The scene was serene. On a recent Friday morning, a gaggle of sweet toddlers and their moms (and a few dads) buzzed about Nook, a brand new play space at Ballston Quarter.
The kids and a few crawling babies played in the make-believe kitchen, strummed the Loog guitar on a mini stage, created crayon masterpieces at the art table and even jumped in a ball pit.
It all sounds like a standard morning for parents of little ones looking for something to pass the time. Except, instead of blaring kid-friendly music, there was Motown on the speakers. Instead of plastic pink and blue toys, the shelves featured a curated collection of sustainably sourced ones. And instead of a wild patterned rug to hide the inevitable stains, a neutral gray rug lined the 3,500-square-foot space.
Welcome to playtime for today’s modern parent.
“The concept for Nook started when my first daughter was born,” says Maria Vogelei, co-founder of Nook. “As she started to get older and more active, we needed to get out of the house, and taking her to all these play places, I was frustrated with what I was seeing. They were all grossly outdated … pinks and blues and places that were so overstimulating.”
With those observations, Vogelei dreamed up a space where children and parents could enjoy playtime. “As a new mom, it occurred to me that more thought in design was being applied to vacuums and phones, and not to places where children go to play and learn. So I started to think of Nook as a place where young families could come together to celebrate this time,” explains Vogelei.
In 2016, Vogelei opened a small pilot space in North Arlington on Lee Highway. It was there she also met her now business partner, Sy Yang.
The pair, both moms of three young children, had accomplished careers—Vogelei in marketing and branding, Yang as a corporate lawyer—prior to going the entrepreneurial route.
“I had spent so much of my adult life achieving what I needed to achieve,” says Yang. “Once I had my first child, there’s nothing like having a kid to put your priorities in focus. The type of career that I had with a newborn, it felt discombobulating. I really said, ‘That’s enough.’ This time is fleeting.”
The Lee Highway location was a hit, and the pair started dreaming up a larger space. Nook opened in Mosaic District last summer. Nook at Ballston Quarter, the brand’s flagship location, officially opened in February.
The space lives up to Vogelei and Yang’s vision. The open area, which was designed by San Francisco-based architect and product designer Ben Mickus, features a neutral palette of soft grays, whites and birch wood. Various zones, or nooks, offer space for kids to play and stretch their imagination, including a small stage, play kitchen, a reading area, kid-sized tables and stools for coloring and a ball pit. A room for parties and classes completes the space. Classes and workshops are aimed at both parent-child interaction (such as Social Climbers: A Movement and Socialization Class) and helping new parents (such as Potty Training: A How-To for Intimidated Parents).
Nook’s toys are also carefully selected, something, says Vogelei, that should help parents save time when stocking their own homes.
“For parents who have no time to take their kids shopping in person, we want to feature really wonderful brands in our space so they can experience it in person,” she says. “We think of ourselves as curators of really quality concepts.”
The pair have plans to open more Nook locations in the future, including outside of the NoVA region, as they look to offer an elevated experience for other women transitioning from career to motherhood.
“We are hitting on a time where people are not accepting what is just given to them anymore,” says Vogelei. “We are at a time where people are saying, ‘I want more, I want better for myself’… Nook is about that. It’s about saying, as parents, you all deserve more. You don’t have to accept the pinks and the blues and the overstimulation. This is a place for you, too. It’s about raising your hand and saying, ‘I want more and I deserve more as a mother, as a father, as a caregiver,’ and that’s what we’re hoping to create in this space.” // Nook at Ballston Quarter: 4238 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1295, Arlington; 571-970-0338; Open play, ages 0-5, $20 for a day pass