modern DIY outdoor playhouse: tour and how to

The girls have been playing outside so much since the weather improved, and it was time to give them a proper playhouse! There is no lack of inspiration for kids outdoor playhouses, but I had searched for a while and hadn’t quite come across anything that would be right for us, so I jumped in and designed and made it myself. I am not a builder. This is the very first time I have tackled a project like this (unless you count the sandbox. I do not.). There might be easier/better ways to do this than the way I did it, since I relied on my instincts. But hopefully this template will help others that want a custom, fun playhouse project!

It’s not as inexpensive as I had hoped– I still ended up going slightly over my $400 budget (darn you, cute address numbers!)– just so you can be prepared if you tackle this project- but I really, really love how it turned out, and– bonus!!- I actually fit inside. I mean, I’m a shortie at 5’5 and I have to stoop my head, but still! Major bonus point for me. I mean. Why should they have all the fun?!

We learned last summer that it gets H.O.T. in Texas, so the first requirement when I was designing it was that it be nice and open. I also wanted a lot of versatility, so I put a ladder for climbing, a table that folds down (they use it as a table and a stove, for cooking leaf soup, twig noodles, and mud pies), a chalk board, and windows. *I haven’t finished the windows yet. I am planning on putting up some plexiglass panels eventually, but I felt it was “done” enough to share.

I don’t have the tools to cut wood this size, so I had all my cuts done at Home Depot for free. Some of my cuts were off by a fraction of an inch, so I definitely think it would have been better if I had done it myself. If you do, just remember to account for losing a bit of length wherever the cut takes place.

First off, you’ll need:

2-boxes 100 count 2.5 inch wood screws. *Screws are more expensive than nails, but more secure over time and easier to work with*
1- box 100 count 1.5 inch wood screws
25- 1.5 inch L-brackets (or “corner braces”)
4- 4 inch flat corner braces
4 hinges (2 for door, 2 for table)
locking mechanism (for table)

all wood should be pressure treated, making it suitable for outdoor
use. It’s not as pretty (kind of a greenish color) but once it’s stained
you won’t be able to tell, except that it will hold up over time.

2- 8 ft 2×4
8- 44 inch 2×4
1- 4 ft x 8 ft sheet plywood

1- 88 inch 2×4
4- 20 inch 2×4
4- 44 inch 2×4
17- 50 inch 2×4
2- 8 ft 2×4
1- 46 inch 2×4

9- 27.5 inch panels (I used .75 x 3.5 inch siding)
9- 21.5 inch panels
9- 4 ft panels
9- 47.5 inch panels
1- 2 ft x 4 ft sheet plywood, 3/8 inch thick (for door)

5- 47 inch 2×4
5- 9.5 inch 2×4
2 sheets of 2 ft x 8 ft PVC panels

shelves and table:
4- 25 shelves, .75 x 7.25
2- 24 inch 2x4s
23.5 x 18 inch birch panel (table top)

Here’s my best tip:
Pre-drill ALL the holes as you go, before securing the screw– it will
make it not only faster, but easier and more accurate. What a pain to
change from a drill bit to screwdriver, but it’s much better in the long
run. I stripped a few screws and got a few in crooked before I decided
this was the best route, and let me tell you- those screws are not
cheap! Best not to waste any. I would set up the beams in the shape I
needed them, then drill all the holes, then secure with screws.

Here is the base- you’ll want it to measure 8 ft x 4 ft, so put the 44-inch pieces inside of the 8 ft pieces. Mine are evenly spaced every 12 inches. Then put your plywood on top of that (not pictured) and secure the corners and middle of each of the sides to the base.

I am going to call this Wall #1. There are 2- 44 inch 2x4s, one on the top and one on the bottom. Put 1- 50 inch 2×4 on top of the left edge and 2- 50 inch 2x4s on the right, so the space in the middle should measure 38 inches across. When you assemble it to the base, the left side will attach to Wall #2.

