Under the Rainbow: Modern Minimalist Waldorf-Inspired IKEA Baby Gym Hack

We rarely keep our baby activity stuff in the baby's room. Whether it's a swing, bouncer, a boppy, a bumbo, an exersaucer, or a baby gym, it tends to live in our family space, aka the living room.

Not until Noa did I realize that seeing plastic, cartoon-animal, baby-themed items all over my otherwise pleasing-to-my-eye living room slowly sucked the life out of me and made me feel like I had somehow lost myself in a sea of baby identity (that sounds overly dramatic, but whatevs). For most of these items, we simply eliminated them altogether as they were never the magic with my babies. 

But for the things were knew would be used a lot and would mainly stay in the common areas,  I tried to shop for more theme-neutral, minimal/beautiful, and natural (re: wood) items that would still do the job of entertaining a baby. Oh hey, those tend to be really expensive--if you can even find them at all. Hint: you're probably not going to find a wood exersaucer and should just go put your baby in an actual tree instead if you can't compromise on that one.

With a baby gym, everything I found that wasn't crazy, light up, polyester plastic tended to be $60-$200, and still was never really giving me the style I wanted. 

While on our many IKEA visits, I would see their wood baby gym, LEKA and be sad that it was ohsoclose (minimalist, birch, very interactive, AND affordable at $30!), and yet still not ideal (dark primary color scheme, snake spiral-hypnosis artwork).

And then I remembered, "Uh-doy, I DIY like whoa. Why not convert this bad boy into my dream baby gym?!"  So I did that. Like 7 months ago. And then forgot to tell the internet about it, and here were are. 

Here's how I got there:

-White Spray Paint (Satin or Glossy)
-White Acrylic Paint
-Different Color Felt or Other Textured Media
-White Nylon Cord: 1.5 yards
-3 Wood Circles (I used hardwood branch slices; a large dowel would work too) with about a 2.5" diameter and .5 to 1.0" thickness

-Drill with 2 Different Width Bits
-Hot Glue Gun
-Duct Tape

Unpack your box (it's IKEA, so it will be nicely disassembled for you already!). Find the two red base legs and give them a good sanding all over. This will take off the glossy finish and allow your spray paint to grab on. Wipe dust off with a damp rag.

Grab your spray paint (DONT USE FLAT...i regretted this and had to add a clear gloss) and go to work laying down a few nice, thin, even coats until the red is all gone (if you're a stickler for primer, use that too/before!)

When your legs are completely dry, assemble the gym according to the IKEA directions (DONT DOUBT THEM, THIS LEADS TO RUIN!). 

Let's cover up those primary designs with some lovely white.

You now have a lovely gym frame with some spinning spiral snakes ready to whisper parseltongue to you tiny babes and hypnotize your little ones into opening the Chamber of Secrets. #EnemiesOfTheHeirBeware.

Get your sandpaper and rough up all the 4 plastic spinning shapes.

Use some paper or cardstock to make a little apron to keep the paint off the wood frame 

Tape the gap closed to complete the paint-catcher little drop cloth.

At this point if you'd prefer to spray paint these, you would just tape/paper over EVERYTHING except for the plastic spinning toys. I used acrylic craft paint so I could stay inside with my tiny baby. Get painting.

May take a few coats. Basilisk blood does not take to being covered lightly...just ask Mr. Filch.

In between your coats, start cutting out the designs and shapes you are going to want on your spinner elements (4 surfaces),

Once your paint is dry, you can hot glue the shapes into place in the arrangements of your choosing. Here are my 4:

Now to attach the toys! Get your wood shapes. I was going for a very Waldorf-esque natural look with wood and rainbow colors, so using this massive hardwood branch segment we found on the side of the road ended up perfect replacements for the toy "stoppers" that IKEA had used chunky plastic circles for.  We tested that it would be hard enough by turning Layla loose with a shovel on it. SOLID.

Whatever you use for your "stoppers" will  need to be thin and narrow enough to fit through the 3 slots on the birch frame (the blue and red spans below) so you can take them in and out, but large enough so that the baby won't pull them back through while they are flapping the toy around underneath.  

Jesse used our miter saw to chop 3/4" thick slices that would fit the bill (hand saw would work too since its just 4 small cuts). We left them a little large and then sanded down where we needed to so they would fit through easily and still be secure.

Get your drill and two drill bits. With the SMALLER (skinnier) bit, drill a hole all the way through each slice right in the middle. Then take your fatter bit and drill on top of this hole, but stop only 1/3-1/2 of the way through each slice. You will end up with a hole that your cord will go all the way through, but a little shelf that your knot will be tucked atop, but not able to pass through.

Cut your nylon cord into three equal lengths (leave them longer than you'll need for now). Tie secure knots in one end and thread through the hole. Pull hard to make sure your knot is big enough to keep from slipping through when tugged on. If not, keep making the knot bigger. When it's the right size, use a lighter to melt the nylon which will permanently set the knot in the right size and clear up and frayed ends. (I am frayed knot!)

