Introduction: Children's Play Stage (with Secret Trapdoor and Play-area!)
The best kinds of projects are ones that support and encourage my kids' imaginations. That is exactly why this has been one of my favorite projects to date! I'm hoping that this will give you some inspiration and a general idea of how to do a similar project for your own home. I've included a quick video to show the playroom where we built the stage and how it all came together, check it out and then follow along to see how you could do something like it on your own!
My kids love putting on little plays or dancing to a song they made up themselves, so they were excited to hear about this project idea. When I surprised the kids with the inclusion of a trapdoor in the stage and a hidden play area underneath... suddenly it was just that much cooler! Secret compartments are the bacon of the maker world -- they instantly make anything better. :)
Let's get to it then!
OSB (.75" thick)
decorative wood paneling
plywood (.25" thick)
mdf (.75" thick)
wood laminate flooring
peel and stick wall paper
Step 1: Designing the Stage
I used Autodesk Fusion 360 to model the details of the play stage. Becasue of the shape of the kids' playroom I had to use a somewhat unconventional shape for the stage. For that reason, I don't expect that everyone reading this will want to directly copy the shape I used, but I will walk you though the concept so you're aware of the steps and design choices I made and then you can tweak things to your own liking.
While in Fusion 360, I built up the general shape of the stage and then started defining the framing details and overall look.
The stage was designed to have a door on one end to access the play-area under the stage floor. A trap door in the stage allowed for the kids to come up out of the hidden play-area. Finally, I added a section in the front for storing props and toys that the kids might use in their plays.
As designed, the stage is 28" tall, 72" long on one side and 54" along the short side. The framing is done with 2x4's spaced roughly 15" from each other. The stage is enclosed with 3/4" osb to give structural stability and then, for aesthetics, the osb is covered with wood laminate flooring to make the stage surface and wood paneling to cover the faces of the side walls.
Step 2: Framing
The first step of the build was to create the structure of the stage by building the frame. I've included an in-depth video of me building the frame for more clarity, but I'll walk you though the steps here too:
Using the dimensions from the CAD model I cut the 2x4's that would create the base of the stage and laid them out on the floor. Your dimensions will most certainly be different here as I'm assuming you'll want to use a more conventional shape for the stage but the idea is to get the overall shape put together and visualized. I did not attach these first pieces to the floor... they are there to spread the weight of the stage and become attachment points for the walls.
Once that was done, I began building each of the walls of the stage. I cut vertical framing members out of 2x4's and spaced them 15" from each other along the length of each wall. The vertical pieces were screwed into the bottom pieces I had just laid out and the top piece was screwed in place to close out each wall section. Additionally, I had to cut out sections of the upright supports so they could fit around the baseboard and trim along the playroom's walls.(see picture) Uprights were 24.25" tall, with a 2x4 on top and bottom to give a height of 27.25" for the frame (the 28" height is reached by laying down the 3/4 osb on top). I cut 25 uprights.
It is important that you take your time to be picky here. The frame is essentially the structural skeleton and alignment tool for the entire build. If something is out of square here then it'll be difficult, or impossible, to correct later. Use the level and squares that you have on hand to ensure it is all as it should be before proceeding.
For safety, simply screwing the walls of the stage to each other and the base pieces isn't enough. There needs to be a connection to the walls of the room where it is being built. I did this by using 2x4 off-cuts and fastening them to the wall directly below each of the top "runners" of the frame. I then use screws to connect through these 2x4's into these "wall mounts". (this can be seen in the final images for this step)
Now to cover up the frame and start building the body and details of the stage
Step 3: Rough Stage Build-out
Again, pictures say a thousand words...so I've got another video clip of this next stage of the build. I'll go into more detail here and in the following steps of this instructable:
With the frame assembled and secured to itself/the wall, it is time to put up the walls and stage floor. This is done using 3/4" OSB. For the size stage I built, I ended up using roughly two 4x8 sheets.
I placed the OSB on top of the frame and then, using the frame as a reference, I marked the spot where the OSB would need to be cut in order to be flush with the edges of the frame. I then used a jig-saw to cut along the marks I'd made. Once cut, I positioned the OSB back on top of the frame and screwed it in place (a side note: it is important with all these screws to not let the heads protrude up from the OSB or else they will prevent the next layer from lying flat). I did likewise for the walls and the under-stage access door of the stage.
