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Playhouse

Local architect constructs playhouse with recycling, reusing in mind
by: vern uyetake West Linn’s Thomas Boes used his architectural know-how to build this playhouse — constructed mainly of recycled materials — for his sons.

Providing his sons with both an opportunity to play and an opportunity to learn, West Linn resident Thomas Boes is putting the finishing touches on a playhouse that's the envy of all the kids the block.

Boes, an architect, said he'd originally built a similar playhouse at the family's old house in the Woodstock neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

'I wanted to do something a little different,' he said.

He said he'd wanted to use the structure as a learning tool - an 'eco-playhouse' of sorts - to teach his sons - Kieran, 8, and Jemiah, 6 - about environmentally friendly living.

This original playhouse was outfitted with solar lighting, garden boxes and piping that collected rainwater in a six-gallon bucket, which Kieran could then run into an attached sandbox.

Boes said Kieran would ask for the bucket to be refilled with water when he'd used up the rainwater collected, but that he'd have to wait until it rained again instead.

'I think the most important thing he learned was (the importance of) conserving water,' Boes said.

When it was time to move, the playhouse was painted and used as an asset to sell with the house. The family had lived in its new home in the Robinwood neighborhood of West Linn for less than six months, however, when Jemiah began asking to go back and play at the house once again.

Boes then decided to recreate the playhouse again, expanding on his original design ideas.

Boes first built a woodshed to house the piles he'd stocked during the snowstorm in 2008 and decided to design the playhouse as if it'd sit on top of this shed.

'I didn't want to attach it to a tree so I decided to build it next to the tree,' he said.

It was at this time, however, the economic downturn hit, Boes lost his job and started his own architectural design firm.

'There was no extraneous money, and (the playhouse) wasn't a priority,' he said.

The project then turned into a game of sorts, assembling the playhouse piece by piece over the next couple years with found materials.

Whether from friends, neighbors, clients or his own home improvement projects, Boes said that - aside from the playhouse's base structural wood and studs - he used all recycled supplies.

The sheet metal for its roof, for example, comes from a barn that was deconstructed in McMinnville; its cedar siding came from a neighbor's interior remodel down the street. The birdhouses fixed to the tree were bought at garage sales, and bamboo shoots planted beneath the playhouse came from a neighbor's yard as well.

Sitting on top of the woodshed, the structure now features an ecoroof that drains through rainwater into a 60-gallon tank Boes originally built for a client who didn't end up using it.

The water is filtered through sand before it's collected in the tank, and the Boes have planted bean plants, oregano and grass in the filter as their version of a green roof.

Kieran and Jemiah can take the water from the tank to the sandbox that's attached to the front of the playhouse. And, as the family has a cat, sliding doors prevent the sandbox from doubling as a litterbox when they're not at play.

The playhouse is accessed with a ladder inside the shed and opens up to a deck that surrounds a large oak tree.

Boes said he's hoping to acquire some cabinet doors from a kitchen remodel to cover the opening next month.

As the project was all about recycling and reusing, Boes said the playhouse has also provided the opportunity to teach the boys about sustainable techonology.

Currently, they've taken solar panels from mole traps to experiment with creating sound makers, lights and now spinners that twirl using energy from the panels.

Boes said they'll soon be attaching a pulley system to the playhouse's deck and he's considering building a rope bridge from one of the other large trees in the yard.

'This (project) plays into (our firm's) whole design ethic,' Boes said. 'It's all about small and doing more with less.

'It's about practicing sustainability, not just as a play of marketing but to make something meaningful.'