pretend play

The Little House

The Little House in Winter

House-painting can be a relentless, unforgiving task.  Slaving away in the burning sun and occasional rain, painting never-ending woodwork atop a wobbly ladder.  My advice?  Buy yourself a house that’s all of 8 foot high and you’ll find you can paint it in approximately an hour, including varnishing.  Trust me; it’s enormously satisfying.  A little small, perhaps, for the whole family, but perfectly proportioned for a 3yr old.

You may remember we bought a second-hand playhouse (above) for Harry’s birthday last winter, and it has sat looking picturesque but slightly weary through the harsh winter months.  Soon after buying it I added curtains made from tea towels and a slate ‘Little House’ sign, but we waited until the Springtime before tackling the interior.  Last weekend I gave it a proper overhaul, painting sills and gables, planting up hanging baskets and turning the bare interior into a proper bachelor pad. If you’ve time for a cup of pretend tea and a plastic cake, come on inside and have the tour…

the little house sign

When the playhouse was delivered, the inside was bare wood – and somewhat battered from having legions of small feet pattering in and out over the years in its former home.

playhouse renovation

We gave it a couple of coats of whitewash and glued inexpensive carpet tiles to the floor, and then decked out the interior with Harry’s play BBQ, table and chairs…

playhouse interior

harrys kitchen diner

All of these furnishings have simply been moved out from the playroom for the summer, freeing up some valuable space indoors.

Here’s the ‘loft’ sleeping platform before….

harrys loft before

And after…

little house loft

Above the sleeping platform hangs – securely –  a watchful angel; in reality a photograph I took of a folk-art Christmas decoration I bought years ago in New England.

little house angel

There’s enough space to hang your hat above your pillow, and a clock to wake you from a nap, should the bird chorus outside fail.  A decorative driftwood garland hangs by the ladder, and some well-worn old linens make for a comfortable den to retire to with a favourite book.  The paper animal garland was leftover from Harry’s first birthday party a couple of years ago and has found renewed purpose in bedecking the playhouse walls – I give it a few more months before it is declared too babyish and relegated to the (real) loft.

play loft

Do you remember Harry’s Hardware Store (below)?  With the advent of warm weather this has found a natural home inside the playhouse, where young drivers can park their scooters, pedal cars and balance bikes at the door and come in for tools, coffee or petrol.  It does a roaring trade..

harry store main shot

playhouse with built in store

Externally, The Little House is ready for summer; I exchanged the faux-topiary balls of winter for some low hanging baskets which Harry and I planted up with strawberries; they are just reachable for 3yr old hands, but tantalisingly out of reach for slugs.  Geraniums burst from the window box, mirroring those of the main house, and a passion flower climbs alongside the door.   A bird box mounted near the eaves will hopefully attract residents next winter, and a brightly painted cockerel weather vane adds a distinctive finishing touch.  And finally, I can’t forget our sunflowers, which now sit along the side of the Little House, where they can turn to the late afternoon sun, protected from the mayhem of small people crashing in and out of the playhouse itself.

The Little House in Springtime

the little house exterior

Work over, we all hunched inside for a celebratory cup of tea, served up with a hard, wooden play sausage and half a head of garlic.  Whatever else Harry does in his life, I doubt that a future in the kitchen beckons.

amish star

And finally, before I go; this week Pinterest is launching formally here in the UK, to great excitement.  For those who haven’t yet come across it, Pinterest is a very visual way of collecting together all the things you love, by ‘pinning’ images to your boards from all across the wide world of the web.  For those who are already converts, you can find me (and images from all of the projects on my site) here, or by searching under pinners  for ‘Kate Curates’; for those who are new and want to explore for the first time, you can register using the link here.  One word of advice; don’t do this if you have a deadline looming, or a child soon to wake from a nap, or indeed anything which requires your undivided attention for some time; it can be absolutely, deliciously addictive…

Welcome to Harry’s Hardware!

Well welcome to the grand opening of Harry’s Hardware, Gas & Auto!  I’m sure you’ll agree it’s about time this small e-neighbourhood had a one-stop shop where you can refuel,  choose a can of flamingo-pink paint for your kitchen and have a cup of the kind of coffee that makes your hair stand on end.  We thought so, anyway….

