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FrontRunners: Childhood Home

Sheila J. Gibson

Barbara Butler may understand more than most about the likes and dislikes of children. However, you don’t have to be an aunt to 15 nieces and nephews, as she is, to know that children enjoy playhouses, especially ones as fantastic as those that Butler (415.864.6840, www.barbarabutler.com) designs and builds. Her brightly colored creations may resemble a fairy-tale castle, a lighthouse, or a medieval fort, and they can be equipped with a climbing wall, a fire pole, a bridge, or a spring-mounted platform that wiggles underfoot. A jail area, complete with barred window and a secret means of escape, is a signature feature of a Butler playhouse. “I want to wear children out so they sleep well at night,” says the 45-year-old Butler, whose eponymous business is based in San Francisco.

Butler eagerly awaits the day when clients become parents who share their playhouses with a second generation. At a party recently, she met a young woman who had grown up with the children of singer Bobby McFerrin, Butler’s first customer 15 years ago. The woman told her how much she loved romping in the playhouse, and that once she had children of her own, Butler could expect an order.

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