Drôle House Blog

Postcard 9

{Postcard 9} - "How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional?" Submitted by Tarryn

{Postcard 9}: How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional? - Submitted by Tarryn

Tarryn's second floor apartment entrance is up a narrow flight of stairs. In her sketch, she points to the "shoe mess" that inevitably collects in piles right at the doorway, making it challenging to move through especially dragging a stroller and pre-schooler.

Tarryn's interior design challenge includes:

  • a narrow shared stairway entrance to a second floor apartment
  • the need to store a family-of-four's worth of winter boots and shoes outside the door
  • the need for solution to be moveable (i.e.: no holes in the wall) because it's an apartment
  • keeping the passway and landing as clear as possible for neighbours
  • re-using the solution in a future home

Entrances without vestibules are so frustrating in northern climates! Having a door enter directly into a hallway leaves very little room for anything but circulation. Where is all the stuff supposed to go? Not clutter, just everyday boots, umbrellas and stroller stuff. The design of this apartment complex didn't accommodate wintertime use let alone the needs of families with littles ones. So, how to fix it?

One possible idea is a tetris-like custom shoe storage bench that fits directly on to the stairs. It's made as bench structure first, with a stepped plywood back for sturdiness. Channels can be routered in the main structure to fit 1/4" panels to divide the storage into cubbies of different sizes. It keeps shoes organized off the floor, as well as comfortable child's height bench (and adult on the longer end) for putting on and removing shoes.

Though a custom piece like this wouldn't likely fit on any other staircase because of the variety of stair riser heights, it can have insanely fun alternate uses. It can be flipped to become a modernist play structure/dollhouse or wall mounted to transform into a child's desk. See? Like tetris.

What alternative uses can you see?







Playbox Fundraiser

Calling all local Toronto makers, designers, scientists and artists! Drôle House is organizing a fundraiser for charity and I think you'll get a kick out of participating! 

Drôle House's PLAYBOX FUNDRAISER --here's how it works:

1. An empty wooden playbox is delivered to your home or office in Toronto by October 28, 2016.

2. You create an inviting visual and useable playbox installation within it by November 14, 2016.

3. Drôle House will pick it up and auction it off on the Children's Storefront online silent auction between November 15 and December 6, 2016.

Email for details and to register your participation HERE.

If you aren't a maker, but are excited to bid on one of these one-of-a-kind playboxes for your family, go to www.childrensstorefront.com for the online auction between November 15th and December 6th, 2016 or come see them in person at 826 Bloor St West in Toronto.

Please share widely!



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Positive and Negative Space - Landscape Play

This past August was a month of construction projects during our yearly holiday away from the city at my parents' property in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The whole family helped prep formwork and pour concrete, framed and sheathed a building addition, built a treehouse, and installed solar panels like it was NBD.

To the grown-up builders among us, construction is as close to creative, challenging and risky play as adulthood allows. Assembling seemingly unrelated pieces to create, test and reassemble, climbing too high and feeling the thrill of fear, problem solving, collaborating, all the while testing the physical limits of our bodies. I went to bed exhausted, dreaming about banging in roofing nails in two precise and satisfying blows (if only!). It was the adult version of loose parts play that I wrote about here

At the same time we were building, I felt the urge to take something away. Clear out a space, carve something out of the dense wilderness around us to balance the work. I wanted to explore the idea of using voids for play in a way that would be impermanent (i.e. so I couldn't screw it up). I decided to attempt this dance between positive and negative space with two small landscape projects.

The first was a simple maze cut out of a disused baseball field.

By cutting something away, the field was transformed from a static lookout to the ocean, to a dynamic mini-landscape to charge into and explore. The kids couldn't help but run in, leap and hide behind the taller thickets. A maze invites movement and exploration. It is a small, temporal project with great impact. No construction, just void.

The second landscape was what I call a forest tunnel. The woods are mostly too dense to penetrate on foot. I carved a tunnel, not for walking through, but as an unexpected view to connect one landscape to the next.


 It's a tube of space cut at child height, and only visible in one particular spot on either side. One side frames a road- and way home- and the other frames a view to the water. From any other angle, the forest tunnel is just the same old forest. Unexpected views like this one can be an invitation to find a way to the other side. Surprise and delight.

Reflecting on the summer of building and taking away, I realized we all seek positive and negative spaces whether we know it or not. We accumulate and purge, seek enclosure and expanse, build spaces to be together and spaces to be alone. They are the two sides of the same coin. However, in that negative space - inside that void - holds the greatest potential for play. 

It's a concept worth exploring more: how to discover and create negative spaces in the places we live, the space where play is born.

Where are the voids in your home?


Scrappy Toys

Have you heard about loose parts play? If you've ever been to a playground like Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto, then you've seen how intensely kids play when they have the freedom to create their own spaces with wood, shovels and dirt. Messy? Oh yes. Risky? Debatable. Fun? Undeniably. Having loose parts in a school playground would basically be a (traditional) principal's nightmare!

