Upscale playhouse designs get some love


Wayne Visbeen says he thoroughly enjoys sketching playhouse designs and came up with 30 different drawings during one sitting. Courtesy Charmed Playhouses

Extravagant playhouses might be on the rise as Grand Rapids architect Wayne Visbeen will be featured on a television series designing and building playhouses for clients, including National Basketball Association star Steph Curry.

Visbeen initially thought the playhouse industry might be a fun experiment — usually each design takes him less than 10 minutes — but the architect said he’s pleasantly surprised with where it’s ended up.

It started when Tyson Leavitt saw Visbeen drawing a home on stage at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida. Leavitt, who owned a landscaping company in Canada, starting chatting with Visbeen and wanted him to help design his new house.

In March 2015, Leavitt called Visbeen and said he was going to sell his landscaping company to design playhouses and wanted Visbeen to do the drawings.

Leavitt flew to Grand Rapids to meet with Visbeen, who ended up drawing nearly 30 playhouses in the first meeting. Through the discussion, Visbeen became a partner in the company, Alberta, Canada-based Charmed Playhouses.

At the time it started, Visbeen wasn’t sure what to think beyond it being a fun endeavor, but now that business is speeding up he’s happy he went along with it.

“You never know,” Visbeen said. “I throw a lot of lines out to see what hits. We had no idea it would turn into a TV show where people can see me draw live and see what I do.”

When the initial business idea was taking shape last year, Visbeen asked Leavitt to help build a playhouse he was already working on in Grand Rapids for a child through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

A TV network learned of the installation and sent a producer from a production company to see if the idea of playhouses was show-worthy. The producer ended up making a “sizzle reel” and headed to dinner with Visbeen and Leavitt to learn how the process works.

On TV at dinner was the 2015 NBA Finals game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, just after Curry’s daughter, Riley, had become the talk of the series for her interruption of a press conference.

Visbeen suggested he draw a playhouse for Riley, eventually making one to resemble the Oakland Bay Bridge, and put it on social media. Curry’s wife, Ayesha, saw it and contacted the company, wanting to do a playhouse.

Designs have ranged from pirate ships to climbing towers to observatories, with prices ranging from $7,500 to more than $100,000.

“It’s fun, spectacular,” Visbeen said. “I can be with a client and within two to three weeks have designed, built, delivered and installed a playhouse.”

With a cable TV show and lots of media coverage in Canada, Visbeen said he thinks it’s a matter of time until the trend hits the United States in a big way.

He said drawing playhouses is quick, fun and ultimately helps attract more clients for Visbeen Architecture.

“It’s a blast,” he said. “As an architect, I have to deal with codes, restrictions, client budgets and the reality (that) not everyone can do something fanciful in their house and make it last. These can be ridiculous fun with ideas that just flow out of my mind.”

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