Barbara Butler Artist Builder

Designer & Builder of Treehouses, play structures and playhouses for kids

Monday, November 10, 2014

Forest Lookout (Part 2)

 In our last post, we followed the design and fabrication process for Forest Lookout. Next up is installation. The components made in the shop arrive on-site and are placed in their respective locations.
After each piece is secured and safety tested, small details are attended to for a flawless final structure. Sustainable second-growth redwood, made weather-resistant with non-toxic tung oil, combines with sturdy rope for a durable structure that is ready for anything the kids come up with!

But it's not only about workmanship and quality materials. Forest Outlook is also loaded with fun features: 
A hanging bridge leads to a platform high among the treetops. 

From below, the platform is almost completely hidden behind the foliage, giving it an air of forest mystery.  

The stationary bridge is outfitted with a double water cannon; watch out below! 

Climb the rope ladder on one side or dash around to the other side to take the stairs.
Inside the playhouse stands a drop-leaf table, perfect for snack breaks or tea parties. 

An embankment slide makes use of the natural shape of the hill, and becomes a water slide at the turn of a handle! Besides keeping kids cool in sunny L.A., this slide is also drought-friendly: a drain at the bottom diverts water to a cistern that is used for watering the landscape.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Forest Lookout (Part 1)

How do you transform a steep, barren space into a charming, lively play area?

Why, with a playhouse, hanging bridge, tree platform and water slide, of course! 

With two young sons and a bevy of cousins and friends they wanted to host, this Los Angeles family was looking for a spacious playscape that would leave the flat area open as it is the only level space in their yard. Barbara came up with a custom design that links the uphill tree with another tree further down the slope to create a haven for imaginative play.

Because the children are fairly young, the octagonal tree platform is fully fenced, offering a look-out fit for a king but no way down.

After the design process, Barbara always creates a stick-out (a 3-D sketch of the structure) to ensure accuracy before building the components at her shop. On challenging terrain, however, the stick-out is particularly vital to make sure that the finished structure can withstand mayhem in the morning and adventures in the afternoon.

The next step is to install the footings and the embankment slide so the landscapers can add grass and greenery to the space.

Meanwhile, back at the shop, fabrication is underway. Here, natural redwood is meticulously transformed into an environmentally responsible playhouse. Will it be a fortress to be protected against werewolves or a homestead for pioneers traveling west by covered wagon? Only the children know.

Stay tuned for photos of the completed project in next week's post!


Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

When Olenka Villareal discovered that her daughter was having developmental challenges, she was dismayed with the state of their local Palo Alto, CA, parks. Though well-meaning, the playgrounds weren't truly accessible to her daughter. And so began her crusade to create Magical Bridge, a playground for all abilities. We are proponents of imaginative outdoor play for ALL kids, so we were excited to be a part of this ground-breaking project right from the start. 

In 2011, when Barbara first met Olenka at the bi-annual Dreams Happen playhouse auction, Magical Bridge was only a beautiful concept, lacking both funding and a team. Barbara loved the concept and threw her wholehearted support behind the cause, starting with the donation of the Country Cottage Playhouse for an auction benefiting Friends of The Magical Bridge. The playhouse was wheeled along in local parades and displayed at the local library to make folks aware of the project, then was auctioned off to raise funds to make it a reality.

Four years later, as part of the Magical Bridge Playground team, Barbara donated over 160 design hours to help create the country's first completely accessible playground. Barbara's job: to design, build and install the two-story Playhouse with Theater Stage, Elevated Walkways, Magical Bridge and Treehouse. And while it might sound like a tall order to make a two-story playhouse that is fully accessible to a child (or parent) in a wheelchair, Barbara managed to create a design that is just as charming and whimsical as any project she's done.

And there's more. The Magical Treehouse built around an existing Stony Pine tree will be fully donated by Barbara Butler Artist-Builder Inc labor, parts, and imagination. We will also donate $5,000 in custom play accessories, so please stay tuned to see what designs Barbara comes up with!

Barbara has been an active team member at the overall park design meetings and was proud to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony earlier this year.

