Forget about Disney paraphernalia or the inflatable flamingo, the hottest trend for Christmas this year comes in the shape of elaborate, palatial cubby houses, complete with mailbox and a front porch. Think of them less as pretend play and more as a granny flat for your preschooler.
It used to be enough to set up a tepee in the corner of the lounge room and call it a day, but that's over. The new cubby houses are made from high quality, eco-friendly materials, and they can include decking, small gardens, sandpits, fences, bunting and even awnings.
The half-baked hovels of your childhoods they are not, with prices for such sweet abodes ranging from between $800 for a basic model all the way up to $2500 for a large one that comes complete with pot plants and a corrugated roof.
These are not the sort of dwellings your dad can make over a long weekend, instead they come with teams dispatched to erect any sort of design you put your mind to. And parents can't get enough of them.
Cubby house from Castle and Cubby. Photo: supplied
Kellie Macpherson, CEO of Castle and Cubby, says high demand for these next-level kid dwellings is what drove her and her husband to turn the construction and sale of basic little cubbies from a hobby on Ebay three years ago to a legitimate business creating and installing detailed, decked-out miniature houses in both her home state of Victoria as well as Sydney.
"We initially thought we might only make one cubby a month for a bit of play cash, [but] we were soon making one a week in the quiet times and this ramped up as soon as warmer weather hit," says Macpherson, who identified the demand for such stylised cubbies almost immediately and soon began to add little extras, such as the beach box, milk bar and ice-cream shop models.
Farmer's market cubby from Castle and Cubby. Photo: My Little Tribe Photography
Mother of two Macpherson says the push behind the trend is down to a combination of nostalgia, the DIY craze and anti-consumerist sentiment.
"Handmade is huge right now," says Macpherson, and it's hard to argue against the appeal of such gorgeous little houses that look twee enough to post on a perfectly curated Mummy Blog, and cute enough for kids to enjoy.
"Our basic little raw cubbies start at $850, the Midi is $1650 and large is $2650. We have styled cubbies such as the farmers market, Brighton beach box, milk bar and ice-cream shop and they start from around $2100. We do custom designs and we hardly ever say no to a new idea."
Indeed, Macpherson puts the runaway popularity of the cubbies down to how well they photograph. Only weeks ago, media personality Zoe Foster Blake posted an Instagram photo of her son in one of their constructions, which Macpherson said had a huge impact on their business.
Final touches before The Block judges arrive. (That's a @castleandcubby before you ask. Locally-made using all recycled and untreated timber/no lurid plastic, and it's very awesome. Hamish haaaad good intentions to build one, but "sadly" we outsourced it, thus narrowly avoiding The Homer of cubbies.) #pantsoffSunday
But there's a practicality to the cubbies, she says.
"As a parent I know first-hand the guilt that comes from the piles of unloved plastic toys. Their value to kids is fleeting and in a world of screens, consumerism and eco awareness, it just doesn't make sense to keep making those same mistakes and living with the guilt."
A recent survey would seem to confirm this. More than 2000 Australian parents were asked what their greatest health concern for their kids was and "too much screen time" topped the list, ahead of drug-taking and asthma. It makes sense that as tablets and smart phones compete for children's attention and desire to stay indoors, a super-cubby provides the best of both worlds.
Macpherson believes her rustic, hardy little homes are a hit because "they remind the parents, [who were the] kids of the '70s and '80s, of their own childhood when cubbies were only ever handmade".
"In a world of excess and uncertainty we are comforted by things that remind us of our safe and worry-free childhood, we want our children to experience the same bliss."
This article first appeared on Domain.