Building a Kids’ Clubhouse: A Photo Essay

Author Lee Mothes decided to build a backyard clubhouse for his grandchildren. He documented the process — and what he’s still learning from it — along the way.

Illustration © Lee Mothes, used with permission

Lee Mothes knows a little something about how much having a clubhouse of one’s own appeals to kids. In fact, he wrote a book on it! A few months ago, Storey’s illustration coordinator, Ilona Sherratt, alerted me to the fact that Lee would be putting his clubhouse-building skills to use constructing a backyard structure for his grandchildren Junah (4½), Ginny (almost 2), and Malina (1 week old at the time construction began).

“Junah is excited about it already, and the girls will eventually reap the benefits. We’ll start it on Earth Day, April 22, and it will take about a month to complete,” Lee wrote. He planned to document the process along the way. “Would you like this to be available to your readers?” he asked. Of course! was my reply.

Lee’s dispatches and photos follow, and they serve not only as a sweet time capsule of the seasons and of children at a certain age, but as a genuine love letter to resourcefulness, creativity, and play from a grandfather to his grandkids. Who knows? It might just inspire you to think about starting work on a backyard project with your little ones. — Emily Spiegelman, Digital Content Manager

Monday, April 23

We had a blizzard last weekend, so the clubhouse will have to wait a few more days until the snow melts.

Snowed-in site of the future clubhouse. Photo courtesy of the author.

I was able to start Step 1 — building a set of sawhorses — today.

It’s good practive to have a copy of Keep Out!, Lee’s book about building a clubhouse, on hand. Photo courtesy of the author.

Junah and his friend Alayna watched as I measured and cut the pieces and then nailed them together. In their minds, sawhorses are meant for riding, so they did!

Photo courtesy of the author

Wednesday, May 2

The walls have been framed, the floor is in, and we are working on the roof. I say “we” because Junah and Ginny are helping in their own way.

Clubhouse walls framed and floor installed. Ginny is ready for roof work begin! Photo courtesy of the author.

The kids are constantly on hand, always checking in on what is going on. Junah loves to use the tools, like his own tape measure.

Ginny likes to sort the nails.

Ginny sorting nails. Photo courtesy of the author.
Sawing the last roof board with Ginny, Junah, and friend Elana. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, May 22

The clubhouse has progressed well and is almost completed. I will hang the door today!

Here’s one big thing I learned: Using found or repurposed materials will determine the building process as much as it does the design and final look.

I started with the 6′ x 8′ shed-roof clubhouse. Some old porch roof pillars and found decking told me there needed to be a porch too.

Sketching out the clubhouse porch and door. Photo courtesy of the author.

A neighbor donated plywood and 2 x 4s for our floor.

My daughter Kate, an art promoter, donated all the siding lumber. She had painted one side of them in several colors for an art show. We put the colored side inside, leaving the outside plain.

View of the colorful interior walls, with roof and siding boards on. Photo courtesy of the author.

The kids’ great-grandmother donated a tall hinged window. I found two more small hinged windows on the curb from a house that had been damaged by fire.

Junah tests out the new windows. Photo courtesy of the author.
junah builds his own steps. Photo courtesy of the author.

The roof boards and roof trim are from a cedar fence that blew down in a storm, and thrown out.

Trim boards in place. Photo courtesy of the author.

The porch floor — old decking that was still good on the underside — was salvaged from a farmer’s burn pile.

The porch pillars are over 100 years old, discarded by our neighbor when they rebuilt their back porch.

Installing the porch roof. Photo courtesy of the author.

I found a partial roll of tar paper in my basement — enough for the roof.

The only purchased materials are nails and some 2 x 4s for the wall and roof framing.

The helpers take a lunch break. Photo courtesy of the author.

Monday, June 18

The clubhouse is finished!

Clubhouse complete! Photo courtesy of the author.

Junah and neighbor Alayna, both 4, helped on painting day. They learned how to use the rollers real fast. Junah got the big one, because it’s his clubhouse, he said.

Ginny likes to slam the door.

Photo courtesy of the author

The porch really adds charm and will help keep the weather and mud out of the clubhouse.

Author Lee Mothes, on the porch. Photo courtesy of the author.

Lee Mothes

Lee Mothes

About the Author

Lee Mothes is an author, artist, and part-time art teacher who has fond memories of his own childhood clubhouses. He studied architectural design, worked as a full-time carpenter, taught various hands-on carpentry courses, and built many small structures over the years. He lives in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. 

Learn more about this author

Related Reads

Featured Titles