Child's Play: Dream Homes for Tykes

Take your play outside with a fabulous playhouse.
A Hip Kyoto Playhouse

A Hip Kyoto Playhouse

Perhaps some of the most extraordinary on our list, SmartPlayhouse structures are feats of minimalist modern design that give kids their own space or allow parents to reconnect with them in a new environment. We’re over the moon for this Kyoto design, which is perfect for homework, crafts, games and endless fun. Visit smartplayhouse.com for a quote.

Photo by: Image courtesy of smartplayhouse.com.

Image courtesy of smartplayhouse.com.

Perhaps some of the most extraordinary on our list, SmartPlayhouse structures are feats of minimalist modern design that give kids their own space or allow parents to reconnect with them in a new environment. We’re over the moon for this Kyoto design, which is perfect for homework, crafts, games and endless fun. Visit smartplayhouse.com for a quote.

Thinking of purchasing a playhouse? There’s something your children can teach you. Whether you’re planning to splurge on an elaborate Victorian, fix up the old tool shed or have your architect fashion a mini-version of your home in the back yard, remember this: Make believe.

For adults so often seduced by the wow factor, it’s something easier said than done. Minimalist-modern parents are keen to fall for pre-fab minis from companies like Modern Dwellings and Modern Cabana. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s reigning playhouse queen, Barbara Butler, caters to anything-goes parents with the most elaborate designs you can dream up. But try not to let styles (storybook? eco-chic?) or budgets (we found a tremendous range, from DIY kits in the low hundreds to $50,000+ marvels) sway you. For imaginative little ones, basic is almost always best. It’s parents who usually want all the bells and whistles.

Jackson, Mississippi-based architect Holly Gomez, who left her corporate job last October to focus on her playhouse passion, is quick to caution against getting carried away in the design process. “Their little imaginations can turn a cardboard box into something cool, so simple is often all they need,” she explains, adding that “decorating it is one of the most fun things you can do with your children, but you have to step back and realize it’s their space.”

Gomez launched her well-read blog, APlaceImagined.com, three years ago to chronicle her endless inspirations from the miniature design world. Today, she sells playhouse plans under the same business name, as well as a few complete structures that can be ordered for delivery. “After having children, it just made sense,” she says. “My dad built a playhouse for us when we were young, and I’ve always had really fond memories of that time. I wanted the same for my kids.”

45 Enchanting Playhouses

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Paging Renzo Piano

Nurturing a budding architect or just looking for a modernist playhouse to suit your own contemporary home style? Look no further than this stunning European-designed Illinois. Visit smartplayhouse.com to check on the availability of this hard-to-find model.

Photo By: Image courtesy of smartplayhouse.com.

Fairy Cottage

This adorable playhouse used to be an old garden shed. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user treasuredheirlooms

A Schoolhouse Play Structure

Nestled in Ohio’s Amish country, Little Cottage Co. sells amazing prebuilt playhouses and kits at very reasonable prices. At as low as $156 for the DIY 8'x8’ floor kit at cottagekits.com, the Stratford Schoolhouse encourages children to play and learn at once — it doesn’t get much more win-win than that!

Photo By: Image courtesy of Little Cottage Company

A Hip Kyoto Playhouse

Perhaps some of the most extraordinary on our list, SmartPlayhouse structures are feats of minimalist modern design that give kids their own space or allow parents to reconnect with them in a new environment. We’re over the moon for this Kyoto design, which is perfect for homework, crafts, games and endless fun. Visit smartplayhouse.com for a quote.

Photo By: Image courtesy of smartplayhouse.com.

Dreamy Play Cottage

Inside this Victorian-style playhouse is a bright playspace fit for any young girl's imagination. A ladder leads to a loft. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user lillybrink

Steampunk Stomping Ground

Architect Samuel Austin took on a trendy architectural style with his Steampunk Gateway playhouse, part of a collaboration with Boulder, Colo.-based SoBo Homes. He calls it “a keyhole to the world behind the garden,” and it features gears, panels and studs formed by some of the coolest reclaimed materials around (wine corks — who knew?).

Photo By: Image courtesy of Samuel Austin.

