Try some big ideas for using small buildings

February 24, 2005|by CHRISTINE BRUN/Copley News Service

When we think of summer houses, we tend to envision full-size homes located at the beach or in the mountains. Europeans, on the other hand conceive of small structures that we might call a shed.

Because the popularity of these structures is spreading to our shores, companies are springing up all around the country that import the prefabricated buildings as kits. Prices range from $700 to $800 for simple designs all the way up to $59,000 for a 24-by-33-foot bungalow. Many kits are constructed in England using the finest Scandinavian clear pine and spruce available.

Once the buildings are put together, they can fill the role of a garden shed, children's playhouse or a private guest room. More fanciful uses are as a little tea house in the garden or a yoga or workout room.

One Norwegian manufacturer markets a little building that has the capability to combine a sauna with an indoor fire pit. This would be especially useful for anyone living in a harsh winter climate and looking for an outdoor recreation opportunity.


Another use might be as gazebos and spa enclosures. Even the family pet can benefit from little houses with tiny porches. One company features a doghouse with a deck, and another has one that can add a little chimney just for fun.

For young families living in small houses the concept of a playhouse is perhaps the most attractive. Shown here is the Jack and Jill, an approximately 47-square-foot playhouse by Spirit Elements, located in Boulder, Colo. This one's made from 100 percent Western red cedar, all natural and nontoxic.

All of the playhouses that Spirit Element sells have safety glass and planed, rounded corners for safety. All wood pieces have been treated with ACQ, a nonarsenic, nonchromium and noncarcinogenic water-soluble preservative. These buildings should be treated with a suitable wood finish and can be painted or stained to blend with the main house.

The lucky little people who might do art projects, dress up or read in this house will enjoy a covered porch, paneled walls and floor, and a shingle roof. It also comes with a little table and two chairs. It is 7 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 11 inches wide and 6 feet 1 inch high. The selling price is $1,349.

Compare two weeks of summer camp fees to the price of one playhouse, and it begins to look like a bargain way to give children a special experience all year long. No one appreciates little places more than children who like to curl up with a book or play hide-and-seek.

Other designs are called The Nottingham, which offers an additional loft for extra space, the Firehouse that features an alarm bell and the impressive Grande Victorian. The 8-foot-by-10-foot Victorian playhouse has appropriate gingerbread trim on the outside, a heart-shaped window over the double entry door, a chimney and a deck enclosed by a white picket fence. An interior loft is available for this model, as well.

The basic price is $2,299. Different options, including an 8-foot-by-12-foot version, can drive the price up to around $3,530. To see more possibilities, visit

Some companies market handsome gazebolike structures enclosed by glass windows and doors. A 15-foot-diameter house with a charming tiered roof that rises 15 feet is topped off by a cupola. Architecturally strong, these come in 9-foot, 12-foot and 15-foot versions and sell from just under $13,000 to $22,500.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112.

© Copley News Service

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