Closeup of the bottom of Wall #1. Note that the 50 inch beams are resting on top of the 44 inch 2×4. All of your walls will be done this way.

Wall #2 has 2- 8 ft 2x4s; one on the bottom and one on the top. Starting at the left, put 2- 50 inch 2x4s right next to each other, skip a 17 inch space, secure another 50 inch 2×4, skip a 25 inch space, put another 50 inch 2×4, skip a 24 inch space, put another 50 inch 2×4, skip a 17 inch space, put two 50 inch 2x4s next to each other at the end on the right. This will become the back wall.

Wall #3 has 2- 44 inch 2x4s; one on the bottom and one on the top. Starting at the left, there is 2- 50 inch 2x4s, skip a 16 inch space, secure a 50 inch 2×4, skip a 20 inch space, then put another 50 inch 2×4 on the right edge. I put three 20 inch 2x4s as steps, kind of like a ladder, so the girls can climb in and out if they want to. Mine are 7 inches apart, secured with screws and supported with L brackets. When you assemble it to the base, the right side will attach to Wall #2.

You will need to grab a buddy for this part. Attach wall #2 to the base, lining it up with the longest side along the back. Secure with screws, noting where the screws securing your base already are so that you do not accidentally put a screw on top of them. Have your partner hold it up and attach the other two walls to the base and to each other.

This is front wall is Wall #4. It is not pictured separately because it is
assembled in pieces. First, assemble a U shape, with the 46 inch 2×4
along the bottom and 50 inch 2x4s on each edge. Then assemble a
backwards L shape, with a 20 inch 2×4 along the bottom and a 50 inch 2×4 resting on the right edge. Lay the 88-inch 2×4 along the top and secure to each beam, making sure the beams are lined up straight.

Close up of the U-Shape in Wall #4.

All the walls will be wobbly, so secure all the corners by attaching
flat corner braces. Now would be a good time to start staining. I put on
the side panels first, which made it a little hard to get the beams
between the panels. I also put primer on the base, since the girls were
already starting to play in here.

I wanted a table in here, but I didn’t want it to take up too much space. I put it on hinges so that the girls can fold it up when they aren’t using it.

For the table, I put 2- 24 inch 2×4 support beams in between the 50 inch 2x4s. The table is 23.5x 18 inches, and needed a little support to hold it up, so I turned some support brackets on their side and it is stable enough now. I also had to add a leftover strip of birch so that when the hinges were attached the screws didn’t go through the tabletop. Then added the shelves in the spot next to the table. They moved their pots and pans in before they even had a roof or a door, ha! Girls and their priorities 🙂

Attach the panels to the walls seen; there will be four walls total. My panels are about 2.5 inches apart; it makes the house open and airy and gives me the bonus of being able to see inside while they are playing; but if you wanted to do the panels close together I am sure it would look great– just make sure to purchase extra panels. They are secured with one screw on each side; be sure to pre-drill these also, and don’t over tighten the screws or the panels will start to splinter and crack.

I painted the raw edges of the panels, since they don’t stain evenly.

For the roof, you will need a miter saw (or, in my case, a neighbor with a miter saw…). The edge of the 47 inch beam (the one on the left) is cut at a 15 degree angle. It is secured to the flat side of a 9.5 inch 2×4. (The top of my 9.5 inch pieces are cut at a 30 degree angle, but they don’t have to be cut that way– in fact, it would probably be easier not to cut them, but I didn’t want to cut off the angle and loose any height, so we left it.) Secure each of the 5- 47 inch 2x4s to a 9.5 inch 2×4 and place on top of the structure. I drilled and screwed each of these from the underside and added an L bracket to the top of each of the beams for added support (pictured below). Add L brackets to the opposite side to hold it in place.

