How to make an upcycled playhouse

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

First, a rambling preface…

When the kids were little I spent hours (hours) on Craigslist looking for the perfect secondhand cedar playhouse.

After months of searching I found one. Untreated lumber, not too big, a slide, swing, perched cedar clubhouse, and in my price range. Cheaper than the lumber it would take to make our own.

So Pete and a buddy drove the three hours round trip to take it down and bring it home.

Yay team! We were a few hundred dollars poorer, but we were playhouse rich.


But "perfect" from an adult's perspective isn't always perfect to the kids. 


As excited as they were by the idea of the playhouse, when it came to play value it soon fizzled. 

And unlike a blanket fort there was no folding it up and putting it back in the linen closet when their interest waned. 

So there it sat.


It sat in the yard – almost always empty – in all of it's fancy cedar perfection while the kids made forts under the bushes in the backyard.

When we moved I left it behind rather than bring it out to the farm. It just wasn't worth it.

They never missed it.


Like so many other lessons of parenthood I realized for the umpteenth time that less is more.


Or as my great-grandma stated (while my sister sat on the floor playing with canning jar rings as a baby), "Kids don't need toys."


Because yes, okay, yes – I was the mom who wanted the perfect Waldorf playroom. Like the quality of my parenting could be defined by the quality of our playthings.

And we did it on the cheap (for fancy anyway). Thanks to Pete and I both being crafty we made much of it ourselves. The rest was picked up locally at yard sales, as second-hand gifts from friends, or bought off of Craigslist, Ebay, and our local email list.

But you know, they rarely played with most of it.

I loved it like crazy, but they were rather "eh" about most of it. (Not at first, but with time.)


Sure, there are exceptions. They each had (and still have) their favorites. Toys that they played with constantly then and can't part with even now. But there was simply too much.

I took it too far. Now I know.


And as it turns out the quality of my parenting has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of toys I picked up off the floor at the end of the day. But you knew that already.


So if I can be so bold, I would tell anyone saving pennies for fancy Ostheimer wooden animals that are not in the budget, that ten years later it wasn't really worth it. 


And that at least around here, the thrift store plywood dollhouse with cobbled together furniture has gotten 1000 times more play than the expensive saved-our-money-for-months German version we once had.



Live and learn. Kids don't need (lots of fancy, expensive) toys.


Having playthings on hand is lovely. We'll never be a toy-free house and I don't suggest you gut your playroom or your backyard on my experience. I'm merely sharing my realization that the fancy stuff wasn't all that.

I share this in hopes that someone who is wishing for something they can't afford will read this and say,  "Oh! Those yogurt tubs in the sandbox really are as awesome as a $50 set of wooden scoops." 

They are.

Now you know. 

But I digress.

And we were here to talk about the playhouse. The pallets. The project! 

Make an upcycled pallet playhouse | Clean.

My girl loves her mud kitchen play. She always has. A few old dishes, some yogurt tubs, and the flowers from the garden and she'll play happily for hours.

And though less is more I thought a little nook for her to play in would be a sweet (simple) addition.


So last weekend when Pete cut out a section of our barn and installed a bigger, better (salvaged) window I saw the discarded section of wall leaning against the fence I kind of freaked out.

Like I might have before at the sight of a set of wooden toys at a yard sale. (Ahem.)


I could see it in my head perfectly. In an instant. 

An upcycled mud kitchen for Lupine.

A place to corral her dishes and pails and a little simple work surface to save our picnic table from it's mud kitchen fate. 


Pete agreed and instead of hauling the wall to the dump he hauled it up the hill to Lupine's favorite play place – previously just two tree stumps at the edge of the hayfield.

We also brought up two oak pallets, a few L-brackets and shelf brackets, some screws, and a drill.

Thirty minutes later it was done. Boom. A new mud kitchen/playhouse for my girl. 


I was thrilled, Lupine was thrilled, everyone was thrilled.

First, it's adorable. (If I do say so myself.) Second, it's upcycled. And third, it didn't cost us a penny!

And I was pretty jazzed to have done almost all of the work myself. (Cue dramatic bow.)


The process was simple and you could create one with three or even four recycled pallets instead of two plus a piece of your barn.

Old doors would be amazing here too (which I have an inexplicable affinity for), and so would a couple of discarded window screens or screen doors in the mix.

Look around. Ask around. See what you can find.


Care to make your own? Here's how.

1. Gather your supplies.

2. Make an "L" shape with two of your wall pieces to form a front wall and side wall. Secure well with screws. 

3. Add second side wall and attach as above.

4. Inside use shelf brackets or L-brackets to install a few small shelves for storage and a work counter. I added one that was a scrap tree section from a tree we recently cut. Be creative and use whatever is at hand.

That's it! Really!

A word on pallets and safety: When you choose your pallets here are some excellent tips to help you find clean, green pallets and avoid the toxins that some pallets are treated with. 

What have you made with upcycled materials lately? Feel free to share a link in the comments below! 