Perspectives on outdoor play are changing. There is a re-emerging field of research called playwork, which links free outdoor play, child development and creativity. You may have seen glimpses of it in The Land movie, or read about it on Playgroundology, or even here and here.  One facet of playwork is based on the theory of loose parts, described by architect Simon Nicholson in the seventies. He believed that creativity was intrinsic to each child and wanted to developed ways to make play spaces more engaging for children. My kinda guy! Nicholson wrote:

"In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it" - Simon Nicholson (click here to read it yourself)

Scrappy toys like these fit well into playwork. They combine re-use of scrap building materials, outdoor play, risk (danger + play I will get to another time), gross and fine motor skill mastery, and result in engrossing creative play. It works for a range of ages because the complexity of the creations develop along with the child. At first, kids cobble things together without much planning. Maybe your kid ends up nailing a million nails into one end of a plank (ta da!) - just for the fun of banging - and maybe next time nailing is easier and another skill can be tested, and so the creation evolves. It takes time without parents hovering over kids to see a creation unfold, perhaps into WWII war ships like the passionate builder of some of the models here, or discard ideas completely and start anew. My in-laws were at the head of the pack in the seventies letting their kids do this (many of these boats were made by my spouse at age 9). No surprise there as they were educators and highly creative people themselves.

The next time you have a few scrap two-by-fours around from a home reno, try it out. A few hammers, lots and lots of nails of different sizes - and submitting to the fear of a bashed thumb- is all it takes. If it's not for you or your kids, donate your materials to Pop-Up Adventure Play or your nearest Habitat re-store.

Happy building!


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Postcard 7

{How to separate sitting space from play space for kids?} - Submitted by James

{How to separate sitting space from play space for kids?} - Submitted by James

James' backyard, like most backyards, has two personalities. The grown-up needs for entertaining, hanging out and gardening can conflict with kids' independent play and the inevitable scattering of toys. James wants to enjoy his backyard, have more privacy from neighbours but still maintain a kids' play zone. 

This outdoor design challenge includes:

  • a zig-zag shaped backyard with lots of concrete
  • three active boys who love sports and need some hard surfaces to play
  • the need to maintain the access through the backyard to the basement apartment for tenant
  • allowing intimate dining and kids play to happen side by side

The first suggestion would be to take up all necessary concrete and replace with grass or vegetation to help define the visual separation of the adult zone (green zone) and kids zone (hard surfaces for playing sports). Using the garage as an anchor point, you can build a moveable partition wall that first slides out on a track and includes a rotating half (with multi-directional wheel at the base) that can be folded in both directions to create "rooms". Each side of the wall can be clad with different materials and have multiple functions. 

Configurations for the room can include enclosed dining, a room and screen for outdoor movies (adult side) as well as playing/climbing wall, drawing or writing surfaces, and a cabana/fort (kids side). The cladding materials can be subtle and interchangeable, or quite sturdy to endure boisterous play.  When the partition wall is tucked back into it's 'closed' position, the kids can have the run of the place.  

What functions would you add to an moveable outdoor room?



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Simple Monkey Bar

I hate toys. No, that's not entirely true. I just wish they magically put themselves away, or repaired themselves when broken, or changed into something different once the kids got bored, or at the very least didn't scatter throughout the house like dandelion seeds. There are a few exceptions of course, but toys are generally two per cent useful and ninety eight percent clean-up. I wish there was a way to design them to invisibly blend into the background of the home. 

This is a simple monkey bar prototype inspired by website requests. Though chin up bars similar to this can be found pretty cheaply online, this prototype has three sets of cradles can be placed at any height along a wooden door frame to accommodate many users, from aged two to adult. Adjustable bars like this one, that can be put together in an afternoon, dismantled and stored in a jiffy, that even a young child can easily use and change, well, that is something worth trying out. 

This simple monkey bar is made of a cut galvanized steel fence post, anchored into it's plywood cradle with simple nut and bolt hardware. A stopper installed directly above the bar can be turned to 'lock' and 'unlock' it from it's cradle for added safety. The plywood cradle and latch are of 3/4" plywood, screwed through to the door studs. The bar can be stored away out of sight atop the door trim, where two drilled holes are concealed. 

If you'd like to know more, comment below! 



Postcard 4

{Postcard 4}- "How can I build flexible, multi-use play blocks in my backyard" Submitted by Karine

{Postcard 4}- "How can I build flexible, multi-use play blocks in my backyard" Submitted by Karine

Karine's challenge includes:

  • designing multi function, durable exterior stools for sitting and playing on
  • that can also be used to define an area of the backyard
  • be moveable and stackable by children

The idea here is to make a multi-functional garden box stool that could be a more useful and durable alternative to the traditional crate. Material choices such as light weight half inch recycled plastic panels, marine plywood or engineered wood are definitely more durable and stronger than pine. The panels can be cut to five equal sixteen inch squares and attached into a cube with L brackets screwed to the inside. Offsetting all the edges, though limiting the strength of the box, does allow for easy grasping and stacking for kids, better drying for durability, and has the bonus feature of more easily being turned into a lantern. The garden boxes can be any colour, used as stools or stepping stones, made into walls and forts, be stacked as high as bar tables for outdoor parties, and by adding a battery or solar powered light fixture inside each, can glow from within.


Welcome to Drôle House!

Welcome to Drôle House: Collaborative Design For Families. The business and website are up and running!

My name is Deborah Mesher. I have my Masters of Architecture, three energetic kids, and a passion for making old homes more functional, fun, and adaptive to modern families. Drôle House can help you with additions, renovations, playscapes and furniture from schematic design to permit and construction drawings.

I will be at the Wychwood Barns in Toronto on Sunday May 15th, 2016, woman-ing my booth at The Bump To Baby Show. It's free, so bring the family, come find me, see some inspiring projects, and get free design advice about your home.

Subscribe to my blog to know more and be one of the first to receive my FREE idea book about freeing up space in your home called The Extra Room.

Playfully yours,