When designer Jill Smith and personal trainer Wooch Graff were building their Houston home in 2009, they included all the trappings of a typical two-story house: four bedrooms, wood floors, plenty of natural light.
“I think we missed the memo that being a grown-up means being serious and sitting still,” Smith says. “Our house is not perfect, and it has scuff marks and messes, but we really wanted to encourage movement.”
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, people have reinvented the ways they think about their homes, says Pearce Scott, an architect based in Bluffton, S.C. People are “amenitizing” their homes, he says, so they can enjoy them to the fullest and have more of the pleasures from the outside world at home. People built pools or took on a full backyard makeover. Or, like Smith and Graff, they took things in an even more whimsical direction with an indoor slide, putting play at the center of their homes.
“It takes you back to your childhood in a lot ways,” Scott says.
And although indoor slides are great fun for children, they aren’t just for the kids. Stephanie Gentemann is the director of design at Palmetto Bluff, a resort community in South Carolina where Scott has designed homes with indoor slides. She oversees the community’s design review board and says there are six homes either being built or in the design phase with indoor slides. She says people — including those with grown or no children — are forgoing resale concerns and going all in on what makes them happy at home.
“It’s just being creative and having fun with it,” she says. “You can try new things. Some of these are full-time homes, some of these are vacation homes or they’re part-time homes, but people are getting really creative, personalizing their spaces.”
The upcycled slide
When Smith and Graff were planning their home, they asked their architect to design a slide that runs alongside the bottom half of their staircase. The couple, who met in a spin class, wanted to incorporate ways to get movement into their home. They also installed a firefighter’s pole and a rock-climbing wall, but it’s the slide that sets the tone for their house; it’s the first thing you see when you walk in — and it gets the most use. “Every morning for breakfast, we come down the slide,” Smith says.
The slide the architect originally put in was white wood. They hired artist Sam Jones to finish the slide with repurposed wood from a nearby bowling alley that was being demolished. Jones was able to preserve details in the wood, including the white arrows on the lane and discolorations from where there were once nails, while also carving it to resemble an old-school metal playground chute with tall sides. A color-changing LED light beneath the slide adds flair.
From a Zoom call in her great room, Smith smiles when asked about the slide. “I think that, truly, we get on this autopilot as adults that we sit and we don’t play, and it’s like, life should be fun, especially now,” she says. “Anytime you can add any sort of playful nature into your everyday or movement into your everyday, I think that’s a good idea.”
The from-scratch slide
Emily and Paul Marshall knew they wanted to fully embrace their space when they began building their barndominium-style house (a barn that has been converted into an open-layout home) outside of Des Moines three years ago.
After years of moving around, the Marshalls plan on staying in this house with their three kids, ages 8, 7 and 4, for the long haul. Paul, 42, wanted to give the kids something to look forward to in the new home. A slide, a symbol of freewheeling fun, was the answer. Paul, who, along with Emily, founded MR Post Frame, which builds wood-frame homes and sells home plans, had never designed or installed a slide before, so he figured it out as he went. “When I was thinking about it, I wanted it to look nice,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be like a red slide or a green slide. I wanted it just to mold into the house where it looked natural.”
Indoor slides come in many options, including straight chutes that go from the second level into the living room, as well as more elaborate designs, such as a slide that goes into a “secret” lair. They can also take up a lot of space; you have to account for both the length of the slide and the landing area. The longer and steeper the slide, the faster the user will go, so the landing area of a tall, steep slide (most of the ones Scott designs are about 10 feet) needs to be large enough to accommodate someone quickly scooting down. The material of the slide also changes the speed: Metal is the fastest, while plastic is the slowest. Corkscrew slides are slower and have the added bonus of being visually interesting.
The Marshalls played around with different designs and landed on a straight slide that descends from the second level of their home to the first alongside the staircase. The material is similar to acrylic and looks like wood, so it fits in nicely with their wood home. “We were able to just widen the staircase in order to accommodate it,” says Emily, 39. Now the kids — and Paul — use the slide every day. “I would say that I’m the only one that uses the stairs regularly,” she adds.
The economical slide
Indoor slides may seem like an expensive undertaking, but they don’t have to be. For speech pathologist Kristi Orlando, 36, and her husband, an indoor slide was an innovation of necessity in fall 2021 during the long days at home with their two kids, ages 3 and 6, in Sandpoint, Idaho. “My husband thought it would be super fun to put a slide down from the main level to the basement. Then, conveniently, the kids could run back up the stairs to go back down it and burn off some energy when we’re stuck inside,” Orlando says.
The main level is open to the basement — instead of a wall, there’s a safety guard that resembles a wooden fence — and the difference in height between the two floors was about five feet, making it an ideal spot to install a slide. They chose a playground slide that was about $130. “It was easy to install. We just made a frame out of two-by-fours and drilled the frame into the floor and then attached the slide to the frame. So it’s really sturdy,” Orlando says.
“It gives them a chance to play together and get some energy out, stay healthy, and their friends absolutely love it,” she adds. “It’s the most popular thing at our house when friends come over.”
Lia Picard is a freelance writer in Georgia.