Pieces of the Magical Bridge are coming to life in our shop and will soon be brought on-site for installation. Then comes our favorite part of any project we do: the moment when grinning children stream toward the playground, ready to test out our creation!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Top Secret Safe Giveaway

These Top Secret Safes might not fit into a stocking, but these colorful, artisan safes are perfect for securing pirate's gold or a secret map to ancient ruins. So when Cincinnati ParentIndy's Child Magazine, and Dayton Parent contacted us about their upcoming Holiday Giveaway, we couldn’t resist whipping up a few to donate. 

 They were a blast to make -- and much quicker than a treehouse! Here, the stained pieces sit drying before final assembly. On the right, three boxes filled with play inspiration are loaded up by Alvin, our UPS guy. It's not the first time he's hauled some unusual packages from our shop!

Each safe comes with a shield that hides the combination to open the door, keeping your secrets safe from invading zombies or conniving dukes from a rival kingdom. Here's one installed in a tree house in L.A.

Have you liked us on Facebook? More gorgeous photos at our fan page.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Making of Adventure Cottage

Here’s the scene: A gorgeous new treehouse sits perched atop a live oak, tucked into a pocket of a lucky kid's backyard. The colors are crisp; the ladders and secret doors and zip lines stand ready to elicit giggles, shrieks or shouts of joy.

While it might appear to a child that the treehouse has mysteriously grown from the branches of her treasured tree or perhaps been placed there by fairies or gnomes, the reality is much different. In fact, each of our creations comes to life thanks to the craftsmanship, teamwork and inspiration of the Barbara Butler Artist Builder crew. Let’s take a look behind the scenes at how it all works. 

Step one:
First, family and builder come together for the design process.  Using a photo of the existing site, Barbara sketches in the proposed play structure.  In this case, Adventure Cottage went through a few different versions before we found the one that put a sparkle in the kids’ eyes.

Step two:
We take careful measurements on-site before heading back to our shop in South San Francisco to hand-craft each piece of the treehouse. The old adage "Measure twice, cut once" applies double when you are building off-site!

Step three:
Every part of the treehouse is built at the shop using sustainable redwood and environmentally-friendly materials. Even our vibrant signature colors are custom-made from tung oil rather than petroleum products.

Step four:
Now it's back to the site for the installation. 
Dedicated crew? Check.
Tree house components? Check.
Pink hard hat? Check. 
Walls, roof and floor join together to form Adventure Cottage.

Step five: Playtime!


Monday, October 06, 2014

Adventure Cottage

Located in Woodside, California, Adventure Cottage is our latest custom-built treehouse.  What mysteries do these branches hide? Time machines, fairy groves, or perhaps pirates? Follow me into the magical world of childhood and we'll take a look around.

Let's climb up this ladder and race around the wrap-around porch. I dare you to try the fire pole!

Hey, send me up some secret messages in the bucket pulley, will you?

Now it's time for a snack. Step into my cozy cottage and I'll serve you up some tea and cookies on my favorite fancy plates.

What was that thump? Uh oh! A ferocious monster's at the door.

There's no way out! We're trapped... or are we?

There's something peculiar about that cabinet. Let's take a closer look.

A hidden escape hatch! Quick, scoot down the hanging ladder and we'll try a sneak attack.

Tip toe, tip toe, shhh.... up the knotted rope we go.

Wait, the monster's getting away. He's too fast to catch... unless... TO THE ZIP LINE!

Wheeeeeee! Let's do it all again!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Inverness Treefort 
Inverness, California

I am invited to a small wild overgrown yard to come up with ideas for a treefort for the kids. The family recently bought the property and the kids think the yard as-is is too dark, too spidery, too unfriendly so my plan is to thin it a bit and entice them into it with some tree structures!
I draw my ideas on photocopies of photos of the yard to help everyone visualize the project and to see how it will look in place.
Then we get to build it! There's a multi-level treefort that connects with a 21ft long swinging bridge to a small clubhouse covered with rock climbing holds & plus there's a coil climber. There's also a zipline, and a water cannon for blasting those on the zipline. There's a giant rope for pulling yourself up the hill. I like to add in multiple ways up and down to keep the kids running round and round. Check out other photos on or visit my tumblr blog for photos throughout the installation:

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