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Imagination station

Posted September 11, 2013 in Greene County

Playhouses, like real houses, can be works of art and creativity. With a little imagination, the sky is literally the limit as to what the finished product can be.

Couples Deb and Thomas Morrell and Lois and Jeff Custer took this to heart when building playhouses of their own for their children over the years. The result was hours and hours of fun for their youngsters, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Tree house with a porch
Jeff and Lois Custer’s son, Trent, 10, has been bugging his dad for more than a year to build a tree house.

“I kind of had to convince him I needed one,” says Trent. “I asked for it for Christmas.”

“I told him if he would be patient, he would get a tree house,” Jeff says with a smile.

Jeff Custer and son Trent, 10, are nearly finished with Trent’s tree house.

Jeff Custer and son Trent, 10, are nearly finished with Trent’s tree house.

The construction began about a month ago and should be completed soon. Trent has already spent a night in the tree house and is looking forward to having it finished with railings on the stairway and around the balcony and a door before he stays overnight in it again.
Jeff says he has worked in construction off and on over the years and spent some time working at Silver Dollar City.

“There, you build something new and then make it look old,” he says. “That’s kind of what I had in mind here.”

He and Trent have used recycled boards from a fence they tore down in their yard.

“That provided the majority of the wood,” Jeff says. “I probably purchased $500 to $800 worth of lumber to build the supportive structure, along with the stairs.”

While his son might have preferred a ladder with a hatch, Jeff says he had safety in mind when he decided on building a staircase, which will have a railing.

“You have to think of safety with these kinds of things. It won’t just be Trent using the playhouse, but his friends, too,” Jeff says.

Trent isn’t shy about showing his approval of the tree house with his smile and comments.

“I think it looks like something would have back in the west. Kind of retro,” he says. One thing he hadn’t expected, however, was the deck or porch that extends out to give him more room to move around.

Jeff says that was a surprise and an addition he felt was needed to provide more space.

When building the tree house structure, Jeff had to take into account the shape of the tree and how the branches might grow. He sawed off one of the lower limbs on the oak tree so he could lower the deck a bit more and so the tree would have room to grow and move.

“I didn’t want to damage the tree, so the structure is supported without the assistance of the tree, and built around the trunk and branches,” he added.

The tree house is built around the tree to allow the tree to move and grow.

The tree house is built around the tree to allow the tree to move and grow.

Jeff actually began work on the tree house about a year ago, then tore down the basic frame before he went too far. He wanted to bring the base of the deck down further, he says, and situate the entrance in a different direction, so it wasn’t directed toward the neighbor’s house.

The four main structure posts  are placed on blocks of concrete so they will rise and fall with the freezing and thawing of the ground and the movement and growth of the tree.

Jeff says he thinks the fascination kids have with tree houses is that it gives them a different perspective of the world around them. Being up off the ground gets their imaginations working, he says.

Upon noticing that his son and friends were nailing boards into the limbs of the oak tree so they could climb into it to play, Jeff began thinking about constructing an actual tree house.

“Besides making a safer place for him, I figured a tree house would be better for the tree, too,” Jeff says.

He went from there, and his son has been very pleased with the results.

“A playhouse or tree house doesn’t have to be an elaborate structure. A child’s imagination can make it about anything,” Jeff says.

Playhouse in a backyard garden

Deb and Thomas Morrell stand in front of the playhouse now used by their  grandchildren. Plans are to move the playhouse to a daughter’s house and make a  two-story playhouse out of the remaining deck and structure.

Deb and Thomas Morrell stand in front of the playhouse now used by their
grandchildren. Plans are to move the playhouse to a daughter’s house and make a
two-story playhouse out of the remaining deck and structure.

Deb Morrell built a playhouse for her daughter 20 years ago. When it was first built, the playhouse was behind the Subway Deb owns in Jefferson and was built on wooden skids. When the family moved to their current home, she had a deck built to put the playhouse on so it would be off the ground. She then added a climbing wall for the kids to get up and down, play equipment, a crow’s nest with a slide and later a wooden walkway between the crow’s nest and the playhouse.

Additions to the playhouse deck this summer are three dwarfs that sit in the corner of the deck near the playhouse.

“We try to add something new every summer,” Deb says of the playhouse area and the backyard.

While the playhouse has provided many hours of fun for Deb’s now older and adult children, her grandkids, ranging in age from 2 to 11, want an updated version so they can all fit into the existing playhouse at once.

The older kids also want to be able to spend the night in the playhouse, Deb explains.

Having a larger playhouse will also help out the Morrells because the grandchildren have commandeered the couple’s “backyard cabin,” another sort of playhouse, depending on the age of the occupants at any given time.

The structure is a screened-in, roofed summer building built like a cabin, complete with a ceiling fan and a rustic wooden bench outside.

Deb and Thomas Morrell show off their “Cabin” in the back yard. Several of their nine grandchildren have commandeered their cabin because the playhouse is too small for all of the grandkids, and particularly too small to stay overnight in. The new playhouse will have bunks and cupboards.

Deb and Thomas Morrell show off their “Cabin” in the back yard. Several of their nine grandchildren have commandeered their cabin because the playhouse is too small for all of the grandkids, and particularly too small to stay overnight in. The new playhouse will have bunks and cupboards.

“That’s where we go to relax, but that isn’t happening so much anymore with all the grandkids,” Deb says.

The cabin sits at the back of the fenced-in yard, in front of a pond with two waterfalls. The playhouse is at the opposite end of the backyard.

“We’ve kind of lost our area to the grandkids,” Deb says. “We are taking the old playhouse over to my daughter’s home so her children can play in it.”

The effort to move it will be extensive. Neighbors have even offered to move a part of the fence to allow the playhouse to be taken out across their property.

“We are going to leave the deck and supporting structure where the current playhouse sits and use that to build a two-story playhouse,” Deb says.

The grandkids want a couple of bunk beds and some cupboards in the playhouse, too.

“We asked them what they would like to have in their playhouse, and having a two-story playhouse was what they wanted. They also want a slide or a pole to slide down to the second level,” Deb says with a smile.





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