If Barbara Butler looks down on her clients, that's only because most of them are shorter than she is. And typically a few decades younger, too. But by combining her inventive ingenuity with their uninhibited imaginations — supported by generous parental funding, of course — she has been able to turn pure play into profitable work.

Butler designs and builds custom playhouses, which range in price and complexity from a $3,300 brightly painted cabin to a glazed, wired, and plumbed $166,000 redwood chalet. Among the details kids request are slides, climbing walls, rope ladders, zip lines, and jail cells with secret escape hatches — architectural elements that ensure the...

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