Everyone needs a clubhouse! You can build your own backyard shelter, retreat, or clubhouse even if you have never built anything before. The clubhouse above was built in 1959 by three kids aged 8, 9 and 11, with no money or help from grownups! I know; I was the 11-year-old who took this picture. I'm sharing here what I have learned since then.
Readers of all ages are welcome to comment with their own ideas, pictures or stories.
To help you on your way, I've written a book titled "Keep Out! Build Your Own Backyard Clubhouse", which is available through bookstores or at Amazon.com . Many of the items I post here are also in the book.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Evolution of Leslie's Shed

Leslie in western Massachusetts recently shared this story:

My backyard studio started out as a chicken coop. After an unfortunate incident involving coyotes, we no longer needed the chicken coop, so it became a storage shed – mostly gardening stuff and my husband’s carpentry tools.

We built the original coop-shed with new lumber for the framing, but we used field stones for the foundation, and miscellaneous wood, roofing, windows and a door we had in our barn!

My Husband, Juano, a carpenter, helped me make sure the floor and frame were level and square, using the 3-4-5 rule*. When he was too busy to work with me, it was great to have my copy of Keep Out! as a reference so I could work on it when I wanted to. While he did a lot of the work, I felt, by using the steps in the book, I could build the frame on my own! I learned a ton from both his kind, patient explanations and from the book.

Later, I cleared out the shed and made it into a studio with more "shopping trips" from the barn for an old drafting stool, a table and some beautiful barn wood. I get Juano's advice, but I am not afraid to make mistakes, either. So thank you for the "you-can-do-it!" inspiration in Keep Out!  

The stool before rehab...

 My new crafting bench from a 2" thick piece of hardwood I varnished.

My studio so far...

The Tyvek has been the siding for a couple of years; it adds character! And, as we say in the hilltowns: if you finish your house, then it's time to move.

Our next venture: my 11-year-old daughter is making her very own cabin!  Keep Out! wasn't far from her side while she drew plans over the winter. She has already consulted her dad about building 6" thick walls, inspired by an adobe home she saw on a trip to New Mexico last fall.

*The 3-4-5 rule: On one side of a corner, measure three feet and make a mark. On the opposite side of the corner, measure four feet and make a mark. Next, measure the diagonal between the two marks. If the distance is exactly 5 feet, your corner is square! (This is based on the Pythagorean Theorem.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Clubhouse of One's own

Kids need a place that they can call their own. It can be a backyard shelter, no matter how crudely built, where a couple of friends can sit in and talk, or read comic books, or (nowadays) play games and text on their phones.

If your kids (girls too!) have a desire to build some kind of fort or hideout, by all means let them. Ideally, the less you help them, the better…let them discover the process themselves. Your task could be to provide a few tools, nails, and help transporting lumber, either used or new.  Kids are surprisingly resilient; they won’t kill themselves or each other by building a clubhouse, and they will be doing something creative that will give them a deep sense of pride. Also, they won’t be crying that they’re bored, and you’ll know where they are! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kids Need Their Own Community

Kids need their own community, and a special place to experience it. A clubhouse, especially one they built themselves, gives kids a sense of privacy and independence, a safe place to talk, socialize, or decide whether to paint the place. They learn about consensus, and find that its fun to plan a bike trip or a cookout together. It's much more rewarding than sitting alone in front of the tube, or even sitting alone and texting. Hanging out with a bigger group is a far richer experience.

This is the kind of community that emerged when our random group of kids decided to build a clubhouse. Somehow the idea of building the thing together cemented us more as a group; we had a common project that everyone could contribute to. One kid provided the backyard (no easy task), another had found some good wood, another could pound nails pretty good, and even the youngest kid with no building skills had a knack for finding the coolest clubhouse-furnishings in the trash. We spent Saturdays and after-school hours at our clubhouse for a couple of years, tearing it apart and fixing it up continuously. It was an adventure!

I wrote Keep Out! Build Your Own Backyard Clubhouse to inspire kids and supportive grownups to get together and build a place of their own in which to gather, socialize, be a community!



