I felt a little out of my element, preparing to report on my first Homes story this summer, having never belonged to its target audience. As a fresh-out-of-school reporter, Im nowhere near purchasing my first home. And Ive been pretty mobile, so Ive never put too much effort into the places Ive rented, either. I was worried I might not be able to figure out what the story was, when I headed over to the Murrays house. How wrong I was.
When I met the Murrays and stepped into their backyward, where a whimsical, Gaudi-esque treehouse that looked like it belonged in Seussland towered, it became clear that this was a story about family, not about a house. George Murray, age 5, gave me a tour of the structure that his dad and grandfather (Grumpa) built for him. George had directed the design of the treehouse with crayons on a napkin in a Boston Pizza restaurant and his carpenter forefathers stayed true to his vision. George was clearly very proud and adorably serious. It was a quick interview and a quick tour, but it was fun to revisit life as a five-year-old and imagine what home meant to him. Plus, I got to use words like Gaudi-esque.
Read the original story published May 28, 2011
Boy's dream becomes reality; Dad, 'Grumpa' take lad's simple crayon drawings, start building
George Murray, age five, directed the design of his treehouse with crayons on a napkin, in a Boston Pizza.
He wanted it to be big, he wanted it to be round and he wanted it to have two levels.
So it is and it does.
Not a whole lot changed, between that original crayon drawing and the final, fantastical product. George's father Shane and his grandfather Leith (a.k.a. "Grumpa") are both carpenters by trade. And while they developed the plans in more significant detail, they stayed true to George's creative vision.
"He pushed us along, all the way through," Shane says.
He even helped with construction, to the extent that any five-year-old can. "He was out there working all the time," mom Penny Lloyd says. George seems particularly proud of the swinging horse he helped build with Grumpa. Building, after all, is in his blood.
After two months of construction, the treehouse towers in the corner of the Murrays' backyard. A massive yellow cedar log, grounded with concrete, stands vertically at its core -the central spine. It's a piece of wood that Shane had always intended to build or carve something special with. Maybe some wooden dishes -he hadn't decided. He kept it inside to dry for 10 years, but once he and Penny had children, their focus shifted.
George and his 18-month-old brother Charlie crawl up a ladder made from a smaller log with wedged steps carved into it, through a circular hole in the underbelly of the building, pulling themselves into a palace that would make Dr. Seuss salivate. (OK, Charlie needs a boost.)
Inside, the plywood and cedar walls curve around them in a cylindrical shape. From here, the boys can step out onto a balcony and peer through black iron railings.
Or they can keep climbing to the second floor. The bravest among them can step onto the section of plexiglass flooring, inspired by the CN Tower's famous glass floor in Toronto, which gives a view all the way down to the dirt below.
Is it scary? "No," George says with confidence.
The treehouse, with its whimsical Gaudi-esque curved roof, has made the Murrays' backyard a go-to hub for kids in the neighbourhood.
"There's been a lot of neighbourhood kids over, that's for sure," Shane says.
"It's funny, they'll say, 'We heard there's a tree fort, we want to come over and play!' " Penny says. But often, the Murrays will come home to find a few five-to 10-year-olds already in the middle of an adventure.
While the treehouse is the pièce de rÃ©sistance, it's only the beginning. Besides the treehouse, trampoline and kid-sized basketball court in the driveway outside, Penny and Shane have created kid-friendly nooks and crannies around the house for their boys.
They bought the 1908 house about five years ago. "It had really good bones, really good character," Penny says.
"I saw the doors at the front of the house with the old wooden trim that hadn't been touched -I like that," says Shane. "I like old homes."
But it wasn't until he saw potential to build that the carpenter was sold. "As soon as I poked my head in the attic, I knew we could go up."
On the other side of the master bedroom on the new second floor, young Charlie's room is full of history.
The kids' great-great-greatgrandfather's desk is now a change table.
His wife's old blanket box, which made the journey from Ireland, is still in use. And an antique bookshelf, built by a Welsh ancestor from the other side of the family, sits across from the crib.
But more important to the boys is The Cubby. One 2 1 /2-foot door (kids only) leads behind the wall, to what used to be the edge of the attic.
Crawling inside is like crawling into a kid-sized world. An adult immediately feels like she's eaten one of Alice's treats and outgrown the house in Wonderland. The other side of the entry wall has a little chalkboard, while bins of toys line the opposite wall, which slants inward, the way attics do.
Crawl across the narrow space and you'll reach a matching three-foot tall exit door on the other side.
George's room is no less impressive. The boys' grandmother, Lynn Murray, is an interior decorator and it shows. Aside from painting the treehouse, she has cleverly organized George's room. Beside the bunk bed (Charlie will join him when he's old enough) is a cozy reading nook, with a soft carpet and pillows on the ground.
Favourite books line the walls, and others fill bins. Lately, George has been reading a lot of The Magic Schoolbus series.
Opposite the bed, bins of toys and activities line the wall and are labelled according to a Montessori concept, with pictures representing the contents taped to the front (the closet is labelled in the same way).
There's also a mini drum kit, a ukelele and other instruments by the door. Cool.
Charlie is too young to say, and George is probably too young to realize how lucky they are. But the Murray boys are living the dream.
Given his interest and natural aptitude with tools, it looks as though George has a future in carpentry -like his father, and his father's father before him. Does he like to build things?
"Yeah!" Does he want to be a carpenter when he grows up? "Yeah. Um, no." What does he want to be? "A arch..." -it seems for a moment as though design might be a natural part of his future, as an architect, before he finishes the word -"...eologist."
" 'Cause we get to dig for dinosaur fossils."
Well, whatever George dreams is possible.