The South Loop Gets a Green Play Space

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Little sprouts in the South Loop have a new place to play. Sod Room, an eco-friendly play space for crawlers through kindergarteners, has just opened in the historic Buick Building.

It’s a modern wonderland with an outdoors-y feel. But think Pinterest-perfect garden party, not campsite. Consider the many options for fun as sunlight pours through wall-to-wall windows. Whiz down the slide and scurry up the climbing wall at the custom two-story wooden tree loft. Create an original work of art by placing colored wine corks in a pegboard wall. Build a replica of Willis Tower using wooden magnetic blocks. Or just wind down on the large “grassy knoll,” a handmade tufted fabric perch that resembles a bean bag. The open floor plan means kids can romp, roam and gander about, just as they would in the park, but never leave your eyesight.


Chances are, you’ll be busy checking out the cool decor imagined by local designer Jen Talbot. We love the low-hanging swing and chandelier embellished with hand-stitched felt, and the felt clusters of mushrooms, birds and other wildlife. At the entrance, there are storage cubbies made from repurposed milk crates and a front desk fashioned from more than 450 recycled books. Even the train table was created from an old shipping crate.

Not only is it all eye-catching, but it’s easy on the earth and growing bodies. Consider the low-VOC paint, recycled cork flooring and eco-friendly FLOR carpeting in the crawlers’ area. That’s not to mention that the toys, like wooden musical instruments and pretend food, are non-toxic and sustainably made.


Sod Room is a true mom-and-pop operation that came from a very personal place. Owners Cynthia Valenciana, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, and her husband, Abdon, a financial rep, have two sons ages 3 and 6. While raising their first boy, the couple had difficulty finding resources to help with what Cynthia calls “so many issues.” They looked into alternative diets, cloth diapering, safe playthings and other natural lifestyle choices. Ultimately, they knew what would help most: having a real community.


They’ve certainly created one with their urban romper room, where parents can meet and bond, and kids can play safely. Complimentary coffee, tea and WiFi are part of the package. Currently, weekends are reserved for private parties. Down the line, Sod Room will offer classes, events and seminars. For now, it’s focused on the spirit of togetherness and commitment to the eco-friendly life.

Should you go? Well, we sure give you the green light.

Sod Room
1454 S. Michigan Ave.

Open: Mon.-Wed. & Fri., 9:00am-5:30pm; and Thurs., 9:00am-7:00pm Sat. & Sun closed for private parties.

Cost: Admission is $12/child and $8/siblings.

Have you checked out Sod Room yet?

— Kelly Aiglon

Photos: Amy Braswell