Saturday, July 13, 2013

Need Any Help?

If you're trying to build your clubhouse but don't know what to do next, either as you are starting out or at some point in the middle, let me know.  You can comment to this post with a question, or e-mail me at mothesart@gmail.com. I'll help you if  I can!

Friends can help you too...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Brick Clubhouse in Scotland

While on a trip in Scotland two years ago, I spotted this slate-roofed shelter in someone's back yard. It was about 8 feet by 8 feet in size, and looked quite old.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Using Old Doors

Here is a way to build your clubhouse (or garden shed, studio, backyard guest room...) with very little cost, at least for the walls - use old doors.

In many neighborhoods, there are "anything goes" trash days, usually in the summer. (Look at your city's trash pickup schedule). This is when you can sometimes find old doors and windows on the curb. Also, the Re-Store, second-hand stores, St Vinnie's and architectural salvage yards also sell old doors and windows very cheap. Get doors made of real wood - not the plywood or composition "slab doors", which will disintegrate outside.

First, collect enough doors to roughly fill up your outside walls. You might need to find some narrow cabinet doors or windows to fill in gaps. Once you think have enough, then plan your floor size to fit the doors plus the studs in between to tie the doors to the floor and the roof.

To seal the gaps between the doors, use some 1 by 4 trim boards, as shown above. Build a roof in the Classic Clubhouse style and voila! you have a palace of doors!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting Permission To Build a Clubhouse

Start with a simple clubhouse idea; this one might scare the grownups!

As soon as you utter the word “clubhouse”, parents and other People in Control will likely imagine a big mess to clean up.  So here is where you’ll need to think like a diplomat and probably a lawyer to argue your case.

Be careful not to choose a site too close to your neighbor’s house or on their land. If there is no fence, ask where the boundary might be. Also don’t use a neighbor’s or your own fence as one of your walls! Furthermore, don’t build in front of someone’s picture window or otherwise block their view. You will get complaints.  By all means promise to keep the area clean except where you are actually building your clubhouse, and then keep the promise!

Invite your parents or other People in Control to help find a good site for your clubhouse. If possible, have a second building site in mind so the People in Control have a choice. If that doesn’t work, impress them with your knowledge of developmental psychology: In recent years children have been increasingly deprived of the outdoors and nature. Child-development specialists such as Richard Louv have directly linked the absence of nature to the recent rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression among children. Show them Richard Louv’s website, http://richardlouv.com/last-child-movement, and then tell them, “You don’t want me to get fat, stupid or depressed do you?”

Another good argument is this: “I’ll be engaged in something creative, I’ll be learning a lot of practical skills, and you will know where I am!” Then show them the plans you drew so they will know more about your project, and that you are serious about doing it “right”. Tell them you’ll follow the safety tips listed in Chapter 2 and remind them you’ll keep the place as clean and neat as you can. Until they convince you it is impossible to build a clubhouse (you live in a high-rise apartment, for example), then keep trying!

If you live in a community or subdivision that is heavily laden with what they call owners agreements, covenants or deed restrictions, check the rules to see if you can build in your yard. In recent years, some towns and homeowners’ associations have ordered clubhouses removed because they are deemed unsafe, a fire hazard, unsightly, or all three. Many communities don’t want to be “exposed to risk” from lawsuits or insurance claims. This unfortunate trend is part of the reason kids are no longer allowed to get outside, get dirty and build clubhouses!

So go along with this system if you can. Show them your plan, tell them you are the builder, and see what happens.  If necessary, argue your case with the points listed above. If you have to, fight back by getting your parents or sympathetic neighbors to help you regain your outdoor freedom. The Children and Nature Network: http://childrenandnature.ning.com is a worldwide support group that advocates this very thing!

One idea, though it is a bit risky: get your grownup supporters to let you build a “protest clubhouse” and when Those in Power demand its removal, offer to sign a “no fault” letter that promises you won’t sue them or make a claim against their liability insurance. If that doesn’t work call in the local news media to make your point.  This is America, after all!