Play towers are the new treehouses, don't you know?

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.

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.

There are benches that can be stowed away using pulleys and dropped back down again for a teddy bears’ picnic.
There are benches that can be stowed away using pulleys and dropped back down again for a teddy bears’ picnic.

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.

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

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.

‘This is a lifetime treehouse that is going to be enjoyed and relevant for Ailbhe at any age.’
‘This is a lifetime treehouse that is going to be enjoyed and relevant for Ailbhe at any age.’

“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.

Must have accessories for a play tower, a sheltered swing area, a deck and a post box — or safe, depending on your mood.
Must have accessories for a play tower, a sheltered swing area, a deck and a post box — or safe, depending on your mood.

Kane Architects Limited, 27 Wellington Road, Cork. 021 4551988 / info@kanearchitects.ie/kanearchitects.ie

Materials, (sourced locally where possible)

  • Irish Larch – Sheehan Sawmills, Co Tipperary
  • OSB sheeting – McMahons, Fermoy, Co Cork
  • Perspex & LED lighting – B&Q, Cork
  • Ironmongery, pulleys, and fixings - A.R Brownlow Ltd, South City Link Road
  • Carpet – Forbo Flotex Autumn Leaves – special order donated by Forbo. forbo.com
  • Winch, chains, steel wire and rope – Army Surplus Warehouse, Midleton, Co Cork
  • Metal gutters, edging – sourced from skips
  • Readymix concrete for pad foundations – Roadstone, Mallow
  • School road sign - PWS Signs Ravensdale Dundalk, Co Louth
  • Swing – Smyth’s Toy Store, Maylor St, Cork
  • Selfie sticks repurposed for telescopic table legs – Dealz, Grand Parade, Cork
  • Sun Sail/awning (for roof) – primrose.co.uk
  • Planting – Carmels Garden Centre, Kilworth, Co. Cork.


Lifestyle

It’s the personal stories from Bruce Springsteen that turn his new ‘Western Stars’ documentary into something special, the director tells Esther McCarthy.Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars documentary more than just a music film

Apart from the several variations in its spelling in Irish and English, Inishtubbrid, Co Clare is also recognised by three other names: Wall’s Island; O’Grady’s Island and Inishtubber which surely puts it up there as the island with most names — not counting say Inisvickillane, Co Kerry which has about 33 variations to that spelling.The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility

More and more communities and volunteers are taking on environmental tasks around the country. In Clonmel, Co Tipperary, for example, people have united to get rid of Himalayan balsam, an invasive plant, from the banks of the River Suir.‘Bashing’ invasive plants

Halloween has become a consumer fest in recent years but there are a number of ways to reduce costs and waste — and make itHappy sustainable Halloween: Don’t be horrified with the waste at Halloween

More From The Irish Examiner