harry store main photo

This was Harry’s main Christmas present, and is based on an old bookcase I found on ebay for a few pounds.  Like many 3yr old boys, Harry is a devoted petrol-head and delights in all things auto.  Given the domestic backdrop of our home renovation, he’s also a big fan of power tools, screwdrivers, hammers and all other dangerous hardware. Thus, a hardware store and garage seemed like a good idea, and is proving a hit so far.  I was lucky enough to find a second-hand wooden kids’ cupboard in the style of a gas pump, but everything else is customised and made from household junk and recycled bits and bobs.  So park at the rear, would you, and come on inside for the tour.  Let’s start you with a cup of coffee…

harry store coffee machine

Not just any coffee, but Harry’s Coffee, the brand that knocked Starbucks out of town and became a rapid hit with truckers.  The coffee ‘machine’ is an black cardboard jewellery box that housed my Christmas necklace (thank you, Santa!), with two cheap pump dispensers glued onto it (from pound-store pump bottles).  I made branded signage for the coffee machine and cups on my home printer, and then simply glued a sheet of black card stock behind to form the back and tray.  Because the jewellery box is hollow, the pumps do actually press in and out, making for some convincing pretend play and the addition of so many caffeine shots that you’ll be bouncing off the ceiling if Harry has his way. Tiny wooden donuts appropriated from Harry’s play kitchen offer an additional hazard to your teeth.

harry store donuts

Whilst you drink your coffee – carefully – come browse our paint selection, made from portion-sized bean cans covered in a paper wrapper.  Some of these are empty cans, used and washed out, others are still full; my domestic skills are haphazard so it’s quite foreseeable that I’ll be visiting Harry’s hardware store for dinner ingredients before the month is out..

 pretend play paints

Alongside the paints are cans of brushes and ‘wallpaper’ – rolled up offcuts of gift wrap and decorative paper.  Whilst it’s fun to look at, it’s also helping with naming colours, identifying letters and words, and counting.  I fear that Harry is not born to be a customer services professional though; dithering over your choices is not encouraged, and if Harry disapproves of what you’ve chosen, you’ll be given something else entirely and sent on your way.  Such is life.

harry store buckets

Crime can be a problem in any neighbourhood, even one as lovely as ours, so there’s a section of the store dedicated to discouraging robbers.  Harry is passionate about law enforcement, having recently fallen under the spell of Lego City, so most of our games involve Policeman and Naughty Men.  I’m quick to assure callers to the house that the various sets of handcuffs left lying around are all from Harry’s toy box and absolutely nothing to do with me or the global phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey.  The store offers sliding locks to try out, and a set of devilishly small padlocks and keys that test Harry’s dexterity and patience to their limit and beyond.  They do also bounce, when hurled to the floor dismissively. The glued-on keys come from an embarrassingly large bowl in our house which stores all unidentifiable keys from our last 5 house moves and the myriad of lost bicycle locks and chains – no doubt one of them will prove to be crucial, and I will have to chip it off from the board – but until then, they serve a more decorative purpose.

harry store security

I used a jumble of small cardboard boxes to make these faux wooden draws – most are boxes from candles or the lids of various things.  I found a graphic of an old shop chest and simply printed and glued the images to the front of each box, adding text for the contents.  Once again, the contents have simply been borrowed from elsewhere in our house, but are satisfying to play with and count out.  A small set of nesting zinc boxes from our shed completes the selection of handyman bits ‘n bobs.

harry store string

harry store wooden boxes

harry store zinc boxes

In other parts of the store you can buy birdseed, choosing amongst varieties depending on which birds you want to attract to your garden, and even find pocket-sized birdhouses to house them (these came straight from the Christmas tree…).

harry store birdseed

Budding gardeners can choose real seeds from our store list, and Harry’s own tools hang alongside.  Pint-sized bundles of firewood and a couple of Halloween-costume prop brooms complete the outdoor maintenance section.

harry store dig it sign

harry store topiary

The ‘Parking’ sign rests on two miniature tyres which are actually dog chew toys, found cheap at our local DIY store – we’ll use these in all kinds of projects come the Summertime, I’m sure.

harry store parking

I made the main store sign using off-cuts of skirting board and pasting on home-printed signs.  If you look closely, you can see the joins where I’ve pasted pieces of regular-sized paper together to make the super-sized  storefront sign.

harry store main sign

And finally of course, you can fill up with gas from the pump.  Harry’s pedal car has been regularly topped up, as has everything that moves in the household, and many things which do not.

harry store gas pump

So, a Christmas hit, for now at least, appealing to all of Harry’s manly instincts and providing lots of opportunity for play and interaction – and when the attraction begins to fade, I can simply return the bookcase to its component parts and reinvent it again.  Or maybe – and here’s a novel thought – actually place some books on it, who knows?

If you’re new-ish to the blog and like this project, you might also enjoy Harry’s kitchen and shop (note to self: stop buying junk furniture on ebay…).

We are not alone… (Fairy Doors)

Strange noises have been heard in our house of late.  Scratching and skittering from behind the panelling, often at night.  Things are also going missing; tiny things, like single earrings, and crumbs from the floor. My husband, ever the pragmatist, is convinced that we have mice.  Whilst he headed off to the rodent-control section of the hardware store yesterday, Harry and I stumbled across the truth, and it’s much more exciting; We Are Not Alone!



