When I was a kid, my dad spent a whole summer building a playhouse for us. It wasn’t just any playhouse, it was two storeys high, with a roped-in roof on top that naturally became THE world’s most dangerous wrestling ring when my parents weren’t around.
(Shh. Don’t tell Dad.)
A ladder went up to the second floor, where my brother and his friends would hang out, and I had the ground floor. Well, I had to share — our rabbit “Bugs” and I were roommates.
I’m pushing 40 and I still smile when I remember how much we loved that playhouse.
Fact is, a treehouse, fort, or playhouse isn’t just a neat area for kids, it’s a place where memories happen that will last a lifetime.
That’s why, last autumn, I watched with great interest and joy as one of my hard-working best friends spent what little spare time he had on building a playhouse for his two kids, currently aged five and seven.
It’s finished on the outside, and jury’s out as to whether the inside will get any work, but I know it’ll be something those two kids reflect on for the rest of their lives as a really neat, beautiful little space their father worked so hard to make for them.
My friend Jon began his project with the purchase of a standard garden shed kit, bought for $800 plus taxes, but then he decided it needed to be up on stilts so his kids could have a slide and a rock-climbing wall, and a ladder, because what kid doesn’t want a slide, or a rock-climbing wall, or a ladder?
He also thought it deserved a little porch, a couple windows, and faux-French doors, because what industrious Dad doesn’t want to point to a super-fancy little playhouse in the backyard and smugly own that project when he brags to his Dad buddies in the ‘hood?
With all his fancy additions, he’s pushing past $2,000 plus taxes for that little space.
For the doors, Jon bought pre-made doors and then busted out his trusty power tools, cut out the centers, and inserted safety glass with custom framing. He did the same with installing the windows.
I’m sure if he had the time to take a couple weeks off to dedicate exclusively to building the playhouse, it would’ve been a quicker project, but he pretty much built the space to code, ensuring it didn’t just look good, but it was a super-safe (and pretty) structure that could outlast his kids’ childhood while not meeting with the his neighbors’ ire.
As his wife explained to me, if it were built to code, the city would have a harder time giving a reason for them to pull it down, even if a neighbor decided to get all difficult about it. (Lord knows that never happens.)
While my friend hasn’t focused much on the interior of this space, part of that stems in wanting to see what it evolves into. What do the kids want to see on their walls? Will they want to paint things themselves? How will they personalize the space? It’s almost a bit of a journey itself, that way. I personally hope they wait for some sunny summer day, armed with lemonade and latex paint, and just go to it, slapping on paint as a fun family day of “wherever the paint lands, there it is.”
Flooring may yet happen, but considering it’s meant to provide rainy-day refuge, or a place for muddy adventures, he seems to be letting it go for a while to see what it needs to stand up to over the long-haul.
By raising a manufactured shed onto properly engineered stilts (which he can do, since he’s an engineer), he’s created a space where he was able to modify it with those things kids love — climbing contraptions, a little deck for them to look out over their little world, and the always-popular slide for when a quick getaway is paramount for a sibling chase.
My friend scoured the web for fun little “climbing holds” (that’s what you Google) that his kids would love, in the shapes of animals and dinos. Mounted about 10” apart, they’re perfect for little arms and legs on a little climbing wall that’ll get them up to their beloved shack with a little elbow-work.
If you’re thinking of a slide, get a slide with a good height as your first plan of attack, since you’ll need to know how high the structure has to be before raising it. You’ll notice the smart little concrete footing he added under the slide. This will protect the integrity of his deck for years to come, rather than having a less-than-perfectly-supported slide that might pull on the deck or cause the slide’s material to slowly compromise from repeated stress and strain.
The last thing you need for a great playhouse, of course, are a couple kids who are willing to make it their kingdom’s castle. A “no grown-ups allowed” sign might just make the space complete.
No matter what design you start with, your kids will appreciate the time you spend making it a pretty, versatile place where they can get up to kid-friendly mischief without big people getting in their way.
A great playhouse is a stepping stone to independence and creativity. With the right amount of care and attention, creativity and imagination, it can be a space your kids use for years, for hiding comics, bug collections and other “secret” things when they’re just wee tykes all the way to having an awesome summer-reading haven as a teen.
This summer, consider building the perfect playing space for your kids. It’s truly a gift they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives, long after they’re all grown up.