Kid Forts and More
When Sara and Chauncey Brooks made the switch from city dwellers to suburbanites a couple of years ago, an outdoor living space was at the top of their must-have list. The couple enlisted the virtual landscaping company Yardzen to help transform their Corte Madera, California, backyard into a multi functional space with edible garden, pergola-sheltered dining space, a gathering area around the fire pit, and the ultimate kid fort.
Sara, who grew up in the countryside, was adamant that her two young boys have an outdoor destination. So when their playroom was scrapped for a work-from-home office during Covid-19, the whole family was relieved to have the additional play space. Using Yardzen’s plans as a jumping-off point, Sara hired a contractor to build an elevated fort, complete with swing, slide, and deck. She hopes, as they grow up, the boys will use the fort to watch movies, play board games, and maybe even camp out.
While an elevated fort may not be in the cards for everyone, there are some simple ways to enhance outdoor play. Consider a playhouse, which takes up less square footage. My family was gifted a hand-me-down playhouse that we refurbished with sandpaper, primer, and paint, all supplies we had on hand. A simple makeshift mud kitchen can be built out of a few wooden crates, with the addition of cans, milk cartons, and chopsticks as cooking ware. You might even have play props lying around the garage: Pull a tent from your camping supplies and pop it up in the backyard. As the sun sets, kids can watch a movie on a tablet or a small projector like Cinemood. By the light of a camping lantern, even a game of cards feels like an adventure.
Other ideas for outdoor play include tree swings, climbing ladders, and archery sets—my family built a target out of old wood—or bring out the old standbys: giant bubble wands, butterfly and bug boxes, or small garden tools to dig in the dirt.
As the work-from-home dynamic stretched on longer than expected, more people began to look outside the house to create separation between work and home life. In March, Tuff Shed reported its highest revenue month ever, installing nearly 10,000 buildings across the country in a single month. “This past year, we heard from more customers indicating that they planned to convert their Tuff Shed building into a space for a home office, homeschooling area, gym, or hobby and craft space,” says Philip Worth, vice president of marketing for Tuff Shed.
When Mark Risser of Sacramento found out his wife was pregnant, he planned to give up his home office for the baby’s room. With their 1939 bungalow maxed out inside, they looked for options outside. The best one: the 95-square-foot shed that had been built onto their detached garage. Initially, the couple sought bids from contractors in hopes they could add another bathroom, but the estimates were too steep. So they decided to tackle the renovation themselves. They performed the bulk of the work, replacing rotted framing, vaulting the ceiling, adding new drywall and windows, and, with the help of friends, pouring a new concrete floor. Even with a couple of big-ticket items—including hiring an electrician and adding an air conditioning unit for about $1,000—the couple spent under $10,000.
“It’s so nice to have that extra space,” says Risser, who completed the upgrade just a few months before the shelter-in-place mandate. “It’s great to have a formal workspace outside of the house, and my commute is only 20 steps out the backdoor.” Despite the short distance, Riser says his office shed definitely helps put that separation between home and work life. Plus, unlike many of his coworkers, there aren’t any dogs or kids running through the background on his Zoom calls.