A Magical Place

Jackson, Miss.-based architect and emerging playhouse designer Holly Gomez creates whimsical playhouse plans — and a few pre-made structures — through APlaceImagined. The first of those high-quality, pre-made houses features curved walls, a tongue-and-groove ceiling and a storybook door, and sells for $4,200 at aplaceimagined.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of aplaceimagined.com

Fun Entrance

Wooden stairs and a rope bridge lead to this adorable playhouse. RMSer marcoscruzart says that cedar shingles on the sides and roof help keep the bugs away.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user marcoscruzart

Little Rascals Playhouse

PoshTots’ Lil’ Rascals clubhouse is perfect for rambunctious boys — especially those who like to say, “No grownups allowed!” Their secret hideaway comes complete with a sliding peephole, a lookout telescope and matching-color interior, for $4,799 at poshtots.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of poshtots.com.

Russian Doll

In Minnesota, Modern Playhouse manufactures plainspoken play places for pint-sized minimalists. San Francisco designer Gitane Royce started the company two years ago as the ultimate DIY project. Her designs — like the durable recycled-plastic Dacha, based on a Russian garden house — are creative hubs where little ones are free to get a little messy. From $1,450 at modern-playhouse.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Gitane Royce/Modern Playhouse/Photography by Pamela Palma.

A Cozy Hobbit House

Wooden Wonders’ hobbit holes turn backyards into whimsical wonderlands. The brand-new playhouse version Woodshire, produced in Unity, Maine, is an enclosed space ideal for summer sleepovers and imagination-filled play dates, from $2,390 at www.wooden-wonders.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Wooden Wonders. www.wooden-wonders.com

An Eco-Friendly Playhouse

Another inventive creation from Boulder, Colo., is by Kathleen Bevers, Carolyn Braaksma and Heidi Spaly, who designed this eco-friendly playhouse as part of the Colorado Green Building Guild’s first-annual Playhouse Design Competition. It takes an artful approach to light, color and shapes, playing off the best qualities of each.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Kathleen Bevers, Carolyn Braaksma and Heidi Spaly.

An Abstract Castle

Another design for the Colorado Green Building Guild’s playhouse competition really caught our eye. Rodwin Architecture and Skycastle Homes joined forces to create an abstract structure that appeals to kids’ love of climbing trees. Sustainably forested wood and a tire swing are two great features, while a shaded lookout landing lets kids scope out their surroundings.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Rodwin Architecture.

Fantasy Plus

The focal point of RMSer nixie's backyard is a castle that features a spiral staircase, a covered slide and a bridge that connects the two towers. Nixie says the swing under the bridge between the two towers is her 6-year-old's "favorite part of the yard." Inside there's a sandbox.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user nixie

Home of the White Rabbit

RMSer nixie says her husband's "mad carpentry skills" are responsible for the special features in her yard. Here, at the White Rabbit's house in their Alice-in-Wonderland garden, the giant black feet are evidence of a possibly oversized inhabitant

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user nixie

Complete Playground

Designed by Steve Appolloni, this contemporary-style playhouse features a bridge, pond and adjoining pergola.

Color-Block Playhouse

In Boulder, Colo., Robert Ross’ firm, Fieldwork Architecture, focuses on custom outbuildings that fit the unique surroundings of backyards, farms, ranches and more. There’s lots to love about his mod playhouse design in bright, primary hues. Astroturf hideaway holes and a climbing wall make it even more fun for little ones.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jean-Pierre Bressieux.

A Victorian Mansion

PoshTots has great houses for girls. The Richmond, Va.-based company offers a pale yellow Victorian mansion with all the classic hallmarks — a porch, turrets, cedar-shingled gable, scrollwork details — with countless custom options available, from $23,400 at poshtots.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of poshtots.com.

Saving Space

Here's a good solution for the small backyard: A mini treehouse tops a tool shed.

A Mod Modular Playhouse

Designer Edgar Blazona, of Berkeley, Calif.-based Modular Dwellings, designed this MD-20 True Modern indoor playhouse in the same spirit of his company’s grown-up-sized prefab abodes. With rounded edges for safety, eco-friendly materials, removable color panels and great visibility, it sells for $1,350 at truemodern.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Modular Dwellings.

The Movable Playhouse

RMSer dennisjp369 built this playhouse inside his garage to escape the New Mexico sun and to make sure he could take it apart and rebuild it — whether in the yard of his rental home or at the family's next home. "Amazingly, I only had to cut off one misplaced screw in order to drop the walls and move it out," he says. "The whole project took about two weeks working on a part-time basis. Now I've got a list of parents who would like me to help them build one for their kids in their backyards."

