We interview the imaginative carpenter behind Paul's Playsets, which offers cheap DIY Kids Playhouse plans you can purchase and download.
Have you ever dreamed of building a playhouse for your children?
And not just any playhouse, but a jaw-dropping, magical, and imaginative space like a pirate ship, castle, or monster truck where they can run, jump, climb, play, and get lost in the world of childhood play.
You would be the coolest parent on the “rural block.”
And this idea of building a magnificent play structure for your children may seem like a practical and even fun idea…until you sit down to figure out the plans and logistics…
…which propels you to Plan B: running to your computer to order a premade version or at the very least, a prefab kit…
…until you realize buying a quality wooden playhouse or DIY kit could set you back anywhere from $1500-$15,000 dollars…
…and your dreams of being the superstar parent start to fade fast.
But…there is a little-known Plan C that is becoming wildly popular with DIY enthusiasts (and aspiring superstar parents) across the country:
- Buy pre-designed plans online—meticulously designed by an expert carpenter.
- Use those plans to build your children’s dream playhouse affordably while elevating yourself to super-parent status.
This scenario is entirely possible thanks to Paul Gifford of Paul’s Playsets.
Paul, an experienced carpenter and treehouse builder, has designed more than 100 playhouse and playset plans you can download (some for free) and build yourself, including kid favorites like planes, trains, monster trucks, castles, cubby houses, and fairytale sets, to name a few.
Read on to get all your questions answered about the wonderful world of DIY playhouses and learn how YOU can make outdoor rural living even more magical for your children:
A Passion for Building—How Paul Got Started in the Playhouse Kit Biz
Paul knew he wanted to be a carpenter from childhood.
“When I told the counselor back at my college prep school that I wanted to go into carpentry she said: Are you sure you don’t want to be an engineer? But I was sure I wanted to work with my hands in this way, and I’ve been enjoying my career as a carpenter for over 10 years,” says Paul.
Paul’s Playhouses started as a side-business to Paul’s career in treehouse building, giving do-it-yourselfers the ability to create truly high-end playhouses that will last for years of family fun -- on a much smaller budget.
What is the Big Advantage of Buying Pre-Designed Playhouse Plans Versus A Kit with Lumber and Tools Included?
“The cost of a playhouse kit versus the plans is the big difference," says Paul. "With plans like mine, there is no hardware or material markups, it’s just instructions. So you can shop around for the best price on materials, and it puts the power back in the hands of the customer.”
The cost to build one of Paul’s Wooden Playhouses, from plans to materials, ranges from:
- $200-$500 for the country town sets and free plans
- Up to $1000 for the small to mid-size
- And $1500-$2500 for the larger designs
Compare that to the cost of high-end kits or pre-made custom wooden playhouses, which range from $750 to $25,000, and you will save hundreds to thousands of dollars.
What exactly do you get when you buy a set of playhouse plans?
When someone orders one of Paul’s Playhouse Plans, their purchaseincludes:
- Detailed 3-D instructions written for the layperson (no hard-to-understand technical jargon)
- A full list of materials and supplies you will need from the hardware store and/or local lumberyard
- Email and online support as needed
You can also save time and money by purchasing the perfect playhouse accessories such as slides, dinner bells, etc., directly on Paul’s website.
How to Choose the Perfect Playhouse Location on Your Rural Land
For many first-time urban playhouse builders, finding enough space is an issue. Not so when you have acreage, but still you will want to choose the right spot for your playhouse.
Paul offers these tips on choosing the best location for a playhouse:
1. Consider proximity to your home
“Many people prefer to have sheds and larger play structures tucked away more toward the edges of the property line. That way they can maximize the space in their yard for outdoor activities, while keeping the property more tidy."
2. Determine which eligible locations get the best shade.
“Shade is another factor as it can get quite hot inside a playhouse in direct sunlight. While normal houses have attics and air conditioning, a playhouse does not. Finding a tree or group of trees in which to place the playhouse or playset is ideal."
3. Be aware of neighbors and property setback lines.
If you're plan to build your project near the edge of your yard, it's always a good idea to inform your neighbor first. I've had building inspectors stop by at a few of my projects because of cranky neighbors. It can happen.”
4. Consider accessibility
Make sure it's easy not only for you, but for the small children who will be using the playset to reach the location it's in
5. Avoid sloping ground
Choose a flat spot or level the ground using mulch, gravel or cinder blocks to make the playhouse easily accessible for you and your children. If flat ground proves difficult to find, it's possible to build your playset on a surface like a deck, such as the Paul's Playset customer who built the helicopter playset below did.
Photo courtesy of the owner.
Can anyone build a playset from downloadable plans? We asked actual customers to share their stories:
Paul believes that anyone can build a playset following the downloaded plans, but he also recommends choosing your playhouse based on your skill level.