As part of the rough build out, I worked on building the trap door, storage areas, and access door to the under-stage play area. I will discuss those in detail in the following steps.
Step 4: Trap Door
Let's talk about the trap door.
I created this by using a framing square to sketch out an opening on the top surface OSB. I was careful to make sure the sketch was positioned as not to overlap the frame beneath. That way, when I went to cut out the trap door, I wouldn't cut any of the frame by accident. In practice, since I used 2x4's for the frame, I had to keep at least 4" away from any of the walls.
Once the trapdoor was sketched, I drilled a hole in each of the corners of the rectangle. (The trap door was roughly 2ft x 2ft) I then used my jig-saw to cut along the traced lines until I'd completed the opening for the trap door.
Try and be careful with this cut, the rectangular piece you cut out will become the trap door itself.
Once the cutting was done there are two things left to do on this trap door for now:
1) build a frame around the freshly-cut hole: I used sections of 2x4's to stiffen the area around the hole since I figured the kids would be using the edges of the hole to pull themselves up and out of the under-stage area (I had included a ladder in the frame for climbing out...but kids will be kids). I screwed 2x4's around the perimeter of the hole -- connecting themselves to each other as well as the OSB .
2) attach the trap-door cover with a hinge: It's not a trap door if it doesn't hinge! I made sure to use streamlined hinges to ensure that they would be easier to obscure when attaching the wood floor laminate to the OSB.
Step 5: Storage Area
The storage area needs to be built out. I used 1/4 plywood to create the partitions between the storage sections. I cut the pieces f plywood so they fit neatly between the 2x4's of the frame in that section.
This is a bit easier to explain with a video: (i've included here and cued it to the point where I discuss this step)
Quick summary: place staples/nails along a vertical line on the 2x4 framing members. Then slide a piece of 1/4" plywood into place (cut so it is a good fit). The plywood is stopped by the nails (which are spaced such that the plywood face is left flush with the face of the 2x4). I temporarily used duct tape to ensure they didn't come back out, but later that was removed and a permanent solution was used (I will discuss more later).
The back of the storage section (the wall that closes it off from the play area under the stage), sealed off with a piece of 3/4" MDF that is screwed into the framing of the storage area.
Step 6: The Access Door
I cut a piece of OSB to fit into the space of the frame designed for the entry. Once properly sized, I attached 3 hinges (for extra stability since ... well... kids) and mounted to the OSB and frame adjacent to the door. Be careful to get the hinges aligned properly so the door doesn't bind as you open it.
I used an off-cut from one of the 2x4's to create a handle on the inside of the door.
Step 7: Stage Finishing Touches
At this point, the structure of the stage is there -- but the thig is UGLY. So let's make it look good!
In the following steps I'll outline how I got from the OSB-covered structure to the finished stage. This was done by laying wood laminate flooring, attaching wood paneling, decorating the interior of the storage area, adding trim, and including lighting on the under-stage play area.
Again, I've got a video that outlines the whole thing here; but we'll discuss more in the following steps...
Step 8: Wood Laminate Flooring
Wood laminate flooring is a quick and easy way to add some beauty to the stage and cover up that nasty OSB. I went to Home Depot and got 2 boxes of laminate flooring (here is a link to the Wood laminate flooring I used) as well as some glue to install the flooring.
Now, those that have experience with laminate flooring will point out that it is designed to be a floating floor. Laminate flooring is not designed to be glued to the subfloor (they're meant to be secured by walls and baseboards effectively trapping them in place despite not being anchored to anything besides itself). However, this isn't a typical application -- so it'll need to be attached to the stage "subfloor". Using the built-in locking features between the planks and PCA Type 2 glue, I covered all of the top surface of the stage.
Along the way it was necessary to trim the pieces in order to fit the shape of the stage. I did so by "dry fitting" the piece (putting it in as if to assemble but without glue), using a pencil to mark on the underside of the plank while using the faces of the stage as a guide, and then removing the piece in order to cut it with my jigsaw.
