Here's how to become the coolest parent (or grandparent) on the block: use your carpentry skills to put up a playhouse. Whether it's out in the yard or inside your home, your favorite kids will have hours of fun playing in their very special space … and you'll have just as much fun enjoying the smiles on their faces. Of course, a playhouse's primary purpose is to appeal to the imagination, so get your own imagination going and make it a truly creative work of art.
Find a level spot for your project in the yard or position it on a corner of your patio (in which case, you won't have to worry about flooring). To make the playhouse usable all year round, utilize properly sealed lumber and install stepping stones or a walkway. If you're an experienced carpenter, you will be able to construct the structure from scratch. For the rest of us, there are easy-to-assemble kits available. A "green" -- and budget-friendly -- method is to refurbish a salvaged playhouse or other small outbuilding; check that it is structurally sound and free from lead paint, mold, or insect pests. Try this as a multi-generational project, to bring the family together and create lasting memories.
Another idea that might be very practical is building a playhouse indoors. This offers several advantages: it will be comfortable even in the hottest or coldest weather, it won't get damaged by strong sunshine or snowstorms, you can keep a discreetly watchful eye on your youngsters while you go about your business, and the whole thing is much simpler to set up. Look around for the best spot in your home. For example, you might have space in the corner of a family room or bonus room. Alternatively, you could tuck the structure under the staircase or on the top landing. (Make sure that you have a secure gate across the steps, when your children are tiny.) If you construct a folding version, it can be moved out of the way after playtime is done.
The traditional style is a miniature house, but lately we've been spotting some creative variations on that design theme. First of all, even a classic playhouse can have a little extra character, when it's reimagined as a log cabin or Victorian manor. Thinking even further out of the (toy) box, instead of a house, why not a fire station, pirate ship, cave, or medieval castle? Add equipment, if you wish, that invites frolicking and exercising young muscles -- a slide from an upper window, climbing wall, rope ladder, or swing. Surround it all with a scaled-to-size deck as the perfect touch.
To decorate your masterpiece, start by painting the exterior in bright colors that will attract your children's attention. Don't we always say that a good paint job adds curb appeal? Then take the opportunity to show off your particular DIY talents for sewing or crochet, gardening, carpentry, or what have you. Run up curtains or Jolly Roger flags, fill petite planters with flowers, and/or build kid-size tables and chairs. Stencil, stamp, or chalk paint the inside walls. Thrift store finds can be repurposed to add a realistic feel; think mailbox, wind chimes, signs with ABCs or the name of the "homeowner." Solar lighting would be a handy addition. Remember to organize a toy storage area and a book shelf or two. And don't be too jealous … when the kids grow up, you can always recycle the playhouse as your very own garden shed.