The wonder of Wendy houses
Planning a Christmas surprise? Ramshackle or state-of-the-art, a playhouse is a magical place where a child’s imagination can run free, says Anna Tyzack
Even when the weather is grim, my children love to play outside and our garden was crying out for a Wendy house. Somewhere for my three small boys to set up camp, play shop, and generally hang out away from me. This time of year is ideal for tackling new projects in the garden and I half hoped my husband would magic up a house for them; my childhood Wendy house was constructed by my father out of offcuts. But this was never going to happen, so when I saw one going begging on Facebook – a friend was making space for a garden office – I jumped on it.
It arrived in forlorn pieces, yet once it had been nailed together and positioned beneath a small weeping willow, our two older boys, aged four and two, moved straight in. They didn’t worry about the lack of furniture or the cracked windowpane in their new Superhero Clubhouse. “Don’t come in, Mummy!” they warned, slamming the door behind them.
At first I felt relieved that I hadn’t spent a fortune on anything more sophisticated. Petra Ecclestone recently paid £60,000 for a playhouse in the garden of her London home and apparently it leaks, while our little house, with its pitched roof, and peep hole in the door, can be bought new on shedsworld.co.uk for about £270.
Soon, though, I was dreaming up ways to make it a home for them, with coat hooks and a play kitchen. According to Russell Bowlby, founder of bespoke playhouse manufacturer Flights of Fantasy, parents often get carried away by the development potential of a new Wendy house. “If you’re going to have one, it will be a feature in your garden, so you want to make sure you’re proud of it,” he explains.
The original Wendy house, built for Wendy Darling in J M Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan or the Boy Who Never Grew Up, was inspired by the wash-house at Barrie’s childhood home in Kirriemuir, Scotland. Since then playhouses have got rather grander. In 1936 Her Majesty the Queen was given a miniature thatched Welsh cottage, with hot and cold running water and a dresser displaying miniature gold china.
Creative play: tuck a playhouse in the trees, waiting to be discovered, top; a medieval-themed castle, above; both by The Playhouse Company