Back in our daughter’s princess days – that epic time between ages 3 and 5 that we enjoyed very much – my amazing hubby built her an actual, literal fairytale castle in our basement.
When we first moved into this dream house of ours, it had an Ohio State Buckeyes themed bar in the finished basement. While that’s a real draw for many in central Ohio, for us it just wasn’t a good fit. We don’t drink or entertain with alcohol.
Z and her buddies used to play hide and seek behind the bar, but we were never all that attached to it. One day, E asked if he should build Z a playhouse where the bar was. I loved the idea and we both started putting some thought into it.
Then, we went to visit the Columbus Museum of Art with Z and had a terrific afternoon playing in CMA’s magical Wonder Room. That’s where E got the idea to build a two-story play area that could potentially be something Z would use for years to come – even into her teens.
He began buying lumber and other DIY supplies, then pulled out the basement bar and we sold it on Craig’s list. And that’s when the fun began!
E decided he wanted to keep the castle a secret from Z for as long as he could. He began spending his every free moment, both evenings and weekends, getting the basement ready for the castle.
Even at age 3, Z was already used to working on DIY projects with Daddy – they’ve been working together since she could walk. But this time, she didn’t know what he was building – and he told her it was a big secret.
Needless to say, that ramped up her curiosity and she became even more obsessed with visiting Daddy and “helping” him on the mysterious basement project. She helped paint the walls, she danced around on the platform to test its structural integrity, and she provided loads of inspiration and moral support during his long days and nights of construction.
Z wasn’t able to guess what he was building until very close to the end, when the castle walls began to take shape. Then it became too difficult to hide the awesome truth from her: she was getting a princess castle of her very own for her 4th birthday!
Over about a two-month span of time, E designed and built a gorgeous hardwood princess castle loft, suspended above a specially lit “moat” crawlspace/hideaway area with an ocean blue, padded foam floor. The castle is lit from within by magical color-changing fairy lights, furnished with versatile Yogibo beanbags and is a 100% kid zone – lucky adults may enter by invitation only!
As if the amazing two-level wooden castle wasn’t cool enough, once E’s parents found out what he was doing, his mom offered to come up and custom paint it.
E’s mom was a gifted artist and the castle became her canvas for two days over Z’s 4th birthday weekend. Grandma didn’t even come to Z’s birthday party – she wanted to stay back at the house and complete her artistic vision on the castle!
Adorned now with her Grandma’s mother and baby dragons, flowering vines, grey and pink bricks, personalized tree and forest creatures, the castle is truly a work of art and a true family heirloom. I’m not sure that we can ever move now. The castle is even more of a treasure since we lost E’s mom this year.
Through the years, the castle has seen puppet shows, sleepovers, games of hide and seek and tons of princess dress-up play.
Alas, Z has stopped playing in it for the most part – but when she has a friend over for a playdate or sleepover, the castle always gets a little love. During the home renovations of 2020, the castle got a pull-down desk and shutters installed, so Z can have more privacy inside and can use it as a makeup studio or creativity corner to journal and write.
The castle brought up fond childhood memories for me because my own dad built us kids an A-frame treehouse at one house, and at another an A-frame clubhouse in the woods with a raised boardwalk entrance. It was so cool! I’m sure my dad wished we played in it more than we did – but looking back, it was amazing and I wish we had spent more time in it. I also wish I had some photos of that clubhouse!
Have you ever built something epic for your kids to play in – or did your parents do that for you when you were young? I’d love to hear your fort, clubhouse and play fort stories in the comments below or over on Facebook.