Design Hits the Toddler Set at NY Store

“I definitely would not have had the idea if my son hadn’t been born,” says Lisa Mahar, owner and founder of Kid-O, a four-month-old toy shop located in Greenwich Village. Trained as an architect, she conceived of the store, which offers a range of stylish and well-designed kids’ toys, when she couldn’t find any playthings to give her now two-year-old son, Emmett.

Mahar and her husband, fellow architect Morris Adjmi, designed the minimalist store, outfitting it with low white tables and shelves that sit at kid-friendly heights. Arranged on those surfaces are not only vintage and reproduction toys and furniture—mini Bertoia and Eames chairs, for example—but also classic games, as well as playthings designed by pioneering child educator Maria Montessori. Even basics like blocks have style here: There are the multi-colored, crinkle-cut cubes designed in 1957 by Kurt Naef that interlock and create interesting positions, such as diagonally stacked and cantilevered, as well as the rectangular Froebel blocks, which come in varying scales and teach children about proportions, addition, and subtraction. (Frank Lloyd Wright was given a set as a youngster, and look what he did.)

Mahar selects and presents the objects in her store with the same care and thought that a curator gives to an exhibit. So to say that Kid-O is merely a design store for the toddler set would be too easy—and inaccurate. These toys are meant to enrich a child’s development, and not merely look nice. “Each day, it’s about fighting the idea that the store is about style, not substance,” says Mahar, who seems as nurturing as she is businesslike. “It’s always about trying to find that balance.”

Starting Kid-O has been an overwhelming but welcome challenge for Mahar, who lives nearby in a townhouse that she and her husband recently renovated. As if she didn’t already have enough on her plate, Mahar has even begun to design her own series of museum-quality children’s toys and accessories, products that will carry forward the same kind of thinking behind many of the pieces in Kid-O. In the spring, she will introduce a bib set made from easy-to-wipe nylon in color combinations inspired by those of the sculptor Donald Judd; she also will begin selling her own cloth shape-and-color sorting cubes. Plus she’s shopping around ideas for a line of children’s books that she would write and design. (She’s already had some practice in that arena, having written and designed American Signs: Form and Meaning on Route 66, an analysis of the signs of motels on the famed American highway.) Finally, she’s working with child psychologist Richard Chase and photographer Matthew Hranek to visually develop Kid-O, so that it’s even more kid-friendly.

“People tell you how having a child will change your world,” says Mahar. “You think you’re prepared, but you’re never prepared.” At least now, thanks to Mahar, parents will be prepared for one thing: having beautifully designed, challenging toys for their kids.

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