For most parents, the words Wendy House conjure up images of wobbly plastic huts that last one summer before being abandoned at the bottom of the garden in a lurid heap.
But a new trend for luxury play homes has made some children the envy of their friends.
Exquisitely crafted, with sumptuous interiors, and even double garages and balconies, these stunning two-storey structures have more floor space than some city pied-à-terres – and come with a price tag to match, costing up to £15,000.
Here, CAROL DRIVER spoke to three families who just love their mini garden mansions…
HUNTING LODGE INTERIORS WITH WORKING ELECTRICITY AND HEATING
Natalie Reeves Billing, 39, lives in Thornton Hough, Wirral, with her husband Colin, 61, and splashed out £15,000 on a Wendy House for their daughter Ellie Rose, six, and son Nathaniel, seven (Also pictured Natalie’s stepson Greg Billing and his girlfriend Megan)
WHO?: Natalie Reeves Billing, 39, lives in Thornton Hough, Wirral, with her husband Colin, 61, and their daughter Ellie Rose, six, and son Nathaniel, seven.
SAID: ‘Childhood is such a special time. I am the author of My Mummy Is A Monster, so I wanted to create a wonderful make-believe place in our garden that the children (and big children!) could escape to.
‘I found someone who made bespoke Wendy houses and asked them to replicate a miniature version of our home. I was delighted with the finished result – it’s like something out of a story book, built into the beautiful copse in the woodland behind our home.
The mother-of-two spent £15,000 creating a miniature version of her home in her back garden and the two-storey home features real windows and outdoor decking
‘I’ve never been into fashion or jewellery – experiences are so much more important – so was happy to splash out the £15,000 needed to make it perfect. We see it as an investment.
‘When Nathaniel and Ellie Rose were really little, it was quite babyish, with soft play inside. But as they got a bit older we got it decorated to look like a hunting lodge, with sofas and a faux fire.
‘We got the artist who painted the murals at Alder Hey Hospital to help fully transform it, by painting on wonderfully realistic timbers and stone work. We now call it Baby Billings’ House.
‘On the mezzanine level there’s a trapdoor, which they can lift and go down the slide that takes them outside the back of the house. It has working water, electricity and heating too to keep it cosy.
The family have dubbed their Wendy House Baby Billings’ House and had it painted to look like a hunting lodge by the same artist who painted the murals at Alder Hey Hospital
‘Before lockdown, I wouldn’t allow them to go to the playhouse on their own, but we have become more relaxed, as we can still see them playing from the conservatory.
‘They love having that extra bit of freedom and their imaginative play has really come alive. It’s lovely and is such a great feeling to hear them so happy.
‘The house has also given them a sense of responsibility. They keep it clean and tidy, and take pride in making sure it’s looked after.
‘It’s something they will never really outgrow. And during this time, it’s really come into its own. We feel very blessed!’
WE’LL KEEP CONVERTING IT AS THEY GROW TALLER
Victoria Bovington, 46, is a freelance artist, who lives with her partner Iain Fox, 51, in Hilperton, Wiltshire and spent £8,000 on her Wendy House for daughters Kitty, nine, and Delphine, seven,
WHO? Victoria Bovington, 46, a freelance artist, lives with her partner Iain Fox, 51, and her daughters Kitty, nine, and Delphine, seven, in Hilperton, Wiltshire.
SAID: ‘My mother Rosalind and stepfather Chris bought the playhouse about five years ago to have in their garden for all their grandchildren – they have seven in total – to share. We live about just a 30-second walk from them, so our girls are the lucky ones who get to use it the most.
‘They’ve got a lovely big garden, with a swimming pool and a tennis court and its wonderful home for all the family to come together.
The mother-of-two said her children often pretend to be grown ups in their Wendy House, with one taking on the role of mother and another acting as child
‘They chose this beautiful, two-storey 17ft-long and 10ft-high structure, with a staircase and decking, which cost £8,000 from Tinytown Playhomes.
