House & Garden | The Bespokesperson

Enchanting alternatives to the plastic Wendy house

Bespoke children’s playhouses that are also popular with adults

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Enchanting alternatives to the plastic Wendy house

December 22 2010
Vicki Reeve

You don’t need to have children to appreciate Judith Needham’s natural English willow playhouses, but these enchanting, eco-friendly creations will be a breath of fresh air to parents who’ve been saddled with a plasticky pink Wendy house in the garden. Squatters’ rights for adults will be the norm after playhouse playtime (though standing up, even in a spire, is tricky for anyone taller than 1.7m).

Needham’s bespoke playhouses are rare, though they can be spotted as far afield as the South of France, New York and California. A twin-spired Dreaming Spires model (first picture, about £2,000, excluding delivery) takes about three weeks to construct – “The valley between the spires is the most technically challenging and time-consuming part” – and she makes just eight a year, partly because the work is seasonal. Baskets, which the Surrey-based Needham started making as a hobby, are usually made with “brown” willow that has been cut, dried and resoaked just before use to make it pliable. Needham, however, uses “brown willow for the weaving, but for the vertical framework I need really long lengths (about 11ft), which are generally only available in ‘green’, freshly-cut willow. This can only be cut when it is dormant, usually between December and March, and can only be stored for a few weeks before it becomes too dry. I don’t have the facilities to soak such long lengths so I can only make playhouses between late December and April.”

She is open to clients’ requests: “This year I’ve made a playhouse like a huge terracotta pot, an onion-shaped version and one based on Wallace & Gromit’s rocket (second picture). Bespoke orders can take my work in a direction I might never have thought of going.”

Work as stunning and time-consuming as this requires patience from the client – there is, naturally, a waiting list. If you want a playhouse next summer, contact Needham now or risk waiting until 2012 for delivery. Check her website for other styles – and for the equally captivating “living willow” structures that she creates onsite.