Placing the laminate flooring around the trap door was a bit of a challenge. It was important that I obscure the presence of the trapdoor as much as possible -- so that meant placing the flooring so as to hide the gaps and hinges as much as possible (without interfering with the closing of the door). It took a little refining and tweaking to get the door to close smoothly and minimize the visible gap but I finally got it. I've put a couple pictures of the area around the trapdoor to demonstrate.
Step 9: Wood Paneling Front
With the top of the stage finished, the sides need to be cleaned up.
I used wood paneling as an easy way of adding a simple, finished, look to the sides of the play stage. (I've included a link to the Wood Paneling I used from Home Depot) The wood paneling I selected came in white 4x8 sheets of 1/8" mdf. I wanted a dark finish (partially for the aesthetics, MOSTLY because..well..kids and stains) so I decided to paint the paneling black before installing it.
I trimmed the paneling to fit over each of the front faces of the play stage with the tablesaw and then glued them in place. I also used finishing nails to secure the paneling to the OSB. (I used a hammer but if I had a brad-nailer that would have been the easier and quicker solution)
Step 10: Decorating the Storage Area and Adding Trim
At this point the stage front is still a little bare since there hasn't been any work on the storage area yet. I wanted to do more than just paint the interior of the storage cubbies, so I came up with the idea of using wall paper
Walmart stocks several Peel and Stick Wallpaper options that were a quick and easy solution that could add nice accents to the stage design. I selected a floral design and began to install it into the interior walls of the cubbies. Installation was a bit tricky (and a bit awkward) but it came together pretty well. Just be sure to work all the bubbles out and get the paper to lie flat.
Once I was done putting in the wall paper I used some mdf pieces to create shelves in the cubbies. I used edge-banding to cover the un-finished face of the mdf shelf. Edge banding is often used on mdf to present a smooth, clean, face. It is applied by ironing on the strip of edge-banding ( a heat activated glue is included on the edge-banding) and then trimming it to match the mdf thickness.
Finally, I used wall trim to cover up the exposed edges where the wood laminate and paneling meet up along the top and bottom edge of the stage.
Step 11: Lighting the Hidden Play Area Under the Stage
Ok so let's take a moment to focus on the play area hidden under the stage.
At this point in the build I just needed to make sure there would be lighting under the stage for the kids. I found a great option at Home Depot (LED Strip Lights). These lights are LED , adhesive-backed, strings of light that come with a remote control that allows the user to cycle through several different color options
I installed the lights along the top edge of the framing throughout the length of the play area. For convenience (and well...KIDS...) I attached the remote to the wall so the kids wouldn't misplace it.(double stick tape)
Installing the lights, however, presented a problem of cord management. I wanted the cords from the lights to be hidden away from the kids so they wouldn't pull on them. I came up with a little "electrical box" to manage the cables/cords. (I've included images to demonstrate) I designed it to make it "tamper-proof" by making the top hinged section a tight fit between the frame sections. The lid also has no handle -- so there is no way to open it except for the little hole I drilled in the top. The hole in the top is sized to accept a little piece of metal that I have (it could also be something more common like a wood screw or other type of fastener) and when it is in the hole it gives me leverage and a temporary handle to open the lid. Despite being there to SEE me open the box, the kids have not found a way to do it themselves with things at their disposal (yes they've tried which is how i confirmed that it has to be metal to open it -- anything wood or plastic seems to break off before successfully opening the lid)
With the lights installed, remote control positioned on the wall, and the electrical cords safely secured behind a "tamper-proof" box the hidden play area was officially done.
Want to check it out for yourself? (don't mind my "old-man grunting" as I crawl through (LOL)...while I'm ABLE to fit...it's not the most comfortable fit)
Step 12: Welcome to the Theater! (Let the Play Begin!)
Well there ya go! I had so much fun creating an imagination space for the kids where they could put forth their creative energies. I hope you enjoyed following along too!
Once the build was done, my wife felt inspired and decorated the room like a theater (including movie posters and playbills along the ceiling). Didn't she do a great job?!? My kids added the seating for their faithful theater-goers ( :D )
Between playing house, putting on plays, and using the stage as a launch-pad as they jump into their bean-bags ... this build has brought so much life and fun into this playroom and I hope, if you get inspired to do the same, that you have a similar experience with your kids.
Feel free to ask any questions if you need any clarification and I'd love to hear any comments or experiences you have should you decide to make your own!
First Prize in the
Secret Compartment Challenge