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Magazine    September 2001

Building Dreams

Atherton CastleNapa Valley Chalets

Photography by Teena Albert

Robin Hood's Fort

Malibu Lighthouse

These are no ordinary play houses and forts. Barbara Butler’s custom-built play structures, home playgrounds, jungle gyms, tree houses, backyard castles, mini-mansions and entire play compounds look as though they could easily have sprung from the pages of Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Seuss or Tom Sawyer. Brightly colored and boasting such whimsical features as rock-climbing towers, steel fire poles, sliding trapdoors and even barred “jail” windows, her designs are elaborate fantasyscapes that beg to be explored by kids of any age.

Prices begin at $2,400 for portable models and can reach almost $100,000, depending upon the client's requests.

For the San Francisco-based Butler, no request is too extravagant. The recent construction of a pair of Napa Valley Chalets (above right)—to the tune of $80,000—were for a client who did not want to add on to his home, but thought it was time to give his two pre-teen daughters space of their own. The über builder designed twin three-story Victorian mini-mansions, each with a private balcony and bay windows and featuring cable television, a fully wired security system and lavatory. “They’re pretty special,” says Butler.

Last April, her team of 13 “play professionals”—including husband Jeff, two of her brothers and a nephew—completed their first overseas installation of a modified Rough & Tumble Outpost (below) on the grounds of a private castle in the Camargues region of France, just outside of Arlès. “We built it in San Francisco, painted it, broke it down and transported it by boat.” With her crew of six working an average of eight hours a day, the massive project took four days to assemble. “The most exciting thing for us was being able to stay in this amazing 17th-century castle,” Butler says.

Not bad for a self-proclaimed tomboy from Watertown, N.Y, who grew up in a family with seven siblings. She started a construction company, Outer Space Design, in 1985 with about $2,500 that she borrowed from her family. Since then she has orchestrated projects for Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, singer Bobby McFerrin and record producer Lou Adler. She also designed an 18-foot lookout tower that appeared in Bicentennial Man, a Walt Disney film starring Robin Williams, and has been commissioned to design a “global village” playground for Robert Redford's Sundance Resort in Utah.

Chateau in Arlès with Rough & Tumble OutpostPlay structure before installation on chateau grounds

Connecticut Castle

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Barbara Butler
325 South Maple Avenue #37
South San Francisco, CA 94080
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