Backyard Getaways

Kirt Jacobs and Cynthia Fanning’s backyard playground.

A Look At Amazing Playhouses, Treehouses And More

Story by Janice Carter Levitch

Photos by Kathryn Harrington

Remember those hot summer afternoons when you spent the entire day playing in the backyard without a care in the world? Memories of a similar kind are being recreated for the children of four local families, who have crafted amazing backyard fun for their children. From tree houses to swings to gingerbread-style playhouses, these backyards are full of enchantment and possibility.

It’s a bit like following the yellow brick road to Oz when you look inside the playhouse that Angela Page and her husband Mitchell designed for their daughter Rylan. It resembles a storybook playhouse, much like the gingerbread house from the well-known fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” It’s painted white with a cedar shake roof and a red, Dutch-style front door with the most adorable acorn door knocker – another reminder of being outside nestled under the trees.

“We wanted a cute house for our daughter and found it on Craigslist,” Angela said. “It was yellow, but we painted it white, repaired the cedar shake roof, doors and windows, and my husband built two Dutch-style doors for it.”

Rylan Page.

Once you step inside this adorable playhouse, you find a miniature kitchen with all the essential make-believe appliances and accessories. A ladder to one side leads up to a tiny loft loaded with books and comfy pillows. It is a perfect spot to perch and read for hours on end. “It has been so fun to watch her grow up in her playhouse,” Angela commented. “She has set up lots of pretend bake sales, smoothie shops and pet shops.”

The family also has a pétanque court nearby, where the adults and children can enjoy this French game that originated around 1907. The game is played on a well-groomed dirt or gravel court with heavy steel balls (“boules” in French). The object is to keep your feet on the ground while standing inside a circle and rolling or tossing a boule as close as possible to the smaller, wooden ball called a cochonnet (which literally means “piglet”). The player or team with the boules closest to the cochonnet wins the round.

Angela and Mitchell are fond of the game and have the perfect lawn area near the playhouse to accommodate it. They love that they can enjoy time with their daughter while she plays outside. “It’s nice to have her close when we play pétanque,” Mitchell commented.

Randy and Marrzulena Butler have a unique playground for their 10-year-old daughter Khandro. Situated in a cozy spot in their backyard is a wooden swing made by Khandro’s paternal grandfather. “In the early ’90s, my father was hunting on our family land located in the Southern Alabama river swamps,” Randy said. “He noticed an old cypress log sticking out of the mud. He suspected that it was a ‘sinker cypress’ log that was cut in the 1800s that was missed by the logging crew. His intuition was not only correct about that one log, but as he probed the mud with a long pole, he located many other sinker logs that remained buried in the mud ever since they were cut. I have used it to line the ceiling on my screened in porch at our home in Louisville. My brother has used it in his office in Mobile, Alabama. My father and I built a family chapel located on our property completely out of the wood. My parents have used it in their home and my father has made swing sets and birdhouses of out it, and that is the swing Khandro has grown up swinging on.”

“We have many great memories from her birthday parties, grilling out, watching the kids swing, slide and play in the sandbox, too,” Marrzulena said. Khandro is carefree as she swings.

“I like going out there on a sunny day with my friends to swing on the swing set and run around,” says Khandro.

Randy commented, “I like the playground because when she was little, she spent so much time out there, and I didn’t have to drive her anywhere. Her friends loved coming over and playing even though our playground is not very fancy. Perhaps my fondest memory though was teaching Khandro math problems in the sandbox. (I created) plastic cup impressions in the sand and divided them up between us. We have great memories and she still uses the playground at 10 years old.”

For their son, Kirt Jacobs and his wife Cynthia Fanning decided on a greenhouse/playhouse along with a jungle gym-style playground. Enclosed with a tall, wooden fence for privacy, their son can spend hours enjoying the sandbox and ziplining. Previously a greenhouse and small vegetable garden, this Highlands space was transformed into a more playful area for their boy, who is now six.

“We wanted a safe and spur-of-the-moment place for him to get outside every day,” says Kirt. “The zip-line, monkey bars, climbing wall and firepole were all inspired by a vision for an American Ninja Warrior-like space, albeit smaller and a bit less competitive.”

“We wanted a space that would grow up with him,” says Cynthia. “He started out loving the sandbox and the playhouse complete with a kitchen and workbench. Now his favorites are the climbing wall and monkey bars. We all love to hang out in the park, too.”

Kelly Will and her husband Matt Linville built the ultimate treehouse in their backyard for several reasons. Three of those reasons are their daughters, who are nine, eight and five years old.

“Essentially, the tree house came about because we had small children and it was easier to make a fun space for them in the backyard than to have to pack them up and take them to a park,” Kelly explained. “It also gave us a great area where our friends could come with their kids and we could turn them loose. We could actually have some adult conversation without trying to keep a batch of small kids tame at a restaurant.”

The three girls all agree and said, “We love having a place to hang upside down and make a fort.” Kelly also commented, “It’s definitely helped make them all a little fearless. When you learn to jump out of a tree and go down a zip line when you’re three, there’s not much that will scare you.” VT

Treehouse built by JR Vest Construction, LLC

Pekin, Indiana

Contact JR Vest for more information


The tree house is designed so the bracket that supports the tree house can slide out on the bolt as the tree grows and not damage the tree.