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posted: 6/15/2013 4:00 AM

Kid-friendly yard makes parents want to play, too

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  • A fire pit that doubles as a sandbox retains its usefulness long after the kids have grown up. Plus, it provides a focal point for the yard.

      A fire pit that doubles as a sandbox retains its usefulness long after the kids have grown up. Plus, it provides a focal point for the yard.
    Joshua Curry Photography/Mark Batson

  • The Kramers' treehouse-like jungle gym blends into the backyard's fence and complements the natural surroundings, creating a playful area that adults can enjoy, too.

      The Kramers' treehouse-like jungle gym blends into the backyard's fence and complements the natural surroundings, creating a playful area that adults can enjoy, too.
    Matt Bolt/Remark Landscape Architecture

 
By Megan Patsavas
CTW Features

In Walker's Point, Lake Muskoka, in Ontario, Canada, there's a three-level treehouse rising above four trunks. The work of Lukasz Kos, the "4Tree House" has a refined design, with an open, slatted wood construction.

This awesome play structure is one of 50 covered in Philip Jodidio's book, "Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air" (Taschen, 2013), full of varied, stunning takes on this childhood outdoor hideaway. Although the structures pictured are purely aspirational -- few have the resources, skills or space to construct such cabins -- they are fun, playful places that even adults can enjoy.

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More and more, the concept of "play" becomes the focal point of stylish spaces, for both kids and adults. From interactive art installments to the in-home slide or dorm-room ball pit, people are finding ways to be creative and whimsical with play -- without creating a plastic Technicolor eyesore.

It's all fun and games

Incorporating games into your outdoor décor is one way homeowners can engage guests of all ages, says Mark Batson, owner of Tongue & Groove, a custom building and design company based in Wilmington, N.C. From bocce ball courts and a polished, concrete shuffleboard table to a Ping-Pong table that doubles as a spot for shucking and eating oysters, Batson's ideas "draw people (in) and keep them there."

Ring toss, Batson says, "is a real simple outdoor game that's not obtrusive but gets a lot of use for both kids and adults." All you need is a stainless steel ring attached to a string and a hook on the wall.

Aside from games, Kenneth A. Stouffer, a Home Depot associate based in Chicago, suggests setting up a fire pit where families can roast marshmallows and have fun.

Batson built a fire pit that doubles as a sandbox, a place where adults can relax with a drink in front of the fire (which can be used as a grill), or where his three-year-old son can play in the sand.

Stylish structures

"I'm kind of a kid at heart so I think about how I played as a kid," says J.R. Kramer, principal landscape architect at Remark, a landscape architectural studio based in Charleston, S.C. He and his wife (also a landscape architect) wanted to provide a play structure for their children, but they did not want a piece of plastic in their small backyard. "We wanted to be very design-oriented, so we thought, 'OK, we like art and our kids like art,' so we did sculptures."

The giant concrete balls they put in the ground may seem simply aesthetic, "but the kids climb on them and play on them," he said.

For those who want a designated play structure, Kramer says to think outside the box. He built a tree house-like jungle gym, complete with a zip line for a couple who wanted "an adult-friendly environment that was also kid-friendly."

Attached to a wall and set back a bit, the design took cues from the home's architecture, with clean, simple lines. Kramer also made sure the structure would get a lot of play.

Their kids were young when it was built but the couple also wanted them to be able to grow into this space. "… so we made sure that it was good for ages really from 2 all the way up to young teen," Kramer said. "I could see a teenager even being up in there, having a little getaway from the parents."

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