Tie the other end of each cord length to the toys of your choice. I chose 3 Haba toys for their colors and features.

Just tie them on wherever makes the most sense and melt those knots in place (it should still be very easy to swap out toys if you want to update which 3 are in the gym). Now yer rockin'!

Quick, stick an infant under there! (this was back in March)

It's trippy under the rainbow.


This tutorial was featured on:


A Moving Story

When we would tell people we had sold our house and were near closing on the new house, they would say, "let me know what I can do to help! We can keep the kids, or bring you dinner or help pack...just let us know!"

I told Jesse, "gosh, you'd think we were having another baby the way people want to help. We are just incredibly popular, I guess."


They were offering because they were survivors of a move and knew THE UTTER HORROR that is taking all your earthly belongings from one spot on the planet and setting them up in a different one. And WOE UNTO ME for ever thinking we didn't need an army of help.

Neither Jesse nor I had ever done a full-on move before. Jesse's family last moved when he was 2 and mine did when I was 7. I used to think that going to/from college every year counted. Let's be clear IT DOES NOT COUNT.

Moving as adults, with kids, in a home you've just been stuffing full of crap for 9 years with no exit strategy? THAT'S moving. Going out to the truck to load 2 boxes and coming back in to discover the kids have UNPACKED 4? THAT'S moving. Dumping several drawers' contents--from different rooms--willy-nilly into one gigantic box and telling myself,  "I'll totally be in the mood to sort and organize that at the new house?" and KNOWING it's a filthy lie? THAT's moving. Leaking tears of gratitude out of my eyeballs when about 12 people Blessed Saints from our church showed up on a 90 degree June night to help lug our stuff across town, but only being able to repay them in pizza, beer and snickers? THAT'S moving (and eternal love, btw). Our 9-month old mastering crawling AND cruising the week we move when all of our most choke-able, pierce-able, and disaster-able belongings are strewn about in boxes that are the exact height of an infant's armpit? THAT'S moving.

"what am I chewing on? I dont know, and neither do you, mom! LOL" (and her diaper clearly was not getting changed promptly at this point in life).

Leaving for a week at the beach 3 days after we move? That's just stupid. And I've already repressed it.

When our closing date finally rolled around, we were about 60% ready to move. The one smart thing we did was to arrange for childcare (4 different sitters!) that day. We had learned the hard way at the closing of our old house that a law firm is NOT a place for our wee beasties. They certainly spotted a fish tank in a closed conference room where serious legal things were going on and busted riiiiight in. Jesse and I certainly took a good 3 minutes to notice and some of our best threatening ever was accomplished immediately thereafter.

The only thing comparable to the feeling of walking into our new home after signing was our wedding. It's this thing you've imagined and pictured for SUCH a long time and all of a sudden it's happening right now in real life and it's incredibly surreal and a tad barfy-feeling.

Yeah, I took a pic of this. Wanna fight?

I got there first and just wandered around awestruck that this was OURS. Jesse arrived a few minutes later and dutifully carried me over the threshold (as he did 9 years ago, noting I am SOOOOO much lighter this time). After about 20 minutes of dazed wandering, dreaming, and thankful praises, the moment was abruptly over and it was time to spring into moving action. Jesse had told our strong friends to meet at the old house at 6 to finish loading the huge UHAUL, and it was 5:40 so he had to go back to lead that charge.

I stupid, stupid, stupidly told my gorgeous, angelic friend who was watching all 3 kids to bring them over early so that they could see the house (they had never been inside) before anyone else did and before things were moved in. Ohhhhh I paid the price for this "magic" moment, being left alone taking care of them in a stifling, empty house, at Noa's bedtime, when all I wanted to do was start moving things in. I really thought the big moment would be...bigger (this is as close as you get to a video tour):

So I was now marooned with the kids for an hour and a half until my mother in law came over to watch them so I can spazz out and kick things into place. I had planned for Noa to go right to bed in our walk-in closet, where it would be dark and the moving sounds wouldn't disturb her. HOOOOO, boy, she was NOT about that. I think she was at just the right age to be super aware and immediately freaked out by these new surroundings. I tried to nurse into a milk stupor, but all that accomplished was to make us both so very sweaty (we werent turning the AC on yet), and to render me frazzled and braless as I heard the big kids running wild throughout the house; I could only imagine scenarios where they demolished my favorite features and amenities.

What an excellent time for Noa to display her very first signs of separation anxiety (if we werent skin-to-sweaty-skin, by always happy baby would SCREAM cry).

about 10 minutes before she morphed into a stage 5 clinger.

I thought, okaaaaay, I can give her a cool bath. That will calm her down (she has never once cried in a bath) and cool her off and signal bedtime. Maybe mommy gets in there too and rinses off the liquid stress that I was coated with. I get the tub running and plop her down while I start undressing. As soon as I am shirtless, she starts wailing and thrashing and trying out her new pulling up skills on a very clean, very slippery bathtub surface.

