Totes and the City

Life as a Mini in the Emerald City

A Seattle-based lifestyle blog.

Project Playhouse

So my husband can attest to you that I'm a huge dreamer.  I love to talk about what we could be doing in five, ten plus years and love to experiment with new projects.  I'm also a little crazy about DIY projects.  I always think I can do everything! And how much more rewarding it will be if I make it myself versus buying it from someone else.  Like the time I bought my own screen printing kit (that I gave away and am now regretting it so I may need another) and  the reason I bought a sewing machine that is now lost in storage.  I did make two pair of baby leggings at some point though! Don't believe me? I documented it here and still have them to have Apple wear soon!  But that's only one successful example, I must admit.  
 
We've been in our house now for almost two years and have a huge backyard (for city-dwellers, nothing like the acres I grew up in Utah with).  However, we didn't have anything in our yard that would entice Totes to get outside and play.  He loves going to the park and playing on the swings/slides, etc but didn't care much for playing outside at our own home.  When I became pregnant with little Apple, I was almost too exhausted to walk him to the nearby parks and sit while he played.  It bummed me out quite a bit and I knew it was only going to become even harder to get out of the house and to the park once she was born.  So this is where the idea came to life to build our own playhouse.  It started as a few harmless pins on Pinterest, which quickly got out of control as my mind wandered to all the grand possibilities we could create!  I started sketching.  It was so relaxing, like those adult coloring books everyone is going crazy over right now.  Then I got serious.  I mapped out and measured the space and started sourcing products.  I picked up on a thread in our neighborhood facebook group about custom built playhouses and a local builder was recommended by more than one fellow parent, pictures of his work included.  I contacted him and he came out to our house where we chatted options.  He emailed me a quote a few days later...  SEVEN GRAND was his bid.  Um, what?!?  Reality check.  This was not going to happen for that small fortune.  I was a little down over it but kept the idea on the back burner.  I knew I could find a work around for this, there had to be a cheaper way.  Then a few weeks later something magical happened... on so many levels unrelated to the playhouse getting built but that was a wonderful bonus.  I talked my brother and his wife into moving up to Seattle for the summer to live with us and help me with the kids!  My brother, who had just finished building his own home in Southern Utah, could easily help me build it.  
  
They arrived in June and we got to work on the planning right away, although a very slow process as... hello! I have a newborn again.    

before shot of our backyard

before shot of our backyard

endless sketches of my ideas and plans

endless sketches of my ideas and plans

Google 'playhouse' and the standard image returned is an elevated structure with a single room, a balcony and a triangle roof.  But I wanted to make a mini version of our own house, something much more modern and spacious.  The initial idea was a standard room with a balcony and a sandbox underneath. I wanted to have his favorite playground items, a slide and a swing, so we weren't left wanting.  But I also wanted to leave room to add on as the kids got older and could choose more functions based on their interests.  I quickly nixed the balcony aspect as it didn't seem to add any value to me and only made the build-out more complicated.  Since we have so many rainy days, an enclosed structure with a roof over most of it will get more use.  The tube slide was chosen, as well, with the weather in mind.  We still have to be mindful of the very end with rain puddling but otherwise the slide is useable rain or shine. I designed the swing hanging from a cantilever beam not only for a modern look (our house has a similar beam), but to keep the footprint to a minimum as any other option would have needed a pyramid style post at the end to secure it. Once I had the main idea drawn up and numbers estimated to the best of my ability, I contacted our good friend/architect/engineer to run the plans by him and make sure the playhouse would be structurally sound based on my plans.  He helped me put together a lumber shopping list and let me borrow a few tools.  The day the lumber truck showed up and dropped off a massive pile of cedar wood and pressure treated posts was when it all made it real.  I was fully invested and my husband was speechless.  Actually, he wasn't but we won't get in to that here!  

Along my way, I tried to gather as much information from other blogs and places on the internet with sources of the process I was going to go through.  One in particular, this post from Modfrugal, gave a lot of great details on their process and materials so I wanted to put my process out there as well in case there are others looking for the same information I was.  Although we tried to plan this out as best as possible, there was a lot of trial and error.  We made mistakes and wasted a lot of time and money but I am so happy with the finished product, it was all worth it.  


When dreams turned into reality the design began to morph as function came in to play. We adjusted the slant of the roof to allow rain runoff to fall back into the existing garden where no one would be walking.  I increased the square footage a bit so that adults (mainly me) could comfortably enter the structure.  Once we pulled out the blue tape and mapped out our footprint on the lawn I thought it looked too small so we went from an 8x8 to an 8x10 space.  After researching different accessories and pinning down which ones we would buy, we were able to finalize measurement that were needed to install them.  I splurged for the 7 foot Turbo Tube Slide instead of the 5 footer (purchased off of and delivered by Amazon)!  In fact, along the way, everything just kept becoming slightly bigger!  I knew I wanted a sandbox underneath the playhouse and decided to add a bunk/loft space inside.  That raised the overall height quite a bit.  To a total of 14 feet to be exact.  We wanted to be sure that air would flow well throughout the structure, ensuring no mold issues would arise.  In retrospect, I think we took that a little too far given the cold temperatures we have up here.  I would have liked it to be a bit more enclosed and drafts kept at minimum. 
See below for the picture series of our progress and details on each phase.

