Back yards

Playhouses: a place for kids to unplug


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A Victorian mini-mansion or a wee Cape Cod cottage can have “back” street appeal, which requires an invitation from the children of the house to visit.

A playhouse is a place for kids to be kids, says Dan Schlabach, owner of Little Cottage Co., based in Berlin, Ohio. “A playhouse gives children a chance to escape and also to practice adult roles without TVs or other electronics,” he says. “Kids can unplug in a playhouse.”

Schlabach started his company in 2000, after designing Sara’s Victorian Mansion to commemorate the birth of his daughter. Since then, he’s sold, assembled and shipped construction kits for playhouses internationally. “Grandparents and parents alike want playhouses for children to be able to make memories,” he says. “We’ve found that the optimal ages for children to enjoy the playhouse are between 3 and 13 years old, and that time in a child’s life goes all too fast.”

If you want to set up a home-away-from-home in your backyard for children, there are a number of things to do before breaking ground on a bitty building. Schlabach says involving family members in the playhouse design helps to make it a little extension of the big house.

“People may try to have the architecture of the playhouse emulate that of the family’s home, such as building a small playhouse cottage that looks like the big house,” he says. “But we find that people — instead of trying to match architectural styles — are more inclined to match paint colors and roofing materials instead.”

The location for the playhouse should be a relatively dry, partly sunny spot, built on slightly elevated ground, where rainwater does not collect. Often, playhouses are built on a crushed rock surface or a poured concrete pad.

Most playhouses are constructed in a home’s backyard, partly for privacy, but sometimes because a city or homeowner’s association prohibits “accessory buildings” in the front yard.

“What we find is that playhouses are often exempt from local accessory building codes, which usually includes storage sheds,” Schlabach says. “But the point is to check with local municipalities for building codes regarding playhouses before the little home-raising begins.”

To create a grand child (or grandchild) getaway, have a playhouse plan that includes the itty-bitty blueprint, detailed and drawn up by consulting woodworking books or Internet sites.

There are also companies like Schlabach’s, which will construct the playhouse of your dreams or ship construction kits that have precut boards and predrilled holes, and come with easy-to-follow directions for relatively easy assembly.

“Part of the whole allure of building a playhouse is that it usually brings generations of family together,” Schlabach says. “Parents — sometimes grandparents — and children all get excited when the vision of having a playhouse starts to become a reality.”

Playhouse guidelines to make a safe and special place for childhood memories can include:

• Creating a traditional-style playhouse that can appeal to both girls and boys.

• Using naturally rot-resistant lumber, such as cypress boards, and exterior-grade plywood for the structure, with hidden galvanized screws to avoid protruding points.

• Sanding all square corners inside, creating air vents near the roof for ventilation and using shatter-proof materials for windows — such as Plexiglas — all help to make a playhouse comfortable and one that inhabits a danger-free zone.

After a playhouse in constructed, it’s time for the children to help transform it into a home with personal touches, both inside and out.

Consider painting or staining the house using water-based products. Children can become interior decorators and gardeners by making curtains, filling flowerboxes or planting a small vegetable garden to tend.

And while child-sized furniture can be purchased, sawed tree stumps can serve as a rustic table and chairs. Interior wall decorations can include gluing mosaic tiles onto wooden planks or encouraging children to create a memory wall by assembling a collage using pictures or magazine clippings, then coating it with polyurethane.

The charm of a playhouse is that children can create their own private, perfect world, says Schlabach. “A playhouse can become a family heirloom — one where parents build it for their children, who keep it for the next generation,” he says.

•  Little Cottage Co.: 330-893-4212,

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