I throw my sweaty shirt back on (no bra, no prob, I'm just gonna feed her anyway), and scoop her up naked and screaming and soaking wet into my sweaty arms.  I grab a dirty beach towel I had used to pack some baby things in, and try to towel off our sweat/water/milk/tears.

Right about then I hear a knock on my master bedroom door. Hmmm, my children do not knock, they barge in screaming like a viking hoard. I arranged the naked baby and wet towel over me so that my sweet chariots could swing low, yet unseen, and I tiptoe out of the bathroom and cautiously ask, "who is it?" figuring it's my mother in law here to rescue me!

"It's me, Roy. I'm here with the first truckload."

Roy. As in Jesse's boss. As in the head pastor of our church. This could not get any better.

I grabbed Noa tighter than any bra could ever be and attempted to compose myself enough to peek out the door and blubber, "Yes. Oh hi, thank you, okay, awesome, bring whatever you have into wherever. Thanks, sorry. Im normal!"

And our big move had its official Auspicious Beginning. The rest has been a flurry of boxes, IKEA trips, late nights, organizing/purging, sore muscles, attempting to train the kids how to use square footage, and generally being so grateful and dumbfounded that this dreamy home is really ours now!

They never been able to stretch out like this at home without touching a least 3 other humans.

I walked into the playroom that first night after the big kids had gone home with Linda to spend the night (bless her!) to see what toys the kids had unearthed first.

The complete Nativity, all set up by my little nerds (don't know how they accessed the christmas stuff!). I kinda teared up (it had been a LONG day) at how in the chaos of it all, the animals still came to adore baby Jesus and that this was the very first thing my kids did (besides a game of Scattergories, I guess?)

Teeny girl. Lotsa room. I'm a happy lady.


Scrapbooking the Old House

*I started writing this post a few days before our buyer closed on it (think May 15th). I was WAY emotional about leaving this little (SO LITTLE) fixer-upper behind. I never finished the post because, yall, moving is the worst. Why did no one warn me?! But now that we've been in the new house for a few weeks (we rented the old place from the new owner until July 1st) I can look back fondly but not miss this old place at all! that's how much of an upgrade the new place is.*

My eyes well up a bit when I think about leaving this treasured, frustrating-at-times, labor of love little house behind after almost 9 years here. 

Luckily part of the selling process was having a professional shoot our (so.freaking.clean. WE SLAVED) home for the listing, So we will always have great photos of the space (even if it was denuded of our personal stuff and some questionable staging props added). 

There aren't pics of the kids room because it had already been thoroughly shot professionally by IKEA (and we were using it as a cesspit to throw all our junky personal stuff into on the day the rest of the house was shot), nor of the main back yard because Jesse didnt have it quite ready in time for the photographer. 

(all photo credits: Brenda Stewart unless noted)

front view from road. remember when we painted the door?

That fence project (we were the mission field for that youth group!) was really the DIY that got us moving and in love with our home.

$10 oversized chair and ottoman remains our garage sale benchmark. #notmytulips

did a skin graft on that IKEA rocker to make its footstool match

love our 3 goodwill stools that have been reupholstered thrice now.  The perfect bar lights were c/o the wonderful Shepard Lighting, who positively ruled at picking out just the right fixtures for out style.

jesse built the table and dining banquette bench custom from scratch. those stayed at this house. It's underwhelming as a dining room until you realize we used to have NOTHING for dining on because this was my sewing "room"

Hheaven lawd this kitchen was the biggest improvement of the entire 9 years. The cabinets that nearly finished me, but turned out SO worth it (and in that same project was when we painted the countertops from beige to black---SO easy and impactful).

Deciding to take the doors permanently off one set of cabs was a move that totally worked for us. Fabulous gooseneck sink light c/o Shepard Lighting . #notmyfruit 

moving the microwave from the countertop and turning it into a built in above the stove was a major coup!

Behind those doors was a very sexy project that was the creation of a pantry where once there was none...also that post was where I shamelessly hinted that I was pregnant with a 3rd baby. The fridge is/was black. The photographer used sorcery of some kind to make it silver!

We never did much more with this room after it became the first true made-over one. #notmyferns


full blown master bath upgrade in one easy weekend.

the guest bathroom with so many cool things that I never blogged about. I LOVED that room

the junk room, turned sewing nook (that was so terrible yet I was so proud!), turned Layla nursery, turned actually great sewing studio, turned white walls with hand painted herringbone accent, turned shared sewing room/Noa nursery.

Goodbye, sweet first home of ours! We brought 3 kids, 2 dogs, 3 cats, and a whole lotta cray into you, and you, in return, did not poison us with mold or radon and taught me a deep, abiding love for red-hued wood and popcorn ceilings.