From Lego to Harry Potter, why themed rooms are all the rage in interior design

Also known as ‘emotional escape rooms’, these are DIY spaces that homeowners never want to leave

Sandy Spilsbury and her partner, Ian, have spent years transforming their North Yorkshire home into a “chapel of rock”. Photo: Sandy Spilsbury
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Think of an escape room and most of us immediately picture The Crystal Maze-esque notions of a frantic scurry to decipher codes, scramble through obstacles and beat the clock in an attempt to get out. However, a new trend is emerging in the interior design world and, this time, the frenzy is to get in — and stay in.

Themed rooms or “emotional escape rooms”, as they are labelled on Pinterest, have always been a bit of a novelty, from reality star Candy Spelling’s gift-wrapping rooms to the endless man caves that popped up during the pandemic.

However, according to Pinterest’s 2022 trends report, emotional escape rooms are on the rise, with more people than ever before ideating, designing and bringing themed rooms to life as a space to unwind and find freedom without stepping outside their front door.

The report shows a 150 per cent rise in searches for “rage rooms” and a 100 per cent rise in “music-themed rooms”, while searches for “tiny library rooms” multiplied by 12.

Here are some of the more unique we've come across.

Building blocks

Dubai resident Caroline Rowe has spent the past five months assembling her Lego room, consisting of tens of thousands of Lego bricks.

“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to find a way to take my mind off work and my eyes away from a screen as I was working from home for up to 12 hours a day,” says Rowe, a communications consultant.

“I ordered my first Lego set just to get back to play and as something to distract me. Little did I know I would get totally hooked.”

Rowe’s collection quickly flourished and after moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a town house in The Springs last December, she decided to dedicate an entire room to her new hobby.

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It’s too much to be spending on Lego, really, but I didn’t play with it as a child so I've been making up for lost time
Caroline Rowe

“I soon had all of the city skyline sets and many of the architecture sets apart from the rarest ones, which are pretty expensive and hard to come by,” she says. “When I moved to a villa, I wanted to have a place to disconnect from work, so I made sure my study was downstairs and I turned my second bedroom into a place for me to relax.

“It’s now a space to display my Lego and also a place for me to build more Lego and relax in the evenings. I've even set up lights so I can work on it more easily.”

Rowe estimates she has about 50 Lego sets, with some of the more intricate structures, such as the Taj Mahal, comprising more than 2,000 pieces.

As any parent knows, Lego sets can be expensive, with some of the rarer sets creeping into the thousands, but for Rowe, her hobby is not about investing but purely for the enjoyment it brings.

“I haven't really added the price up,” she says. “It’s too much to be spending on Lego, really, but I didn’t play with it as a child so I've been making up for lost time.

“Lego isn't about value creation for me. If it were, I shouldn't have taken the sets out of the box because it destroys their value. Lego is to be enjoyed, not put in a bank vault. That's where the real value lies.”

Magical moments

Over in the UK, mum-of-two Sophia Daly’s themed room features a magical twist.

In 2020, Daly transformed the bedroom of her daughter, 8, into a Harry Potter wonderland, complete with an enchanted ceiling, an Azkaban teddy prison and a Hogwarts-style library.

“My daughter loves everything about Harry Potter, and I decided to makeover her bedroom as a birthday treat,” says Daly, who is from Nottingham.

“When I was young, my grandmother made me a Narnia-themed bedroom that I even had to walk through the wardrobe to get to. For me, it was magical and I wanted to do that for my daughter as well.”

By upcycling the existing bedroom furniture and sourcing second-hand accessories from the Facebook Marketplace and eBay, Daly, who works for the NHS, was able to pull off the makeover for only over £500 ($610).

“I spent a few months planning and finding lots of second-hand memorabilia,” says Daly.

“I then spent about a month hand-painting the furniture in the theme of the Hogwarts houses and printing the vinyl. I wallpapered the doors to resemble the Daily Prophet newspaper and bound the window blinds with glow-in-the-dark wallpaper styled on the Marauder's Map.

“The ceiling above her bed is one of the greatest bits about the room. It really does look like the enchanted ceiling from the Great Hall.”

Rock out

Also in England, in the peaceful hamlet of Shaw Mills in North Yorkshire, lies an unsuspecting chapel on the outskirts of Harrogate.

From the outside, the building looks like a peaceful haven to visit after a day’s strolling on the moors, but inside is a different story entirely.

Sandy Spilsbury and her partner, Ian, spent a decade transforming the entire building into a “chapel of rock”, featuring a jukebox, musical instruments in every room and memorabilia covering every last inch of the walls.

“We built it as our first home together, and it’s taken 10 years to get it to where it is today,” says Spilsbury. “I’m a huge fan of disco and Barry White, and Ian loves boogie-woogie. Our relationship has always centred around music, so it was only natural that it filtered into our home.

“There’s a jukebox that we love, and the walls are papered in covers from our favourite albums. It really is a party house and it’s been a total labour of love.”

The renovation included knocking through walls, stripping back floors and replacing the altar with a bedroom, while preserving original features including an impressive stained glass window.

“It cost us about £20,000, and we’re thrilled with how it turned out,” says Spilsbury. “The Hairy Bikers even filmed one of their TV shows here and they absolutely loved it.”

Now Spilsbury is opening her home to fellow lovers of rock and roll and is accepting rentals through gorgeouscottages.com.

“We’ve taken so much pleasure from it over the years,” she says. “Now we want to give other people the opportunity to rock out.”

Updated: May 23, 2022, 3:36 AM
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