“The free and small designs, like the town collection or clubhouses, are simple. A novice could probably do that in 2 or 3 days. But if you tried to take on a full-size plan with multiple levels, that could take weeks for a novice.”
We contacted some of Paul’s customers for their feedback.
Chris and Hayley Stano took on a big project when Chris bought and built the Large Barn Playhouse plans.
“My husband and I looked for the perfect playhouse for our kids, ages 4 and 2, for Christmas," Hayley told Rethink:Rural. "We knew we wanted something different to go with our barn and barn theme, so when we saw Paul's pictures and the playhouse plans, we knew that was 'the one.' My husband wanted to build it so it would have sentimental value.
“The playhouse matches the barns on our land, so our kids have their own barn now. It's adorable and our kids love it. A huge plus is that it is big enough so I can play inside with them. My husband does have a good bit of carpentry skills, but the playhouse plans were step-by-step and easy to follow. He would work on the weekends and some afternoons starting late October and finished a few weeks before Christmas Day.”
As to how the playhouse went over with the kids, Hayley says: “Our kids love the playhouse. It is more than I imagined it would be!” The Stanos submitted the photo below of their barn playhouse in action:
Another customer went big for his grandchildren by tackling the Helicopter plan (shown earlier in this article) and customizing it to resemble Marine One:
“My neighbor and I spent about 6 days building the helicopter but recognize that we modified the design, so that added time. We added metal blades that turn from inside the helicopter cab. Also, we built the playhouse on a trailer so it could be moved and placed on a deck, which added time. If you have some carpentry skills and a helper, the playhouse could be built in 3 days give or take.
“The helicopter plans were reasonably priced and mostly accurate. The major structural dimensions were generally correct so it was not that difficult to improvise on the rest. My son-in-law was a Marine, so I tried to use the same colors and lettering as Marine One. It wasn't exact but close.
Casey Casseb and a buddy, Mike, went for broke by taking on “The Monster Truck” plan (pictured above). Here’s what they had to say about why they chose to go with Paul’s plans over a traditional playset kit:
Says Casey, “My son, who was three at the time, loves trucks!" Casey told us. "I knew from the beginning that I wanted something unique and suited to him. I searched the internet to find a truck-centric playhouse and Paul’s design was far and away the best option. I bought the plan and showed it to my buddy at work (Mike) to ask him how much he thought it would cost for me to hire someone to build it.
“He nonchalantly responded, 'I’ll build it.' I was beyond surprised! I tried to talk him out of it….it gets really hot in Texas and I was sure it was going to take him months to complete. Much to my surprise, he got it done so quickly. My son had the best time 'helping' – 'Mr. Mike – can I bring you a hammer? Mr. Mike, what you doing now?!' Watching the build go from lumber delivery to completion was pretty amazing for all of us!”
“Mr. Mike” the monster truck builder, a “hobbyist” carpenter, had this to add about his DIY experience:
“I didn’t realize the full scope of the project until I completed the first few stages of the build. The plans were very detailed and I was confident I could do it. I didn’t accurately imagine how big it was going to be. It’s crazy to look at it today because it’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be.
“It’s awesome! I just think If someone showed me the structure, and then asked if I could build it, I don’t know if my answer would have been the same. Paul’s plans were detailed and accurate in every way. It really made the project a joy to work on.”
All in all, it seems true that anyone can do this with minimal carpentry skills.
Pauls’ Picks for the “Ultimate” Rural Playhouses:
Though any of the playhouse or playset plans could work for a large property, Paul recommended these favorites:
“There are a few that really stand our if you want to go BIG. There’s the 'Paul’s Palace Plan,' which is the biggest castle plan. I really like the 'Monster Truck'—I designed that thinking that every little boy wants a real-life monster truck. And the pirate ships are really cool too.” says Paul.
How Long Will It Take You To Build a DIY Playhouse?
There is no magic number when it comes to DIY building. But based on your level of skill and the amount of help you receive, building a playhouse from Paul’s plans could take anywhere from a weekend for the smaller houses, to several weeks for the full-size houses and playsets.
It took Mike 40 hours over 6 weeks, it took the Stanos about the same working weekends and some extra hours during the week, and the Marine-One-style helicopter took 6+ days with two people working.
But what’s a few days or weeks if it elevates you to super-parent (or grandparent) status?
Perhaps Casey summed it up best with this closing quote:
“One of my favorite experiences was when my son and I were playing on the truck and I was on top of the roof – the highest point of the structure. A couple of neighbors that I don’t know walked by, and the man yelled out 'You’re making the rest of us look bad – that thing is AWESOME!'”
Interested in learning more about DIY playsets, playhouses, and kits?
Visit www.paulsplayhouses.com to view plans (free and paid), more testimonials, more real-life pictures, tips, advice, and more.
Monster Truck playset photos courtesy of Casey Casseb.