House Beautiful: Courting good, clean fun

George and Charles don’t have to set up a net on the street to play hockey or go to a public park whenever they want to shoot some hoops or bat a ball around.

They can Rollerblade, skateboard, play tennis, pickle ball, dodge ball, hockey, badminton and volleyball right in their own backyard. All they have to do is walk downstairs, open a low door and step into their own mini recreation centre.

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The sport court was built by their dad, Shane Murray, who, it’s no surprise to learn, is an experienced carpenter.

“Our two boys love it and so do all their friends, as well as lots of the neighbourhood kids who come over to play all the time,” said mom Penny Murray, who delights in the sound of laughter rippling up from the court at all hours of the day.

But the biggest surprise is how the court has become a magnet for parents, too, and not just their children. “It’s neat to see whole families playing together. This is a great recreational space in an urban setting.”

The owners had no trouble getting approvals, although the court did 77ruffle a few feathers at first — not because of the noise, but the lights.

“Initially, we installed tall lights, like the ones above the Sticky Wicket rooftop, and kids and adults would be out there at all hours. But we completely understood the comments of neighbours, so now we don’t play after about 7 p.m., and Shane lowered the lights, so they just spread light on the players’ feet now.

“Our neighbours are really great.”

The sport court, which also features an equipment storage area and water fountain, fills the entire backyard and cost about $15,000, said Shane, who added that figure doesn’t include his labour.

But he and Penny figure it was money well spent. At their last house, he built a spectacular tree house for the boys and when the family moved three years ago he presumed he would build another, but this property had no big tree and the backyard was rather small.

They toyed with the idea of putting in a pool, but it’s something the children would only have used in the warmer months and the owners worried about continuous upkeep, as well as heating and chemical costs.

“And all you do in a pool is swim,” said Shane. “Whereas here we can play all kinds of sports. I can build a skateboard ramp, if I want, and we can even show movies on the biggest wall. We had 50 people over for a party recently and people who didn’t know about the court were quite flabbergasted.

“There are virtually no maintenance costs, although I do wash the sides now and then.” And another big plus is he doesn’t have to mow any back lawn or pull weeds.

“I sacrificed half my workshop to make it this size, though. I cut it down the middle and that made all the difference. It added eight feet to the sport court, which is now a full size pickle-ball court of 50 by 28 feet.”

The project began when he covered the entire backyard with three inches of concrete — “We didn’t skimp on that” — and laid a mat-like sport court tile that clicks into place like Lego. Tiles can be individually replaced if damaged and are slightly spongy, so a little forgiving on ankles and knees.

Shane sloped it slightly toward the house and installed a perimeter drain, then enclosed the entire court on all four sides.

“The highest fence is where it backs on the workshop at 10 feet high; the rest is wrapped in five-by-10-foot sheets of plywood. [That’s] a standard size but they had to be special ordered.”

Above the fencing, he installed glass on the house side to give a view of the court from the deck, and netting on the other sides up to five metres and partway across the top, to deter stray balls.

Finally he installed net posts that can be raised or lowered for tennis, badminton or volleyball.

“We can use this all year and the real advantage is it can be easily torn down. We could take out a portion of the concrete and landscape the back garden at any time,” he said, noting the family had originally looked for a home near a quiet cul-de-sac, park or public court, but they fell in love with this Fairfield heritage house.

“We just needed to solve the kid problem,” said Shane, who has been a contractor for 10 years and was a landscaper before that.

Penny loves the court and their heritage home, which also includes a secret playroom in the upstairs eaves, built by Shane. The long, low space connects the boys’ bedrooms and even has its own skylight.

“We’ve always loved heritage and this house has great character, great bones. We’ve hardly touched the dining room, which has a built-in sideboard and coffered ceiling.”

Shane’s family gave the couple many antiques and old paintings and he has built several tables and framed a large mirror to expand the interior vista.

“When we had our first home, I helped with tiling and colours, but Shane’s mom and he have a natural artistic ability and both love colour, so they did this house mostly,” said Penny, who is manager of legislative and regulatory reform in the provincial Fish and Wildlife branch. And Shane’s father is handy too, working with Shane on building projects.

Designer Archie Willie was hired to create a new layout for the kitchen and master bedroom, and Penny said the renovations have really improved the flow.

When they bought the house, the master bedroom had an inconvenient design with a bathroom just inside the door. Shane moved it to the far wall and expanded the space slightly by stealing some room from the study.

The kitchen was previously cramped and had an early ’80s vibe with dark green lino on the floor. Shane removed two doors and two small walls between it and a back study, which not only expanded the kitchen dramatically but allows an unobstructed view of the court from the kitchen.

“I’m so glad we didn’t do a pool,” Penny said.

“Friends come over almost every sunny weekend and we’re on the back deck or on the court for hours. Even in winter, when it’s pouring with rain and windy, the boys are out there.

“We all run around and the parents sweat buckets. It’s great exercise and we laugh so hard.”

An added bonus is their kids aren’t addicted to electronic devices, and they are becoming very good at sports.

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