‘How the children play with the Wendy House hasn’t really changed much over the years. The kids all pretend to be grown ups and take on roles; one’s always the mum and the other the child and they have little tea parties.
‘It’s accumulated various bits and pieces over the years. One family member donated a children’s kitchen that they love to ‘cook’ on, and there are lots of soft toys and dolls.
‘We threw a birthday party for Kitty a few years ago and invited friends and family. There was a treasure hunt, with clues hidden all around the garden and the final prize was hidden in the house, which was great fun.
Their two-storey 17ft-long and 10ft-high structure, with a staircase and decking, cost £8,000 and features wooden floors and a table and chairs inside
As the children grow older, the upstairs level will be removed so they don’t have to crouch down while moving around
‘And it’s not just our family that has benefited. I used to work at a local pre-school and on occasion, small groups of the children have come into play in the house.
‘Mum and Chris are generously having it converted in the summer now the children are getting a bit bigger. The upstairs level will be removed so they don’t have to crouch, and there will be a ladder up to the balcony.
‘Five years after they bought it the children still absolutely adore playing inside it.
‘What’s nice is that, with all the devices children have, once they’re inside their playhouse, they really use their imaginations. And there’s an adult table and chairs outside, so while they’re having fun, the grown-ups can relax too.’
UPSTAIRS BEDROOM WITH A REAL BED
Donna Hutchby, 39, a cabin crew manager, lives with her husband Dean, 48, spent £5,000 on a Wendy House for their two children Sienna, eight, and Harrison, seven
WHO? Donna Hutchby, 39, a cabin crew manager, lives with her husband Dean, 48, who runs his own engineering company, and their two children Sienna, eight, and Harrison, seven.
SAID: ‘The children had a small playhouse when they were very little, but they quickly outgrew it, so I wanted to find one that they could enjoy for years to come.
‘I knew how I wanted it to look and the colours I wanted it to be, but I couldn’t find one that ticked all the boxes.
Outside, the terrace features window boxes, solar lanterns a floral swing set and a white picket fence – and cost £500 to fit
‘I like to put my stamp on things and love sharing my interiors on my Instagram @myhomedecordays, and quickly realised this would be an ongoing project; it turned out to be an investment of both time, and money!
‘The actual structure cost £1,000, but it was just one level, and very basic-looking – a far cry from the fairytale playhouse I had envisioned.
‘So over the next few months, we spent more than £2,500 on materials including wood, proper tiles, polycarbonate for the windows, a chimney and lots of accessories.
‘The roof got taken off and we turned it into a double-storey house, with a bedroom upstairs with an actual bed.
Donna spent more than £2,500 on materials including wood, proper tiles, polycarbonate for the windows, a chimney and lots of accessories for indoors and outdoors, including various outdoor benches and a table
‘There’s vinyl flooring so it feels like a proper tiny home and downstairs there are a table and chairs as well as a big mirror and a doll’s house where Sienna likes to pretend she’s a hairdresser.
‘Outside, fitting up the terrace alone cost £500, and we also added window boxes, solar lanterns.
‘When we’d finished, it was four metres tall, by 3.5 metres wide and 2.5 metres deep.
‘Next we spent £1,500 on a jungle gym climbing frame. I painted it to match the house, bought two more swings, and turned the sandpit at the base into a garage for their car.
She spent an additional £1,500 on a jungle gym climbing frame and painted it to match the house, bought two more swings, and turned the sandpit at the base into a garage for their car
‘However they soon outgrew that too, so during lockdown I used pallets to transform it into a cafe. It’s been great for homeschooling as the children can play shop and buy and sell things to each other.
‘They love playing with it – and it’s wonderful to watch them as their imaginations develop.
‘Yes it’s been expensive, and people think I’m crazy, but if you build something out of wood it lasts longer than plastic and doesn’t fade. And I love doing things for children – it’s lovely to see the final result.
The stunning interior of the two-storey house features vinyl flooring table and chairs as well as a big mirror and a doll’s house