The four posts are 6x6x16' pressure treated beams. They were so massive and expensive but make the structure super solid.  The rest of the wood is cedar as it is naturally mold resistant/weatherproof.  The floor joists are 2x8x10s, floor planks are 1x4s, walls are 2x4s and ceiling 2x6s.  We used clear polycarbonate roofing panels to allow as much light as possible in year round to account for the high number of overcast days we have here in Seattle.  I wanted the kids to be able to play out here year round if they wanted and really hope they will as they get older... it didn't happen much this first winter.  As you can see in the picture, we have an existing retaining wall at the back of our property line.  I chose to put the playhouse tucked in the corner so we retained as much of the yard as possible (I may not have mentioned that my husband was not thrilled about this thing going up). The second section and smaller wall is our garden... or was our garden.  We did a lousy job keeping it up anyway so I didn't think it would hurt too much to take over a few feet.  

Getting started... first posts in place

Getting started... first posts in place

Grandma came to help! Fourth post going up

Grandma came to help! Fourth post going up

Framing up the first level

Framing up the first level

Step one, Uncle Taylor dug out holes to put the two back posts.  With everyone's help (these posts are so heavy!) we were able to get them into place, secured with a few other boards to level them out, then he shoveled concrete around the base of both to really secure them in the ground.  
You may have spotted in these photos that we have faux grass/turf.  After weighing both options of removing a section or building right over the top of it, we decided to remove it, which we used a box cutter to do.  The front two posts went up next.  It was pretty tricky to get all four of these beasts in just the right position so that our structure formed a perfect square/rectangle but Taylor had a special formula using triangles to get it right.  It helps having someone who knows what they are doing!  The posts also are so tall that they were not completely straight and bow slightly!

sweat equity!

sweat equity!

Project Playhouse | by Totes and the City
Project Playhouse | by Totes and the City
Project Playhouse | by Totes and the City
floorboards in place

floorboards in place

framing started, cutting off the excess floor boards

framing started, cutting off the excess floor boards

Framing complete and slide attached

Framing complete and slide attached

the yard needs a good cleanup but the playhouse exterior is done!

the yard needs a good cleanup but the playhouse exterior is done!

The 2x8's were secured to the posts around the outside of the beams.  This would be the foundation of the inside floor of the playhouse.  I allotted roughly four feet of head clearance from the ground to the 2x8's so kids could comfortably stand up in the sandbox.  Now that the sand has been added that has decreased the clearance by about half a foot though.  I used landscaping fabric to line the ground before we added the sand and we built a 'bench' using two of the leftover 2x8's on the right and left sides of the box.  As for sandbags... We purchased an initial lot of 25, 50-pound bags.  The space we had to fill was roughly 8x9' and I wanted to have about a half foot of sand.  Once all 25 bags were added, we needed another 20 to fill it completely!

For the exterior, we used t1-11 siding panels, found at our local home depot.  We also took in a sample of siding from our house and had them color match the paint as the whole idea of the design of our playhouse is to be a mini version of our home.  Hence the nickname "Villetta Varchetta".  I wanted to add windows but we waited until the very end to do so while I decided how exactly I wanted to do it.  I really wanted circular windows... I just loved the look, fun and playful.  

The finished (from the outside) project! Totes enjoying the shade of his new sandbox

The finished (from the outside) project! Totes enjoying the shade of his new sandbox

Project Playhouse by Totes and the City | Blog Post
Project Playhouse by Totes and the City | Blog Post
Project Playhouse | by Totes and the City

Playhouse

The final footprint measures 8ft wide by 8ft deep and 14ft high, not including the slide or swing portion.  I believe the swing beam comes out another five feet and the slide another five feet. 
Initial Lumber List:

  • Four (4) 6x6x16 Pressure Treated Beams
  • Seventeen (17) 2x8x10 Cedar - used for the floor joists and the sandbox perimeter
  • Two (2) 2x8x16 Cedar - used for the cantilever beam
  • Sixteen (16) 2x6x10 Cedar - used for the roof
  • Sixty (60) 2x4x10 Cedar w/ radius edge - used for the floor planks, bunk and siding on west wall
  • Ten (10) standard 2x4s used in framing
  • Five (5) t1-11 siding panels

Our lumber bill was about $2,500.00!  I'm assuming lumber prices up here are higher as is the costs of everything else!

Features:

  • Clear Polycarbonate roof (panels purchased from Home Depot)
  • 7ft Turbo Tube Slide
  • Single Swing Set
  • Interior Bunk/Loft
  • Interior metal wall for magnets
  • Interior Chalkboard Wall

Sandbox

The dimensions of the sandbox are approximately 8' x 9'.  we used a total of almost fifty, 50lb sand bags!  I bought the basic sandbags from HomeDepot.  It was initially very dusty when we added all the bags but over the fall, the rain has really settled it down.  We'll see what happens when the dryer summer months come.  I wish I could have splurged for the white sand but the price tag on that quantity would have probably cost more than the rest of the playhouse! The bottom is lined with landscape fabric so help prevent weeds/grass/plants from growing.  I contacted a local auto repair shop and asked if I could take an old tire that they were planning on throwing out and dug this into the middle to add some dimension and a sort of tunnel for Totes and play his toys around.  We also had an old water table that we weren't using anymore that I put in and filled with sand.  I keep buckets of chalk below so the kids can draw on the cement wall and of course of few construction vehicles, shovels, etc for playing.   It has a four foot head clearance and stays beautifully shaded on really sunny days!

I've been slowing adding to the interior over the winter.  It was colder and rainier than normal this winter and with a new baby, we didn't get outside much so one I have more time as it warms up to get the interior in shape, I will get more photos taken and posted!  Keep an eye out for phase two of this post...

Have any questions on what or how we did this? Please comment below! 

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