Don Grose built this colorful, dome-like play structure with guidance from his daughters, Asana, 7, and Nyala, 9. - TPN

Dome brings the park to the kids

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Stand outside Don Grose's home and it's hard to envision the wild imagination that's hidden from view. But behind the gate and around back, there's something unexpected: a mixed-media valentine for Grose's daughters Asana, 7, and Nyala, 9.

Inspired by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle and adobe eco-home architect Nader Khalili, Grose is creating a backyard environment "from the Earth and not just concrete."

The heart of the project is a dome-like playhouse made of concrete, rebar, chicken wire, linen, papier-mache and mortar — put together with guidance from his daughters.

"It wasn't like I sat down and designed it," he says. "It was an organic process."

When the girls said they wanted to host sleepovers in the playhouse, for instance, it grew larger.

"I envisioned it as a place they would never grow out of," Grose says.

Asana and Nyala start a tour along a yellow brick road that ends at the playhouse, splashed in bold reds and blues. Pieces of broken plates cover the exterior in a ceramic mosaic. Inside, the working fireplace complements two sculpted seats, painted in colorful abstracts and placed underneath a window for a reading alcove.

Asana follows stairs up to the turret. She descends the outside of the playhouse like a rock climber, grasping protrusions that jut out as handholds.

When Grose purchased the property four years ago, the backyard was "wall-to-wall dead grass but full of promise." The first-time homeowner was excited about cultivating the only backyard his daughters had ever known.

"Instead of taking them to the park, I wanted to bring the park to them," he says.

Juggling two daughters, a hermit crab, a gecko, a rescued Dalmatian, Knick (Knack) the cat and his job as a middle-school teacher, Grose needed more than a year to finish the playhouse. He originally dubbed it "a weekend project" and guesses it cost him a few thousand dollars to build, most of it for concrete.

Now that the work is nearly done, Grose says he has learned from the creative process. It reminds him of the stage sets he built years ago while working in theater in San Francisco and New York.

"When I watch my girls playing on the playhouse, I can see their imaginations take flight," he says.

"The play becomes something bigger than simple make-believe. They are building a connection to the structure, almost framing their entire childhood experience. Of course, they don't see it this way, but in time they might."

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