I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the playset Elsie and Collin made for their first home in Nashville, but it is amazing! When our daughter Lola got a little older and we moved to our Pittsburgh house last fall, I thought we had a great spot in the back yard for a play set with a flat little back yard area (right by our back door that is easy to see) our large kitchen windows). I checked out Elsie’s DIY and really wanted to build it, but we’re in the middle of renovating an entire house and honestly, the thought of building a playset from scratch was just more than I wanted to take on anything else on our plate.
I looked around to buy a playset instead, but as you may already know, it’s next to impossible to find a cute one in a modern / trendy color scheme unless you’re really paying big bucks for a more specialized set (which I didn’t want to spend on all of our other house projects that we have to do). So I thought that maybe it would be best to buy a cheap set and use it as a starting tray that I could tweak a bit with a few additions to make it feel more individual but without having to tinker the whole thing yourself. Found this budget friendly set, dropped some of their pieces and added some new elements to match the vibes and colors of our modern mid-century pitched roof house from the 60s. Honestly, it turned out so cute – I’ll show you what I did!
First we bought the set and put it together with the help of an assembly app from the manufacturer (super helpful compared to the paper instructions!). I omitted the vinyl plastic panel backing on the back of the tower, climbing rocks, and domed top that comes with the set. You can leave the climbing rocks on if you want but the ladder isn’t that high and we have a big 4 year old. So there isn’t much for them to climb at height and it looked cleaner just to leave them out and use them as a regular ladder.
After we got the game’s shell up and running, it was time for customization! I used this primer and spray paint to paint the foil pink with lots of thin coats and dry the drying time between coats according to the directions. I know painting a foil isn’t going to be a one-off solution forever, and from what I’ve seen, people who do say that you have to touch up the paint seasonally to make it look beautiful. But I basically do that with a lot of my outdoor furniture at the beginning of the summer season. So, this isn’t a deal breaker for me – absolutely worth having a pink slide! I found it helpful to use a super fine sandpaper once the paint was completely dry to make sure the sliding surface was really smooth. I lightly buffed it in circles with a fine grain sanding sponge and that helped remove any texture that had built up from the layers of paint to make it slippery again. Just make sure you wipe off the sanding dust before sliding, or your child will get caught up in it! Trust me. And side note: sliding down the slide with lots of buttons and visible zippers on the back of the clothes will likely scratch the paint off, but I knew most of their toys are leggings and soft shorts and so far we haven’t had any problems with it.
After the slide was finished, it was time to work on the tower’s back window. I bought three boards that I ripped up to 10 ″ with a table saw, and they cut them to 32 ″ wide with my miter saw. You can also just buy boards that are as close as possible to 10 inches high so you only have to cut them to 32 inches wide if you don’t have a table saw (you can just have a slightly larger or smaller gap between each board if I). I traced a 14 inch circle between the top two boards and used my jigsaw so I could cut out a window for the back. Then I painted the boards with white exterior paint and was able to secure them with screws through the back posts of the window area.
Now to the top! If you wish, you can use the included awning as a pattern to create a new cover from your own outdoor material for a faster upgrade. But since we have a legitimate mid-century pitched roof on our house, I thought it would be fun if the playhouse had one too. I basically made a rectangular frame out of 2 “x 2” boards that measured 40 “x 27” with a support plate in the middle. For the support posts I cut two 17 ″ high front parts with a 10 ° angle at the top so that the rectangular frame sits on top of it at an angle and cut the back supports with a 10 ° angle at 14 ″ high above.
Get a helper and clamp the legs onto your playset frame in the locations shown above, and center and level the rectangular frame on the legs. Attach the top to the legs by screwing it into the legs from the top of the rectangular frame and then screwing the legs into the wooden playset frame as well before removing the clamps. To keep the awning wood weatherproof, I also painted it on the outside with Valspar Hazelnut Coffee to match the rest of the cedar wood in the set (you don’t need a lot of paint, so that you get a tester size rather than a liter). You can also remove the awning structure from the playset for painting and reattach it if you’d rather paint on the floor, which is a lot easier. Then I used this screw in snaps to secure the fabric canopy (instructions on how to do this below) to the top of the structure.
To make the canopy top I basically folded 3 yards of outdoor fabric (similar here) in half so that there were two layers (right sides facing each other) and traced a 40 “x 37” rectangle with straight pins. Then I traced half a 5 “paper circle along the front and back edges (the 40” wide sides are the front and back sides) to make a scalloped design, and sewn around the rectangle, leaving a 4 “gap one left the sides open so I could twist it through this hole after sewing it. Once it’s sewn, I cut a 1/3-inch seam allowance all around and cut small “V” s into the scalloped edges so they lay flat when you flip it over (like here at the 2:50 minute mark). Then I flipped it over to the right and used some fabric glue to tape the 4 “opening and add the snaps on the edges and corners so I could snap it onto the roof. You could just nail it to the roof, but I did thought there might be some occasions when the fabric could pull off a tube or wash it and it would be nice to tear it off easily.
Next, it was time to add some planters! While you could buy some planters and just screw them on, they’re pretty easy to make. So I just took a couple of 7.5 “x 0.75” boards for the front and back and 3.5 “x 0.75” boards for the bottom and sides and made a box that was 26 “long and 5 “deep to mount on the slide. and another just long enough to sit between the rocking legs. I tried assembling with just my nail gun but they started pulling apart so I went back and instead secured all the sides with screws (pre-drill so you don’t split the wood!). Paint with some outside paint to seal the wood and drill every 4 inch holes in the base plate to ensure drainage, and you’re ready to add your plants!
You don’t have to angled the edges of your floor box like I did, but it fits nicely and snugly between your legs … legs (my miter saw had a small groove and a special mark for 31.5 ° cutting so check that yours does that too) .
After screwing the planters in place and adding plants, we tightened those handles to make it easier to get to the top of the ladder and my play set was finally ready! Lola was so happy with this playset (as you can see) and when I had made all the additions she turned to me and said, “This playground is great !!” My mother’s heart was so warm. Depending on the cost of the fabric you get or how beautiful the wood you buy, you can make all of these additions for under $ 200 so your playset will still stay in a cheaper category compared to many others bespoke ones I’ve seen …
So, if you’ve always wanted a cute, custom, mid-century inspired playset, but don’t want to do all the work of building it from scratch, consider buying your own set and making some custom additions! I know I’m so glad we did 😉 xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman.