Charlie’s Outdoor Play Area
I grew up way out in the country in Oregon. We may have only had 2 acres but it was backed up to a forest so it felt like 1 squillion acres of backyard with streams and rivers and just endless nature and fortmaking. When Brian and I bought this house I was pregnant, desperate for a home that I could actually make better, but fairly realistic about what we were and were not going to get for our money. On my top priority list were 1. good natural light and 2. enough space to live/function, but what failed to make top priority was a backyard. Instead we got this deck and while this deck is decent sized (600 square feet) on its own it wasn’t exactly going to make Charlie’s childhood fort-making dreams come true. But lets face it – parks exist down the street. Kids don’t need acres to play in, in order to have a happy childhood. Is it wonderful to have mother nature at their back door, opening her arms for a big exploratory hug? SURE. But it’s also wonderful to simply have a home of any size with any area dedicated to playing.
Basically what I’m saying is that while it’s not my fantasy childhood backyard for Charlie and his sister, a big deck isn’t exactly a stick in the eye. But it took some work to turn it from what it was into what it is.
The retaining wall was crumbling. The hot water heater was crumbling and gross, it was dark and shady and then the floor was concrete. But there was so much to play that clearly needed to be utilized. At one point I thought that it could be a dining area but ultimately where we want to hang out is by the view and out in the open.
So we started fixing the major problems (which was pretty simple, by the way):
We opened up the ceiling so it was just a pergola and repaired and painted the retaining wall and the pergola. The hot water heater closet is still a hot button issue for us – we really want to switch it to a tankless heater but its $2500 – $3k and then I’d have to figure out what to do with the siding behind it (which is a much larger, more expensive problem that I’m going to have to start addressing soon). So we replaced it with a non-toxic-paint-crumbling closet, which I think cost $200. It’s still not my favorite thing to look at.
That was 2 months ago and here we are now:
I can’t tell you how happy this space makes me now. Charlie LOVES it. We play house, read in the forts, blow bubbles, play in the water table, wrestle all over the grass … it’s just so awesome.
How cute is that playhouse. VERY VERY CUTE. We actually just put together two playhouses to form that larger modular house. Those gray cement tiles in front of were the heavy tiles that held the old umbrella down that we had on the front patio. Not necessary but we thought that it looked cute.
Let’s talk grass. Real sod wasn’t really an option here. It would need to much water to grow, then if/when was watered it would make it muddy and there was cement underneath it so I have no idea if it even could grow there. Plus California is in a major drought and putting IN grass was just not even an option. There is such good artificial turf out there these days so we knew we were going to go that route.
We ordered 15 feet of it (its sold anywhere between $30 – $50 a foot) and then cut it with a razor blade to fit. I thought that the install would be super annoying, but it was actually totally fine (although to be fair Brian and Brady did the bulk of it).
We saved the area under the hot water closet for when we replace it. A couple of things to think about: you can piece it together but you have to make sure that the ‘grain’ is going the same direction, and then as you are initially placing it make sure that all the grain is the direction you want because like carpet it looks different from different angles. From one direction (looking at it from the patio to the pergola) it looked really dark and pretty but looking back at it, towards the patio it looked like fake grass. So just make sure you lay it out. And no, we didn’t prep the floor at all besides cleaning it.
As much as he loves this space sometimes I think all we really need are bubbles and balloons at 18 months. We read in the fort and cuddle and it’s just pretty much my perfect Saturday.
Yesterday I promised that I would chat about the deck being kid-safe. I need to write a whole post on the big old debate about how safe we need to make our homes for our kids. Inside the house I think we overdid it – we hired one of those companies that comes out and recommends every single thing you could do to prevent every single bruise and scrape. We listened to some (possibly too much) and skipped some other stuff. When it came to the outside I was waiting for them to tell us that we had to plexi the entire deck but they quickly told us that all the ironwork is too small for a head (and subsequent body) to get through and fall. So strangely the deck is actually totally kid-proof for now. At some point he is going to be able to climb up and over the sofa and he could fall over there (although it’s not a huge drop off there) and obviously we are out there for the most part with him so its fine. But it was such a relief to know that one thing about this 1964 house on a cliff was kid-safe (unless the floating cement stairs inside the house:)).
So there you have it. Once we figure out what we are doing with the exterior of the house and we update that and the water heater I’ll show you an update, but I’m thinking that won’t be til next summer anyway.
All in all it was ABSOLUTELY worth any time, energy and money that we put into it – and I can’t always say that on my own home projects. But it really did give us a whole other room to play, be messy, roll around and sometimes just simply getting outside for 1/2 hour is all you need to change the mood of a bored child. And this little play area certainly does that trick.