The tale of a princess and a fab­u­lous play tower

When is a tree house not a tree house? When it’s a play tower, says Rose Martin, who went to the vil­lage of Glan­worth to see what you can do when you don’t have a tree to hang a house on top

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Property - Kane Ar­chi­tects Lim­ited, 27 Welling­ton Road, Cork. 021 4551988 / info@kan­earchi­tects.ie/kan­earchi­tects.ie

It’s the ul­ti­mate child­hood fan­tasy, isn’t it? The one thing you know that would cre­ate mem­o­ries for life — a warm glow in your chil­dren’s mind long af­ter you had shuf­fled off the old mor­tal coil.

And let’s be hon­est, hav­ing a tree house is a bit like pay­ing it back­wards, too isn’t it? Like buy­ing that train set or doll’s house you al­ways wanted but do­ing it for your kids in­stead. Giv­ing them all the stuff you never had. There are plenty of rea­sons not to do this (the an­a­lysts would charge you months of fees to tease that one out), but a tree house is a ma­jor ex­cep­tion.

They’re high, they’re a house, they’re away from ev­ery­thing — they’re amaz­ing! But what to do when you haven’t got one — a tree, that is? Sim­ple, as ar­chi­tect Neil Kane dis­cov­ered — you build a tower in­stead.

And here is where the daddy over­ruled the de­signer, who in turn was over­ruled by his in­ner child: While safety fea­tures were recog­nised, and the brief ful­filled, the Kane fam­ily tree house some­how mor­phed into a se­ries of Heath Robin­so­nian con­trap­tions that must have kept Daddy Neil quite busy and quite happy for some time.

Hon­estly, there’s a wind-up draw­bridge, (which is al­most too sim­plis­tic a de­scrip­tion), a pop-up and pop-down table us­ing selfie-stick arms for sup­port, and benches that can be stowed away us­ing pul­leys and dropped back down again for a teddy bears’ pic­nic.

The in­te­rior first-floor level, which in auc­tion­eer-speak is spa­cious with wide, coun­try views and a south-fac­ing as­pect, has a floor car­pet of fallen au­tumn leaves — an ef­fect which is, well, quite trippy.

The style is the ar­chi­tect’s but the brief came from his daugh­ter: “The client was our three-year-old daugh­ter, Ailbhe, and she re­quested the tree­house for her fourth birth­day,” says Neil. “There were no suit­able trees for a tra­di­tional tree house in our small gar­den in Glan­worth, so in­stead I de­signed a play tower.”

And be­cause Neil’s wife wanted full vis­i­bil­ity at all times (well done), he used a dou­ble-skinned, per­spex frame, but, in a lovely parental touch, had Ailbhe pick out her trea­sures to be mu­se­umed be­tween the cor­ru­gated sheets — very cute.

The client spec­i­fied yel­low, not pink, as her sig­na­ture tone and so Daddy-ar­chi­tect com­plied, top­ping the roof with a sail­cloth of marigold yel­low. And the 4.2m tower, with boxed ac­cess stairs strong enough to ac­com­mo­date a well-grown woman or man, is drawn up to the side for safety and to re­pel all in­vaders. The more de­tailed brief from the his other client, his wife (also an ar­chi­tect), was that it be “vis­i­ble from the out­side with ac­cess con­trolled ex­ter­nally, for safety rea­sons.

“Steel ca­bles are fixed to both gables to sta­bilise the frame,” says Neil, “while an awning is stretched be­tween the per­spex skin walls to form the roof that is drained by a rain-chain — a Ja­panese tra­di­tional de­tail for run-off for rain­wa­ter from a gut­ter.”

Yes, well, what both girls got is a stun­ning, safe per­spex two storey tower — the el­e­vated main floor level pro­vides enough weather-proof space un­der­neath for a swing and a post box (a must-have ac­ces­sory for play tow­ers). And it looks re­ally well lit up by night. The base, mean­while, is con­crete, us­ing scaf­fold­ing shoes to hold the larch main frame, and the rest is per­spex, can­vas, and steel ten­sion­ing.

Neil likes to work in wood and used larch as the prin­ci­pal el­e­ment be­cause it’s durable and nat­u­rally wa­ter­proof, (and much cheaper than cedar). More im­por­tantly, it doesn’t need to be loaded with preser­va­tives, some­thing the Kanes weren’t keen on for the tower. “This is a life­time tree­house that is go­ing to be en­joyed and rel­e­vant for Ailbhe at any age — we’ll prob­a­bly be won­der­ing what on earth is go­ing on up there in an­other 10 or 12 years’ time.”

Neil has had over 100k hits on his Linkedin page over the last few weeks. It’s the sea­son for tree houses. So, if you don’t have a tree, them take a tip from Neil Kane and set about build­ing that play tower. Your chil­dren will love you — but you’ll love it more.

“Ailbhe will al­ways want to spend time in there no mat­ter what age she is”

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