Almost invisible to grown-ups, camouflaged against the kitchen skirting boards, is a very tiny front door.  To adults it looks just like a plug socket from a distance, but to eagle-eyed little people it is immediately obvious that this is the entrance to the home of the Other People who share our house.  And look; as if more proof was needed; they even receive mail and milk deliveries!

So now we watch this door very carefully, from the corner of our eye, just in case we manage to catch someone coming or going.  We’ve found that the best thing to do is to be very still and to pretend to be absorbed in something else entirely.  Whilst we wait, Harry has led an exhaustive search of the house to see if there are any other signs of our neighbours, and lo and behold; we found another door!!  Occasionally when Harry comes down in the mornings there is a tiny plastic ladder nearby; we think they borrow it from his toy box and use it to scramble up the skirting to reach the door.

Harry is convinced that this front door belongs to all the little action-figures which by day are jammed into his toybox; at night, they obviously retire home to a warm – if tiny – bed, shortly after Harry wends his own weary way upstairs.  As a lifelong fan of Mary Norton, I think that we have Borrowers, and have been telling Harry all about them.  In due course I expect we’ll also discover that this is the doorway that Santa’s tiny elves use on Christmas Eve when they slip in to check that the coast is clear for the Big Man himself.  The tooth fairy, too, probably makes a cameo appearance via this very same entrance.  In the years to come, doubtless Harry will forget this wee door and it will fade into obscurity again.  Till maybe one day, years from now, someone small enough and attentive enough will discover it once more…

This is the lovely site which inspired me to create the presence of tiny neighbours in our own house.  I ordered a couple of inexpensive, non-opening dolls house doors online (‘proper’ doors have deep frames which make it difficult to affix them to skirting unless you actually go the lengths of channelling them in – only for the truly dedicated), then spray painted them and added some miniature door furniture.  I crafted tiny letters and tied them together with bakers twine; interestingly, it’s these that Harry has been most captivated by and saw as the ultimate proof of life.  The doors are attached to our skirting boards with double-sided tape; strong enough to withstand Harry knocking on the door and tugging the knob, but easy enough to remove if necessary, with perhaps just a dab of touch-up paint if needed.


And finally, for those who want the instructions in an all-in-one Pinnable tutorial, here’s a montage below;


Self-Assembly with Harry the Friendly Pirate

It’s been a chaotic week here chez nous, with builders in residence, my husband travelling, and flat-pack-tastic furniture from IKEA covering every surface awaiting my amateur attempts at self-assembly.  Harry has been angelic throughout, only occasionally becoming stuck in near-dry cement, chewing on innapropriate pieces of hardware (‘these nails taste spicy Mummy’), or dragging still-warm power tools into his den.  As a reward for his forbearance, I decided to use all the leftover cardboard packaging to make a pirate ship.  It’s been a darn sight easier than assembling a LeftvigKlemtangerArkleHeinig filing cabinet, that’s for sure….


I used a square cardboard box as the base, then stapled long pieces of cardboard either side to form a boat-shape.  I covered these in leftover wood-effect wallpaper for a nautical touch, though paint would do just as well.  The sails are made from sheets of standard A3 paper, printed with a skull and crossbones, then lashed to bamboo poles with an old washing line, before being tucked into a silver-sprayed cardboard tube.  I punched holes in the paper first and reinforced them with eyelets.

I threaded spare curtain rings on string through the cardboard to simulate life-rings (not very pirate-esque, but let’s call it artistic license…)

Harry’s telescope is 3 empty toilet rolls, wrapped in black paper and edged with glued-on ribbon.  I tucked them one inside the other and used a glue gun to secure them.  Apparently you can use it either way around to spot ships and bounty…

I made the treasure map by printing out the text on a sheet of paper, scribbling on a rough ‘map’, then daubing with used teabags.  Here comes the exciting bit; stand far away from smoke detectors (outside, preferably), and singe the edges, blowing out quickly each time.

The ‘anchor’ is the doorstop from my office, threaded through with a length of chain we rescued from a neighbour’s skip.  It threatens Harry with juvenile hernia every time he gamely attempts to toss it overboard; I may replace it with a cardboard model before social services arrive.

Even pirates need to eat once in a while, so I constructed this fishing line from a slotted wooden spoon, ribbon and fish shapes cut from coloured card stock.  I used buttons for the eyes and reinforced the holes with eyelets, in the hope that these wee fishes manage more than a single outing from ocean to boat.

And so, as the sun sets we will sail off in our cardboard ship to seek our fortune on the ocean wave, and turn a blind eye to the 648 pieces of pre-drilled swedish hardwood which are scattered throughout the house.  Let’s hope we spot my husband and his screwdriver on the horizon sometime soon…