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.

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!