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A Home Fit for a Kid : A Woodland Hills carpenter constructs customized playhouses to suit a wide range of tastes and pocketbooks.

August 26, 1994|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to The Times

WOODLAND HILLS — For Shirley Rees and her 5-year-old granddaughter, Susan, stepping into their back yard is like stepping into another era. It's a time of white wicker chairs and silver serving trays, a time for such genteel pursuits as sipping tea, reading stories or just listening as the birds chirp their songs.

If it all sounds rather 19th Century, rather British, well that's exactly what Rees intended--an English garden to complement and enhance a certain, small back-yard garden cottage.

"This is not an ordinary playhouse," Rees said. "The bottom line is that this is something I have always dreamed about. Something that I've always envisioned for relaxing. Something that I could enjoy right alongside my granddaughter."

But it wasn't easy finding just the right structure--and the person to build it.

"If you look in the Yellow Pages, what you find is mostly the standard playground equipment," Rees said. "There is a place in San Diego that makes playhouses, but they offer only very preconceived structures, with very cut-and-dried plans. There's no room for creativity. And they're expensive."

Finally, through word of mouth, Rees latched onto Jerry Humes, a Woodland Hills contractor who literally has been building a reputation for his playhouses since 1992, when he put one together for his two daughters as a Christmas gift.

"It's really amazing," Rees said about her garden cottage-style playhouse, completed shortly after Christmas. "It's like watching this little mini-house take shape right before your very eyes.

"I'm the kind of person who knows exactly what I want, so working directly with Jerry has been wonderful. It's absolutely custom. And he's a true artist."

"I just really love anything to do with wood," said Humes, who builds the playhouses part-time. "And I have this ability, and confidence I guess, to see something once and re-create it or refashion it to the customer's needs."

What the customer can expect to get from a finished playhouse is almost entirely up to their imaginations--and their pocketbooks.

The most basic 64-square-foot structure can be purchased for about $499, but he has charged up to $3,500 for a Victorian-style playhouse.

"But I must admit that the more creativity that's required, the more I enjoy building it," said Humes, who can produce playhouses with drywall interiors, French windows, shingled roofs, patios, carpet, wallpaper or just about anything else you can dream up. "It's like designing an entire house."

Depending on the size, most of Humes' projects take from one to three weeks to construct.

He uses only pine or plywood, never relying upon the particle board often used in build-your-own-playhouse kits, he said.

"It was truly a work of art," said Corinne Muramatsu, director of Laurel Hall Preschool in North Hollywood, where Humes completed a Cape Cod model in October, charging the school only for his labor. "The children loved to watch, from a safe distance, of course. And it's one of their favorite playthings in the yard.

"It's their own space. Their own size. Just the right comfort level where they can act out the dramas of their lives and emulate the most important aspects of family play. And, well, it's just plain fun."


What: Playhouses Ltd., custom-built playhouses by Jerry Humes.

Price: $499 and up.

Call: (818) 313-9583.

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