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In August of 2003, Lora Cheek decided that she wanted to make a playhouse for her granddaughters, then three and seven, as a Christmas gift. She was recovering from broken ribs that she had sustained in a fall from a horse, and started brainstorming a way to accomplish her goal.
She had an upstairs storage room that she was considering converting to another use. It occurred to her that if she turned the storage room into a playhouse, then the girls could use their playhouse year round, something they could not do if their playhouse was outside.
“It was one of those middle of the night ideas,” said Cheek.
Cheek asked her good friend Kathy Bryson, a former extension agent for Spencer County, for her artistic help.
“I paint, and Lora said “I want to do this. Will you help me?” said Bryson. “It at least gave us an excuse to be together.
Cheek and Bryson have a friendship that has lasted over forty years. They met in the sixth grade while swimming and kept up their friendship even though they attended different schools.
“It was a fun way to be together and something I’d always wanted to do,” said Bryson, referring to creating a mural. “It was someone else’s wall. We hoped it would work out but knew if it didn’t we could paint it over.”
That was not necessary however. “It didn’t have to be perfect for her. It was just fun for both of us,” said Bryson.
Cheek knew that she wanted the playhouse to be part house and part yard. The room is painted in blues and greens with a landscape mural to replicate the outdoors. At the far end of the room is a false wall with a door and windows that open into a playhouse. Inside the playhouse is a kitchen set, a table and a built-in loft bed.
“I wanted to replicate as much as I could the setting here at the house,” she said. “I went so far as to put caterpillars, butterflies, and ladybugs on the walls. I tried to bring the outside in.”
“I could do the picket fence and the flowers. She did what was off in the distance,” said Cheek.
“I liked the landscape part,” said Bryson. “I like landscape painting. She did more details, flowers and animals. I don’t like that part.”
“It was sort of one of those things - the more I got into it, the more would come to me,” said Cheek. She picked flowers out of her yard to use as inspiration to make the scene look as much like her yard as possible.
Bryson even replicated the gazebo that sits next to Spencer County High School in the mural. “She did the things that needed to look real, and I did the flowers,” said Cheek.
All of the painting was done freehand with the exception of a cat sitting under some birdhouses. Cheek used a pattern to get the cat under just right.
Cheek’s granddaughters were really surprised on Christmas morning. Cheek wrote a poem to explain the gift, and why they did not have presents under the tree. Their reaction was excitement, said Cheek. “This is for us? Can we stay forever?”
The girls are now nine and thirteen and still bring their friends to play in the playhouse. Cheek now also has a two year old grandson living next door who likes to “play upstairs.”
The furnishings for the room came from many different sources. Several items, including a toy box, came from yard sales. Some of the girls’ unused toys were given new life in the playhouse. The dolls had originally belonged to the girls’ mother - Cheek’s daughter. The curtains on the windows were made by Cheeks’ mother Mary Snyder.
Cheek wanted the house to have window boxes, but could not find anything she liked. She purchased boxes intended to be compact disk holders, and cut them in half. The door had been in the barn for many years, and was cut down to fit in the room. The wall was made from scrap lumber found at Cheek’s farm.
The house number on the door is the date that the girls received their gift (1203).
Cheek used discounted paint that had been mixed incorrectly from home improvement stores for the background. All the detail painting was done with acrylic craft paint. The clouds and trees were painted using sponges, but the rest was done with good acrylic paintbrushes.
Bryson’s advice for anyone considering a project like this is to use good paintbrushes. “Don’t use cheap ones. If you want a good job; want to make something look good, you need good brushes.”
“Kathy and I spent many hours happily painting from August to December to get it done,” said Cheek.