17 thoughts on “How to make an upcycled playhouse

  1. Andréann says:

    This idea is so full of potential!
    We’re on my in-law’s veggie farm for the month, and there’s tons of palette and boxes we could use…. Hum…!
    thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Brienne Moody says:

    This, is awesome. And we are right in the throws of pricing out an outdoor play structure (as the trampoline, balls, bikes etc. lay unused:) Today we watched a little excavator plant trees for the morning and in the afternoon the kids used the recycling that I was sorting to create a play structure. You’re right. We don’t need anything fancy:) Thanks for sharing this great project!

  3. Pamela R says:

    I know we’ve talked about this, but those weird plastic dinosaurs that you and Sage gave K for his birthday over 10 years ago from the thrift shop…still in play. EVERY DAY for the little ones. The plastic horses that L got for his birthday one year 7-8 years ago…still in play every day. The super expensive Ostheimer horses, animal figures, etc. that I saved so long for…they look brand new and are in a basket in the playroom where they sit. That’s after three kiddos. Really? None of them liked the beautiful wooden horses more than the plastic ones??? Thanks for the post!

  4. Fräulein Rucksack says:

    This is funny, I just bought our very first brand new toy for our girl (2) yesterday, a little Ostheimer hedgehog. She’s playing a lot with her wooden animals she inhereted from our family, the wooden animals my brother, sister, me and my nephews played with. A lot. And my thinking is: these toys never loose their value. I’d even use it as decoration, like my mom did the last twenty years after I stopped playing. Why not adding something from time to time to her growing fabric landscape.

    Another thing, I was looking for a nice play kitchen to buy used. All still above our budget. You think our girl cared she didn’t have a perfect one yet? A little bedside cabinet, just how it was does the job for her. One drawer knob is to turn on the oven, the burner or the water tab. I wanted it perfectly looking, planned to make and paint one. But the perfect thing is what encourages to play and to imagine and she easily makes up kitchens elsewhere… she’s teaching me to parent, to see, to imagine. To PLAY. That girl.

    Your playhouse pictures are beautiful and instantly reminded me of some own childhood scenes with unripe apples and arranging and cleaning a little kitchen corner somewhere in the barn or so. Moments I never thought of before. Thank you, beautiful you!

  5. Holly Dean says:

    This is what I’ve kinda had in mind. Thanks for the push! I showed my husband and said, “Seeee? This IS a great idea.”. And it does look as nice as an expensive little house, well, more so since children actually play in it. It looks like whoever lives there has a fun time.

  6. Vicky M says:

    I think it’s really important to make sure the upcycled stuff is not covered in lead paint. Peeling paint worries me. We live in an old house and both my babies (now boys) had elevated lead. It freaked me out for years. Once it’s on their hands it’s in their mouths. I bet it could be sealed up with some sort of sealant over the old lead paint. I know it looks charming but it’s good to be cautious around lead.

  7. leah@ knitting simply says:

    So true! I have dreamed of a perfect Waldorf playroom and have tried to pick up a few toys here and there, but the reality is that sticks, rocks and feathers outside entertain my kids for much longer than the beautiful things that I have bought and put on shelves in their bedrooms. Love the playhouse!

  8. Nuts about food says:

    We live such different lives, in such different environments… we have no animals, house or garden. We live in an apartment in the middle of a big city, we don’t home school, we (parents) both have office jobs… yet everything you say just makes perfect sense and applies so well to our lives too. Thank you

  9. Emily M. says:

    Oh, this is all SO TRUE!!!!! We have a cedar playhouse too, hardly gets played in. Luckily it came with the house. We have tons of the Ostheimer figures, they don’t get played with much. I have learned the same lessons through the years, made the same mistakes.

  10. Birute Efe says:

    I could not agree with you more on that kids don’t need perfect playgrounds and fancy toys. I actually found a research done by Australians which proved that it’s more beneficial for kids to play with household items than with real toys in real playgrounds. And I wrote a post about it too.
    I have been in “want to have a perfect Waldorf playroom” times too and it didn’t work pretty good for us.
    I noticed though if I involve kids AS much AS possible in creating the play are, playground piece, a toy, then they are more willing to play with it/in it.
    And I am so happy to find your blog. Will dig in now 🙂
    Oh and the mud house is just pure gorgeous.

  11. Nola says:

    This is a great idea! A few years back I really wanted my kids to have a play kitchen (for indoors). I really didn’t want a plastic one, but the wooden ones I wanted were not affordable for us at all. My husband decided to make the kids a play kitchen out of a fridge and a stove box (that he asked for at the local appliance store for free). I was actually amazed how nice they turned out. We used a dish pan sunk into a cut-out hole for a sink. The kids have played with it for many, many hours.

  12. sierra dallas says:

    Wow! what an idea! To build a memorable childhood it important to have a playhouse in kids play area. kids will remember in his lifetime. Thanks for sharing this cute Diy pallet playhouse ideas. I have to build for my kids.

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