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user dennisjp369

An Environmentally Sound Modern Playhouse

Architects Michelle W. Lee, Rosemary Fivian and George Russell came together to create this environmentally sound modern playhouse for local charities Growing Gardens and the Colorado Green Building Guild. The contrasting tones of reclaimed wood look beautiful, and the way the light casts shadows within it is striking.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Michelle W. Lee, Rosemary Fivian and George Russell.

A Mini Hipster Hive

Hard to think of a better way to get the youngsters anxious for cool design than this Hobbiken playhouse from SmartPlayhouse. Visit smartplayhouse.com for a quote.

Photo By: Image courtesy of smartplayhouse.com

Getting Ready for the Slopes

RMSer beckykay9595's father built her toddler son a ski chalet and her husband built the deck.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user beckykay9595

A Little House

Charleston, S.C.-based designer Michelle Pollak lends her gracious talents to La Petite Maison playhouses that are just as charming as they sound. The custom-built cottages, which can include little luxuries like air conditioning, indoor lighting, working kitchens, media rooms and pretty architectural details, start at $9,000, through lapetitemaison.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of La Petite Maison

Polynesian-Style Playhouse

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the adoption of her young daughter, RMSer sulkygirl designed this amazing tiki-hut playhouse. The playspace "combined her style, our style and our backyard," she says. "It was inspired by the amazing over-the-water bungalows in Bora Bora and Tahiti."

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user sulkygirl

Cool Kiddie Cabana

The simple shed goes sleek at the hands of Modern Cabana, who created this cool Kiddo playhouse from translucent polygal, FSC-certified lumber and non-toxic finishes. Chalk paint on interior walls makes it fun for kids to get crafty inside, for $2,200 plus free shipping.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Modern Cabana

Just Perfect

This adorable bungalow, built by RMSer sarah_o's husband for their kids, also features scaled-down landscaping; dwarf Alberta spruces anchor the corners.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user sarah_o

A Charmingly Crooked House

Glen Halliday’s Portland, Maine-based company, Kids Crooked House, famously appeared on TLC’s Kate Plus 8. This fanciful deluxe design is his most popular, and is delivered as seven ready-to-assemble, handcrafted panels in any of 10 colors, starting at $2,149 at kidscrookedhouse.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Kids Crooked House.

A Progressive Playhouse

Kevin Akey, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based AZD Architects, creates homes that merge contemporary and traditional sensibilities in a modern world. He designed this progressive playhouse structure in the same spirit as his former personal home. What a marvelous miniature!

Photo By: Image courtesy of Kevin Akey.

Customized Kit

This playhouse started as a kit but was greatly enhanced. "We added our own deck, roof, floor, insulation, drywall, vents and decor and ran electric cables for the lighting. Yup and even a door bell!" says RMSer mommyoftwins.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user mommyoftwins

A Japanese Farmhouse Play Structure

Architect Bob Borson is a passionate advocate for Dallas CASA’s Parade of Playhouses charity raffle, which helps assign advocates to abused or neglected children. Borson’s 2010 creation for the contest was a slatted rural Japanese farmhouse that a homeowner in New Zealand later replicated — right down to the reed-grass interior and cedar-shake shingle roof!

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bob Borson.

Reliving the Memories

After a memorable vacation in a log cabin, RMSer suzyqswfl18's husband and their young grandson built a "mountain lodge" in their backyard.

Photo By: Image courtesy of suzyqswfl18

Pretty Landscaping

Gorgeous garden beds and a wee porch set off the playhouse in RMSer SAS2010's yard.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user SAS2010

Dual-Purpose Structure

The short door on the right leads to a two-story playhouse; on the other side of the structure, Mom and Dad can store their gardening equipment. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user demigarden

Family Living, Outdoors

This playhouse is part of the backyard hangout area. The view from the balcony affords a good view of the fire pit and a waterfall.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user pam25

A Playhouse for Scallywags

In Paso Robles, Calif., Daniels Wood Land mimics the treehouse look with structures such as its “shipwrecked” deluxe Scallywag Sloop. Kids play like pirates atop the imaginative mini world, which has three entries (one through the trunk of a pretend tree), a trapdoor, a massive ship mast and multiple nautical-themed props. Visit danielswoodland.com for prices.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Daniels Wood Land

Adapting to the Times

"Built by Grandpa, this log cabin has been the perfect hangout for my son since kindergarten," says RMSer imjacobsmom. "It's held birthday parties, sleepovers, Monopoly nights, and now that he's a teen, movie and video-game marathons."