The PVC panels were really easy to attach. I was worried about cracking the panel when I drilled through it, but it was probably the easiest part of the project. They didn’t have to be trimmed at all, they just overlap one of the “bumps” (maybe someone could suggest a better way to word that??) and fit perfectly centered on top of the beams. Secure the panels with the 1.5 inch wood screws. The beams on each side have 4 screws (one at the top, one at the bottom, and one on each side where it overlaps the other panel), the other three beams have 2 screws (one at the top and one at the bottom).

I found the door panel in the 70% off bin at Home Depot, which reminds me to tell you: Check the discount bin!! I wasn’t planning on doing the door for a while, but for $3 I couldn’t pass it up. It’s a 2 ft x 4 ft sheet that is 3/8 inch thick. It had a big, fat, purple stamp on the bottom that said “70% off” so instead of sanding it down I just painted the white section along the bottom. It doesn’t quite fill the gap perfectly, it’s about 2 inches off the floor and there is a 1.5 inch gap at the top– but I think that fits nicely with how open the rest of the house is.

I wanted a chalkboard in there for them, and was all set to make it myself since we have leftover chalkboard paint from our playroom makeover, but this board was $9.99 at Home Depot– the same price I was about to pay for the raw wood to do it myself- and it was all set to go. I keep colored chalk in a thrifted bowl, along with some paint brushes (so far I have been successful in just letting them paint with water…)

We also have a few toys from the One Spot at Target; some rhythm sticks, tambourine shakers, a birdie from their badminton set…

They use this fold down table as a stove to “cook”;  I made the stools out of the leftover birch that the table is made from.

Lately they use the ladder/window area to order and deliver food– and they love yelling “NUMBER 89!! Number 89, your order is ready!” Maybe we eat at food trucks too often, ha!

The picnic table, plant, round black rug, and container are from IKEA. I painted the sides of the table to brighten it up a little.

They still want a mailbox and a chimney. I’ll be happy if I get around to doing the windows 🙂



  1. Just a shout out to let you know I put one of these in my back yard for my little girls (one a ginger). We played around with your design a bit, but thanks for the basic blueprint! The girls love it!

  2. Hi Stephanie, I love your play house. After my daughter decided she didn’t want a loft bed I’ve been looking for a project for the wood.
    We moved to Austin a year ago & an enclosed play house seemed like a scorpion house or sweat box. After reading the article & the food truck comment I realized you had to be in Austin as well. (My wife has been eyeballing backyards looking for your playhouse.) Nice to know it works here.

    Do you have any changes to your plans?
    Anything you wish you added or wish you didn’t?
    About the only change I’m thinking of is putting in a few colored plexiglass squares. I will also be using a kreg jig to join the wood.

    • Hey Jason! Nice to see a local on here! A friend of mine (also in Austin) recently enlisted her carpenter step-father to construct a playhouse for her kids based on my design, I haven’t had a chance to see it in person but you can see some of the changes (mostly in the angles on the roof beams) over on her instagram account, Other than that, our playhouse has held up really well over the years and our kids use it almost daily. The only adjustment I would make would be to re-design the table, or how it attaches to the wall, since they put a lot of weight on it. I think they plexiglass sounds awesome! Hope you send over some pics of the final product, good luck!

  3. Hi! Looking forward to trying this out this summer in upstate NY! Do you remember how much the materials cost? Even a ballpark… just wondering! Thanks and I’ll share pics once we are finished!

    • Hi Fiona! The materials came to just about $400. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it’s held up really well throughout all the seasons over the years and constant use by my girls. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  4. Question – how stable do you think this design would be if I put it up on stilts? We have uneven ground here and I can just see it getting water bogged if it couldn’t air out underneath. Adorable design!!

    • Hey Katie! I’ve seen a number of raised platform playhouses and I’m sure this design would hold up as long as it has a sturdy base. I bet if you ask an expert in the lumber department they can recommend the right sized support beams and placement. Good luck!

  5. Hi, just wondering if you ended up adding your windows and the children’s wishes of a letterbox? would love to see an updated picture.

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