Pat,Ember,Barbara,Eileen & Suzanne
When I was a kid, we roamed free around the neighborhoods of the small upstate New York town where I grew up with the only rule "be home by dark". Kids today don’t have quite as much freedom of movement: their lives are heavily scheduled with classes, sports and carpools and they can’t wander off unwatched. The family backyard is the safe haven: a place to congregate with their friends and to explore the huge world of their imaginations. The backyard play structure becomes an outdoor playroom that encourages kids to turn off the TV and computer, and go outside to play.
For the past fifteen years I have specialized in creating imaginative play structures for the family backyard. It started when I was building decks and a client asked for a play structure. Once I did my first one, I was hooked. Since then I have built over 200 original designs throughout the United States and I have gone as far as the south of France for an installation.
Bobby & Debbie McFerrin’s play structure
My structures have changed through the years as I have studied and listened to what kids want. From the very beginning I have been intrigued with the idea of making imaginative play structures that are strong and safe for both kids and parents to play on together. I strive to create a beautiful architectural piece that complements the garden and is a joy to look at, year after year, in all kinds of weather.
One of my first big clients was singer /songwriter Bobby McFerrin and his wife Debbie.
It was 1987 and Bobby’s song "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" was becoming a #1 hit. The McFerrins hired me to tackle their yard.
It turned out to be a huge project which included a request for a unique play structure. I threw myself into my research by playing on every play structure in San Francisco.
In the end, I carved abstract totem poles and colored them with brightly colored stains I made from scratch, fabricated a slide from a sheet of stainless steel, and used my old truck tire for the swing.
The learning curve was brutal but I was in love: I had to do another play structure! Fortunately one job led to another and soon I was specializing in play structures.
Several celebrity clients helped bring attention to my struggling business:
Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates commissioned a large play structure for their summer home in the Hudson Valley of New York.
Robert Redford commissioned me to design a global village play area. Jada Pinckett Smith purchased my Storybook playhouse with carved animals all over it. Lou Adler decided on a dramatic lighthouse for his Malibu beachfront property.
James & Janet, head up our LA operations
Lead Builders Sean Butler (above) & Arthur Judson (below)
My business has grown in fifteen years to a staff of 11 highly skilled "play professionals" and just about all of my family: my business partners are my husband, Jeff, my sister, Suzanne, and my 2 brothers, Robert & James (James and his wife, Janet DeMay, head up our Los Angeles operation). My nephew, Sean, is one of our lead builders and my 2 nieces, Gabrielle and Lila, work in the office and sometimes the shop. My sisters Pat, Ember and Eileen come visit every year for the Garden Shows (any excuse for the sisters to get together and have a great time!) and my actor/director brother Michael lends his creative talents regularly. I am proud to say that my parents, Betty & Jim, who have supported me wholeheartedly from the beginning (both financially and emotionally) participate in all aspects of the business every chance they get. And although not technically family,
our skilled employees, Arthur (Lead Builder), Alison (Stainer) and Jose (Builder Assistant) seem like family.
Youngest crew member, Lindsea, showing approval!
Mom & Dad
Teena Albert, Photographer
I love to say that having a family reunion is like having a Board of Directors meeting.
And my family would not be complete without Teena Albert, my close friend of many years, devoted fan, and most excellent photographer! Teena has documented my work from the beginning and holds a very special place in my heart!
We attribute our success to the uniqueness of our designs, the high quality of our craftsmanship, our commitment to safety, our talent for color and our joy of play. Our redwood structures are loaded with creative touches that children love, such as jails with secret escapes, doors with sliding "who-goes there" peepholes, rock climbing towers, bridges with hand-woven rope railings, door knockers and mailboxes. We have a large workshop in South San Francisco where we build the play structures modularly and ship them around the country. Many are custom, site-specific projects but we also offer a line of standard playhouses and play forts to fit a variety of yards.
James, Robert, Suzanne, Barbara & Michael