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Creating a playful house

LOS ANGELES — Emily Green's Los Angeles home is all about art and childhood.

"It's a house where you can play with everything," Green said. "I want kids to feel like they can be themselves here."

The playful interior of her small apartment is filled with handmade objects. A puppet hanging in the kitchen has coffee cup lids for eyes, a Gatorade cap nose and forks for legs and hands. In the bedroom of daughter Daisy, 10, tooth fairy boxes have been crafted from tinfoil, bright paper scraps and other throwaway items. In Green's bedroom, a portrait of her was painted by a former student on the back of a ukulele.

"My house is filled with things that inspire me," Green said. "These are my resources. I want to make heirlooms using things that are simple to have around."

That also means pieces of nostalgia as decoration. A bookcase in the living room is stacked with relics from Green's childhood — "Madeline" books, a cash register, board games and Richard Scarry titles. There is no TV set, only her "imagination bucket" filled with scraps of fabric, toilet paper rolls, pipe cleaners — you name it.

Upstairs, a basket of Madame Alexander dolls rests in the hallway. Letterpress keys in a bowl await use in some future project. In the bathroom, vintage alphabet blocks from a Michigan flea market sit atop the medicine cabinet, while another set of miniature colored blocks in the hallway looks like an abstract artwork.

The living room triples as an office and artist studio for Green, whose children's line includes melamine dinnerware, place mats and wooden puzzles sold in boutiques nationwide. Tools of her trade — paint, pens and paper — sit on an enormous white laminate desk that's used as a buffet for parties.

Green started her business six years ago, making place mats for friends out of her artworks. "I laminated them myself at Kinko's," she said. Soon, she was selling pieces at school bazaars and cold-calling businesses on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica ("Like a peddler," she says, laughing).

Green's mantra is that you don't need money to be creative. "I want to live simply," she says, so she edits carefully, keeping only what is important and deploying those personal belongings as mini installations. Daisy's little cowboy boots were important, so Green didn't throw them out. Instead, she accumulated the ever-growing sizes on a bookshelf.

"I've worked really hard to make it a house of love and spirit and creativity. It's OK to make a mess," Green said before adding slyly, "but I wouldn't mind a dishwasher one day."

There's Joy In The Daisy Chain

A classic holiday craft got a modern update this week when Green hosted a children's daisy chain party at her Los Angeles home.

"I always go back to my childhood feelings," Green said, citing Christmas and Hanukkah parties of her youth, when she and friends made paper chains — some blue and white, some red and green — then mixed them all up and decorated one another's homes.

This time, Green led daughter Daisy and Daisy's friends in making nondenominational chains from unconventional, often recycled materials: tinfoil, doilies, duct tape, oilcloth, vintage fabric, cut-up plastic flowers, party toothpicks, pipe cleaners and scalloped Bordette, the corrugated trim that teachers often use around bulletin boards.

The artist assembled the materials into interlocking strips with a hot glue gun, and the kids added costume jewelry beads and other details. Green suggested personalizing the chains with family pictures, written wishes or prayers, or kids' art cut into strips.

"Use things that you don't know what to do with," she said.

During the party, older kids preferred to write wishes and other sentiments, which were attached as little offshoots to the chain links. Other kids preferred using only pipe cleaners. Whatever the style, the project provided not only colorful decoration but also a way for the kids to interact.

"Families can sit around and do it together," Green said, adding, "You can put it away and take it out again next year."

And did she mention it's practically free?