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user imjacobsmom

Woodland Path

The enchanting path to the playhouse in RMSer Mr. Yardman1's backyard winds past colorful plantings.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user Mr. Yardman1

Colorful Cottage Garden

The view from inside RMSer chicubergeek's playhouse includes a high-contrast collection of annuals and perennials.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user chicubergeek

An Earth-Friendly Playhouse

LEED AP architect Andy Creath and his firm, Green Roofs Colorado, collaborated on this earth-friendly playhouse as part of a Boulder-based fundraiser for Growing Gardens, which benefits the city’s community garden education center. The recycled-pallet structure has a sliding chalkboard door, botanical boxes and even a little porch.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Andy Creath/photography by Seth Frankel.

Malibu Lighthouse Play Structure

Perhaps the nation’s premier playhouse builder, San Francisco-based Barbara Butler’s designs prove that the sky’s the limit for imagination. Her Malibu Lighthouse play structure, complete with a rope ladder, porthole windows and a lookout tower, invites hours upon hours of make-believe, for $59,890 at barbarabutler.com.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Barbara Butler.

Just Like Home

With its Spanish roof tiles, flat roof and custom door, this amazing playhouse is a miniature version of the family home. An observation deck on the top provides a unique view of the yard; a suspension bridge and two slides add to the fun.

Picturesque Scene

Colorful flowers and lots of steppingstones complete the space around Cate and Sarah's playhouse.

Photo By: Image courtesy of RMS user Nolanschiffer

After the Playhouse

When the kids grow up, some playhouses take on a second life — and some have more than one. This charming playhouse was repurposed to its original state, a garden shed, when the child left for college. Design by Robin LaMonte

Most playhouse designers agree that children need two outlets for play—physical and imaginative. What’s even better is having both in one. That concept has helped Butler’s playhouses amass one of the most fervent followings on the market, despite their high price tags (more than $150,000, for some).  Those watching budgets may opt for the less-expensive, DIY route. Gomez suggests splurging on water-tight windows and treated-wood floors, then sourcing salvaged materials or adding inexpensive panels to the sides, which can be painted for more polish. But don’t be a victim of sticker shock, either. High prices usually stem from quality materials and thoughtful features that will ensure the longevity of your purchase. Butler even incorporates features for older kids, such as a fireman’s pole or a knotted rope climb. “The younger kids can aspire to it!” she says. Many of her playhouses include a safety gate to block off the more challenging parts of the structure. She also recommends adding a sand box for very young children, and a club house for sleepovers and secret meetings when the kids are older. But swings and slides? They pretty much maintain their allure well into adulthood.

Children actually prefer smaller spaces, Butler adds, so don’t feel pressured to go for the ultra-deluxe model. Keep things modest, and the kids will probably love it just as much. Versatility is also a must. “I always try to design something that’s intrinsic and can be used for more than one thing,” says Dallas-based architect Bob Borson. He began the blog Life of an Architect in 2010 as a creative outlet in a sluggish economy, and soon, it was the third-most-followed architecture blog on the planet. It’s proven the perfect platform to promote his work with local advocacy group Dallas CASA, which has hosted the Parade of Playhouses charity raffle for the past 17 years. Actively involved for four years and now leading his own competition, Borson helps to select winning playhouse designs from all over the world.

His own creations are high-quality, gender-neutral shells that can be filled with toys and props to spark a child’s imagination… “Swag,” he calls it. That “swag” can be cleared away easily and, when the child is older, a clean sweep can transform the space into an art studio or homework station, or even a potting shed or yoga studio for you.

The items inside make all the difference. Gomez compares the playhouse interior to a treasure chest. “One of the first things my boys said was, ‘Oooh, let me get my stuff!’ The playhouse is a place where they keep the things they value most,” she explains.

Immensely important to Borson are see-through panels and openings, not just for ventilation in hot climates like his, but for parents to keep a watchful eye on children during play. Even when doors do not accommodate a stooping adult, designers agree that this transparency is indispensable. The bonus is interactivity. Butler adds that hands-on features like hidden alcoves, secret doors and little hiding places are big hits with her customers. Gomez agrees. “My boys like doors and shutters that open and close, they crawl through windows, they climb up walls and they do things you wouldn’t expect. They just have fun.” And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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