And finally Butler takes a closer look at the space and budget and begins to prioritize. "It's a very collaborative process," she says.
Butler also keeps in mind that kids won't stay kids forever. She encourages clients to consider a structure with an enclosed clubhouse, for when kids outgrow the slides and swings and enter the "hangout" stage. She's also designed the playhouses to be bolted into the ground for easy installation and when the kids are gone and the parents want to reclaim their backyard removal. (Though Butler's team refurbishes, sells, and delivers used play structures to recipients on a long waiting list, most of the playhouses are passed from generation to generation.)
Of course, not all of Butler's structures are just for the kids. She recently built a tree house 18 feet off the ground in Santa Barbara, a commission from a grandfather who confessed to Butler that while it was for his grandkids, he also wanted to be able to read his newspaper up there. "The whole time I was designing, I had this image of an overstuffed leather chair in the corner," Butler says.
And as a way of making sure that every structure is as safe as possible, Butler builds according to the same code she once used for decks. "I always say that whatever I build should be able to handle a bunch of drunk adults at night," Butler says. Still, her real joy is in making autonomous, safe play spaces that kids can call their own. "It's amazing how little interest I have in building adult structures," she says. "If they wanted things like good lookouts and secret passageways, I might consider it."*