13 Magical, Marvelous Playhouses

Childrens' imaginations get a workout in Barbara Butler's fun playhouses.
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Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Photo By: Courtesy Barbara Butler

Storybook Playhouse

Birds, a lion, frogs and other whimsical creatures decorate this Storybook Playhouse. Designed by California-based artist and builder Barbara Butler, it features a handdrawn, painted menagerie that can be customized for the children who'll use it. Cut-out spaces let in sunlight and invite little ones to play peek-a-boo. Working doors, shutters and a mail slot encourage visitors and notes.

Belle Bungalow

Butler custom-designed the Belle Bungalow to be compact and colorful. It's tucked into a hillside and sits atop an existing retaining wall, so it doesn't take up much space on the client's lawn. A big deck juts out 2 feet from the playhouse, leaving room for monkey bars below; kids can enter via a rock climbing wall, rope net ladder or rung ladder. And there's a slide for fast exits.

Hidden Treasure Playhouse

Designed for boys or girls, the Hidden Treasure Playhouse is big, measuring 63 square feet. It includes a two-story Lookout Tower, rock-climbing wall, rope net ladder and an interior loft with a railing and rung ladder. Some of Butler's playhouses are available as kits and come with redwood lumber, hardware and stain. You can also purchase a customized structure, plans or "build-it-yourself" parts, such as rock-climbing holds, to accessorize a playhouse. You'll need carpentry skills; these structures are not for novice builders.

Oblique House

Every two years since 1999, Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, Inc., has donated a playhouse to Rebuilding Together Peninsula, an  organization that assists low-income homeowners in California's San Mateo and northern Santa Clara counties. Her angular, modern Oblique House was auctioned off in a 2011 fund-raiser. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Butler's high-school geometry teacher, this structure features secret escapes and hidden ladders.

Modern Playhouse

Butler believes children need to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies. Her Modern Playhouse, with its trapezoidal angles, rounded cut-outs and varied play features, encourages healthy activity while promoting agility, hand-eye coordination and self-confidence.

Fort Mediterranean

This combination fortress and castle, Fort Mediterranean, contains lots of fun hideaways, bridges and playhouses. Flag poles on either end of the 51 foot-long structure let kids hoist flags, so they warn each other about approaching knights and dragons.

Magical Bridge-Slide Mound with Playhouse

Butler's innovative Magical Bridge Playground, in Palo Alto's Mitchell Park, was designed to serve all visitors, from those in wheelchairs to children and adults with visual impairments, autism or sensory and cognitive issues. The customized playground includes a two-story playhouse with a community stage, a swinging bridge, and elevated tree deck, ramps and walkways.

New Jersey Playland

Two big, colorful slides on each end of Butler's New Jersey Playland structure keep kids entertained and active. Swings hang below the catwalk, while child-sized benches with heart-shaped cut-outs provide a place to take a break.

Castle Dragon Theater

Budding actors and actresses can take the stage at Castle Dragon Theater, right between a pair of the fire-breathing, hand-carved beasts. A secret maze lies behind the backdrop wall, while a castle clubhouse rises between two stately turrets. The theater is 26 feet deep, so there's room to explore and play.

Stucco Playhouse

Barbara Butler designed this stucco, Romeo and Juliet playhouse, which is open to the public, for the Turnberry Town Square Shopping Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The redwood structure with a Spanish tile roof is the Bakery/Cafe Playhouse. Children can enter via a spiral structure or stairs; a sliding pole offers a fast, fun exit. The stucco echoes the old-world, European look of nearby buildings.

Gateway Fortress

As kids enter the Gateway Fortress, they climb a 10-foot Swinging Bridge Ramp to the Jailhouse Tower. Then they can dash across the 12-foot straight bridge to a big clubhouse. The clubhouse sits atop a deck with lots of play features underneath, such as monkey bars and parallel rings. Look closely to spot one of three belt swings hanging under the straight bridge.

Fort Harmony

Fort Harmony's olive green and tan colors help it blend into the landscape. Kids can climb in through a rope net ladder or rung ladder to reach a ship's wheel play accessory up top. Among other features and accessories, this playhouse has a tube slide, monkey bars, stainless steel fireman's pole, rock-climbing wall and a pulley bucket for sending up sandwiches or snacks.

Castle Court

A pretend-drawbridge welcomes kids to Castle Court, where a 10-foot swinging bridge connects the Gatehouse Tower to an 18-foot high, medieval Dodecagon Tower. There are bunk beds built into the Dodecagon Tower, along with a peephole, so children can guard against sneaky enemy attacks. (A dodecagon is a 12-sided polygon.)