody with kids — because it’s a kid-friendly home — that this would be a drawing point for them.”

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