Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Chalkboard Playhouse

Our new Chalkboard Playhouse line is now available 
through the A Place Imagined website!   
  • Made in America
  • Eco Friendly Materials (Sustainable & locally sourced premium birch plywood)
  • Encourages creative expression
  • Quick easy assembly with no tools
  • Stores flat when not in use
  • High pressure laminate chalkboard roof
  • Durable tough finish
  • Rounded edges for safety
  • Heirloom quality

The Story: (the long version)  
As a mom of an infant, I remember rating toys based on how long they could hold my son’s attention.  A mobile with a battery (as opposed to a wind up) would buy me just enough time to take a shower.  The kids are older now, and I started thinking about designing a playhouse for them that would hold their attention.  I scoured the market to see what was available.   My blog is embarrassing proof of my relentless research.  There are some great products out there, but nothing exactly like what I was looking for.  With a background in architecture, I am cursed with ridiculously high design standards.  I also grew up in a DIY household, so simply purchasing something would be way too easy.  I wanted the perfect indoor playhouse for my children, and set out to create it.  I became so dedicated (sounds better than obsessed) with this idea, that I resigned from my corporate job.  Designing kid’s playhouses is much more fun than designing big buildings, right?  Notice I said more fun, not easier.  What seemed like a simple task turned out to be a fairly complex process.

I wanted a playhouse that the kids wouldn’t get bored with, one where they could play with for hours and come back to the next day as if it were brand new.  The playhouse needed to be designed in a way that it allowed for open ended play.  One minute it may be a secret boy’s only clubhouse and the next it could be a castle or even a space station.  Anyone with kids knows there is no limit to the transforming power of their little imagination.  So, what would this perfect playhouse look like?  I tend to do things the hard way.  Needless to say we went through several variations.  Don’t get me wrong, my kids loved testing my work, and I like to make things.  I finally settled on the traditional house shape, because it is symbolic of shelter and recognized by all as a safe place.  

As you can imagine, our house quickly filled up with playhouse prototypes. My husband has been very supportive of this adventure from the beginning, but has gotten a little tired of living in a home cluttered with playhouses.   With limited space, I quickly realized the playhouse must be easily disassembled, so we could put it away from time to time.  There are several collapsible canvas playhouses and tents available on the market, but we wanted something solid and sturdy.  I have two boys and they play rough.  We needed a structure that wouldn’t fall over if one of them were to push the other into it.  Yes, my kids occasionally do that.  I had done some research on flat-packed furniture that slotted together, and didn’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work with a playhouse.  

For young children, play is serious business.  It’s how they learn and develop motor skills.  This playhouse had to engage my children’s imagination on multiple levels…keep them busy for a long time.  It should encourage pretend play and creative self expression.  This is no small task for such a tiny house.  I knew the house had to be interactive in some way.  Children love to play in cardboard boxes.  Part of the draw is being able to personalize their space by writing on it, or “claim it” by making their mark.  I am the #1 fan of cardboard box playhouses, but I wanted something more permanent, something I could keep and get out years latter for my grandchildren.  The designer in me is always looking for innovative ways to use materials, so when I came across a sample of high-pressure chalkboard laminate, I knew I had found the perfect solution.  The roof surface was already at the right height and angle to be an easel, so it just made sense.  The chalkboard roof was a hit with the kids!  My 6 year old draws superhero battle scenes and even practices writing his spelling words while I cook dinner.  He doesn’t even realize he’s learning, to him it’s just play.     

The requirements were starting to build, and I was getting a bit nervous that I may not be able to pull this playhouse project off.  My mom will be the first to tell you I’m determined (or stubborn) and once I get an idea in my head there’s no stopping.  Giving up was not an option at this point.  I had taken this too far to just let it go.  Did I mention, I quit my “good” corporate job in an architecture firm to pursue this project?    
The growing list of requirements:
  1. Hold my children’s attention (multiple layers of interaction)
  2. Allow for open ended play
  3. Encouraged creativity
  4. Easily assembled and disassembled 
  5. Durable
  6.  Safe
  7. Built with quality materials
  8. Appropriately scaled for young children
  9. Eco Friendly 
  10. Made in the US
Designing the Chalkboard Playhouse was just one step in this process.  Sourcing materials, finding a manufacturer, boxes, shipping, web design, marketing are just a few of the details that had to be worked out.  While it has been a challenging process, I have enjoyed every minute!

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