A father hires his architect son to build a whimsical playhouse for the grand-kids to enjoy when visiting. It all started at a dinner table, when Richard Fulton proposed to his son, architect Ramsey Fulton, that they build a backyard playhouse for Ramsey’s young children and his siblings’ children to use when they visit their grandparents’ house in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Now, three years later, the finished playhouse stands in the same spot as the playhouse that Ramsey and his siblings had enjoyed when they were young. Inspired by Dr. Seuss and all things kid-based, it includes features such as a rope swing, a fire pole and even a room sized just for kids.
Who plays here: Ramsey Fulton’s children, Christopher (age 2 when the playhouse was built, now 5) and Perry (4 then, 7 now), and the young children of Ramsey’s two brothers and sister
Location: Grand Junction, Colorado
Size: About 100 square feet (9.3 square meters) total; 64-square-foot (5.9-square-meter) entry room and, upstairs, a 40-square-foot (3.7-square-meter) kids-only room
Designer: Ramsey Fulton, principal architect at Bldg Seed Architects, with inspiration from his childhood playhouse that his father, Richard Fulton, designed
Playhouse design tenets. Richard hired Ramsey to draw up plans for the playhouse and oversee the project. Together they laid out the ground rules and an overall design philosophy. Ramsey describes their design tenets as follows:
- Have fun and don’t get too serious.
- If something seems like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book, they’re on the right track.
- Design the playhouse for children, not for adults.
- Make the playhouse feel like an extension of the yard.
Many concepts of the original design are echoed in the new version of the playhouse, including a lower story, an upper half-size story, a porch and an elevated bridge to access the roof deck.
The new playhouse was designed to face west — just as the original had been — to look down the slope, awarding views of an open meadow at the edge of the property and a perfect sunset view.
Construction. After removing the old playhouse and clearing back shrubs and low-hanging tree limbs, Ramsey and the team at Keystone Custom Builders began constructing the new playhouse. “The building is held up much like a typical deck,” Ramsey says. Specifically, the structure sits on four-by-four posts set into inground concrete tubes. The posts have typical construction hangers that anchor them into floors, beams and walls. In all, the project took a little over one summer to complete.
The roof deck is a relaxing space where the adults can enjoy the surrounding views while the children play in and around the structure below.
Seussian details. The off-pitch roof, canted walls, crooked windows and irregular shake pattern make this playhouse seem as though it’s straight out of Seuss’ Whoville. Like many of the settings in Dr. Seuss’ books, “it’s a place that says, ‘Why not?’ and invites imaginary thought,” Ramsey says.
Interior. The playhouse is made up of two rooms: an 8-by-8-foot main room and a 5-by-8-foot kids-only room with 4-foot ceilings. Kids enter from the deck into the larger main room, and then they can hop up into the smaller, kids-only zone (which also has a kid-size exterior door).
Ramsey and the team finished the interior walls with cedar-veneered plywood and laid down a Marmoleum floor. The playhouse is set up with outlets and lights (handy for sleepovers). The space is not insulated or heated, but the kids enjoy using it for three seasons a year, Ramsey says, leaving their jackets on inside in late fall.
Kids-only zone. “The windows, doors, doorknobs and ceilings are at kid level,” Ramsey says of the kids-only room. “It makes adults feel out of sorts, as children do in adult spaces.”
The design of this little room came about half by concept and half by necessity. The space sits below the roof deck and, given the natural grade of the slope, there wasn’t enough room for a full-size second story without major grading or losing the bridge to the roof deck.
In the future, as the kids get taller, the space could be used as a sleeping nook for summer overnights.
The nonstandard construction was another challenge. “Getting the team at Keystone Custom Builders to understand that we didn’t want things to be finished and square, as they were used to doing, was a challenge,” Ramsey says, “but once they had the message, it was a breeze.”