Any child —no matter what age— has dreamed of a secret hideaway where their imaginations could invent rich stories populated by all types of interesting characters. That image of a secret hideaway and the fact that one Mainer couldn’t find a fun play house for his kids led to the development of Kids Crooked Houses, one of the hottest products around.

The rise to media stardom began simply enough, Glen Halliday didn’t like the looks of the playhouse kits he saw at his local home improvement store. He then noticed a crazy looking “house” on one of his kids’ cartoon shows, all crooked and colorful.  He decided he’d make his own playhouse.  Soon neighbors were all requesting their own, and soon Kids’ Crooked Houses was born.

The fledgling company, which just started up three and a half years ago, has made it to the big time: a featured segment on the reality show finale of John and Kate Plus Eight.  The “plus eight” group of kids were able to pick the themes and colors for their own set of playhouses, where they could play outside. The day after the segment aired, the company was briefly the most Googled search in the world.

One of the distinctive things about Kids Crooked House is that each order is custom designed to the customers’ specifications. Theme, color, size and accessories such as window boxes are all developed with the customer’s input.  The distinctive “wonky” shingled roof that sets these playhouses apart is actually part of a basic pattern of six panels that can be assembled and customized. Each Kids Crooked House is built on the same footprint. Workers assemble each unit, customize, then disassemble for shipping on a pallet. Assembly takes an estimated hour by two adults.

Because the product is designed for children the materials had to pass a strict approval process from the Consumer Products Safety Improvement act, requiring testing for lead, safety of the components and construction and other tests. The playhouses are painted with low VOC paints and solid wood instead of particle board.

We spoke with Bryan Smith, the company’s operations manager about the company, that has just recently moved into larger manufacturing space to handle the growing demand. “Our signature at Kids Crooked House is the uniqueness of each play house. It’s not cookie cutter,” he said. “We pride ourselves on working with every customer to get their kids the Crooked House they want.”

Another key to the Kids Crooked House appeal is the “Active Kids Play Manifesto” that promotes the power of play to help kids develop social skills, coordination and to fight childhood obesity with activity.  The company hopes that the backyard will return to its status as a kid’s destination for fun.

Any tree houses in the future? Smith indicated that they had investigated the tree house option, but that the issues and permits increased exponentially once the structure was 30 inches or more off the ground.  That certainly doesn’t seem to be keeping the kids from having a great time at ground level!