Keep out: adults at play
Children, children everywhere and not a place to think? Build yourself a Wendy house and escape, says KATE WORSLEY
Sunday 05 December 1999
Since the children came along, your home has mutated into a giant kiddie castle, with toys and noise everywhere. A week in the Caribbean would be nice, but the answer to your problem could be an adult Wendy. No, it's not some dodgy New York sex toy, but a private place where the grown-ups can play - at home.
Barrister Rupert Overbury and his wife, Claire, a pharmaceuticals rep, have designated a shady spot under a large beech tree in the seven-acre garden of their Victorian shooting lodge near Ipswich as the site for their adult Wendy.
"There was a concrete base there already," explains Rupert, "so I had a little retreat built there last summer as a birthday present to my wife, so she can have a bit of peace and quiet. It's got a pitched roof and the breeze comes through little bars at the side. Only we can go in there. It's mainly for her, although I must admit our five dogs quite like it too."
He sketched what he wanted for local firm Country Cottage Products. "What I got was absolutely perfect and it looks like it's been there for ever. The stained wood looks lovely in autumn, when the beech tree is turning. And in summer it's completely hidden by the leaves."
The Overburys have two boys aged 12 and nine, who play elsewhere in the garden. "It's one of those unwritten family rules," says Rupert.
Family homes are now focused around the well-being and needs of children - all safety switches and child gates, toy hampers and computers in the living room, and little pyjamaed bundles at the bottom of the bed every morning. It's no longer automatic for kids to be pent up in the nursery in the attic or, indeed, sent off to play in their own Wendy house or tree house at the bottom of the garden. But too often the anxiety to integrate children into adult lives ends up drowning parents in family life. Designating somewhere in the home as adult space leaves parents room to breathe. Just as if you're working from home you don't want to use the kitchen table, then a Lego-strewn sofa is probably not the best place to work on your romance.
Christine and John Forsaith of Windsor, Berkshire, who have children from previous marriages, also wanted a "special place" to call their own. "You've got to get away sometimes," says office services manager Christine. "It's private but it's also within earshot of the house." When they bought their period house with a large garden two-and-a-half years ago, they earmarked an elevated spot at the bottom of the garden for their private chalet, where they could go for drinks and a chat at sunset, or take some time out during the day. "It was my husband's suggestion," says Christine.
The chalet is snug, about 8ft by 6ft inside, and as cute as a child's drawing, with a railed deck and twin windows either side of a pair of double doors. "We'd quite like to be able to sleep in it too. Next year we will plasterboard the inside and add power."
However much Virginia Woolf insisted on a woman's right to a room of her own, it may sound harsh to set out deliberately to exclude your children from a space. Locking the bedroom door on a Saturday morning is one thing, but surely lavishing all that money on a private retreat so you can run away together down to the bottom of the garden will come as a slap in the face for your kids? In fact, the experts couldn't be more in favour of the idea.
"If doing this supports the parents and consolidates their relationship then it's actually a very positive thing for the children to see," says Susan Littlemore of parents' support network Parent Line Plus. It actually benefits children when they see a concrete manifestation of their parents' need for their own play time. "One of the great myths parents suffer under is that they can't express their own needs to their children. If the need is for some personal space, then by and large that will be OK with the children."
In fact, says Littlemore, having an adult Wendy can help to teach your children an early lesson about the importance of personal boundaries. "It can help to set up a life-long understanding of other people's needs."
The key is to explain to children what the space is for, and why you are making it. Building barriers between you and your children may sound positively Victorian but, as Littlemore puts it, "It's the 'not heard' part of the Victorian approach that's the problem. What's important is the amount of information you give children and how involved they are."
The Gordon family discovered that sound carried so clearly in their five- storey Sixties Surrey home that when her sons' friends came round, mum Vanessa ended up cowering in the kitchen. But next week she will get her house back. Son James,13, will move into the basement pad he and his dad Gordon have worked together to convert. Nine-year-old Alistair, who sleeps on the top floor, has earmarked his brother's old bedroom next door as his "office". And the open-plan living, dining and work area will revert to an oasis of adult tranquillity. "Before, the kitchen was the only place that was our space," says Vanessa. "But the nicest thing is the amount of work James has put in. He's so excited."
"You just need to give children a valid reason," confirms Littlemore. "They might ask questions or make fun, but they will know they are not the problem."
5 You won't need planning permission for a basic adult Wendy, if you build a sectional building, ie a glorified wooden shed. But check you don't block neighbours' views or sunlight.
5 Get quotes from a few local garden building companies: one adult Wendy owner found a 50 per cent difference between two quotes. Homelodge Buildings (England and Wales, tel: 01962 881480, Scotland tel: 01555 880692) makes a luxury range of insulated models from pounds 9,635. Poulton Portables of Essex (tel: 01245 222550) will knock up basic models from around pounds 1,000.
5 If you plan on romantic sunset drinks, make sure the window will face the right way. If the whole point is privacy, then try shutters.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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