Autumn’s chill doesn’t stop these kids from enjoying a unique outdoor retreat
Autumn finds the kids outside playing, even come dusk, thanks to this cool playhouse at Bryan and Lauren Tolles’ Birmingham home.
CONTAIN YOUR ENTHUSIASM // Autumn finds the kids outside playing, even come dusk, thanks to this cool playhouse at Bryan and Lauren Tolles’ Birmingham home. – Photo by Martin Vecchio

A blank-slate backyard was the perfect canvas for the playhouse Bryan and Lauren Tolles envisioned for their then 4-year-old son. The couple had recently moved into their newly-built Birmingham home when they reached out to their landscape architect, Tim Shoemaker, partner at Michael J. Dul & Associates Inc. Shoemaker was tasked with creating a playhouse he describes as “something different, something appealing to look at, not just a standard store-bought piece of equipment.”

Landing on the idea of a shipping container, the Tolleses took to the internet to procure the structure. “The look on the neighbor’s faces could only be described as horrifying as an old, rusted, and terribly graffitied shipping container was hoisted into our yard via crane,” says Bryan, whose wife owns Maison Birmingham, which also has KSI Kitchen and Bath under
its umbrella.

Making the shipping container work with the site was among the project’s bigger challenges, notes Shoemaker. “A large steel box painted every color of the rainbow isn’t something you see every day, especially in Birmingham,” he says.

“When our son was younger, some of our favorite memories were spending Saturday mornings with him at Eastern Market,” Bryan says. “We were particularly drawn to the murals surrounding the market, and we have a number of pictures of our son with some of his favorites. One of those was by artist Jesse Kassel.”

The structure now features a stunning display of Kassel’s vibrant work. “The inspiration was really to just paint something fun and also with a lot of detail, to create something for the kids to visually explore,” says Kassel, whose art can be seen in Eastern Market, Ann Arbor, Oxford, and even New York City and Honolulu.

“Part of the fun about bringing a great team together is watching how they take your idea and make it exceptional with the finer details,” Bryan says. “Tim Shoemaker took it another step further by adding lighting to the interior, so we could enjoy the artwork while sitting on our patio in the evenings.”

Today, the structure has become an indispensable asset for memory-making for the family. “We love that it’s a functional piece of art,” Bryan says, as well as “an outlet for our children’s playfulness and creativity.”

Text by Giuseppa Nadrowski | Photo by Martin Vecchio