This guy can turn your childhood treehouse dream into a reality
Berenstein or Berenstain, the one thing we can all agree on is that those clumsy cartoon bears lived in a tree. And now you can too, courtesy of a booming treehouse market where builders are giving up the bricks and mortar and applying their skills to making childhood dreams a reality.
In fact, so prominent is the rise in treehouse demand as we attempt to escape the 24/7 drudgery that’s become the modern workplace that Animal Planet TV created TreeHouse Masters, a show dedicated to showcasing America’s best and most luxurious fairytale castles in the sky. They’re built by host and owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply, Pete Nelson, who combined his lifelong treehouse obsession with his building skills to become America’s number one authority on all things treehouse.
Sure, US $300,000 might seem excessive when you picture your average tree fort, but one look at any of Nelson’s creations and it’ll be obvious these abodes are just as comfortable as any home – only in the trees, and away from everything. He’s got six coffee table books and his family-run Treehouse Point B&B in Washington State to prove it.
THE RED BULLETIN: Pete, how did your childhood dream of building actual tree houses manifest itself into reality?
PETE NELSON: Treehouses are where it’s at, and it’s been like that for a long time. Every kid built a tree fort or knew someone who had one. But somewhere along the line, living in nature got pushed aside for all this real world and technology stuff. But we’re bringing it back, and we’re bringing it back hard, because no matter how you slice it, treehouses are magic. It’s an overused word, but it’s true. They have a transformative power that I’ve witnessed. Even people coming out of the trees after just one night in the B&B, they’re happier and more relaxed.
How do you explain the rising popularity of treehouse living?
It just awakens so much in people. That childhood excitement, I’ve seen it so many times, whether people are seeing a treehouse for the first time or the hundredth - it’s always spellbinding. In the middle of the woods, a shelter is just waiting for you. When you sleep in the trees, you sleep really well. You’ll be shocked with how peaceful they are. It’s all about getting back to the woods and connecting with nature and your loved ones. At Treehouse Point, you don’t even get internet service. You’re forced to have personal time with the person you’re with. They’re love shacks.
But these things aren’t cheap. Your treehouses cost upwards of US $300,000.
Yeah, we’re talking $200,000 to $300,000 because these are literally houses in the trees that people are requesting with kitchens and bathrooms and modern amenities. We’re carpenters and we love building just about anything, and the more challenging the better, and the more exciting it is. But we recognise a lot of this is over the top of the regular dream – the Tarzan-and-Jane thing. But we still harbour those fantasies ourselves, and everything we build still has that essence.
Can you get cheaper treehouses as well?
You only need to look at Instagram to see those more modest tree houses being built like never before. It’s fantastic. My greatest wish when this started was just that – to inspire people to get out and show them it’s possible to build these things. That it works, and that they don’t need all the bells and whistles. I want people to embrace nature, trees and treehouses. Treehouses are not only for the rich and famous. The reality is we’re inspiring other people out there to get out in their own backyards and nature and build that dream.
Some of your clients are building super treehouses.
[Laughs.] They want all the creature comforts. You’re going to want some form of electricity, whether it’s solar or ground power when we’re not that far from the main house. You need lights. You need a way to turn the coffee machine on. Lately, plumbing has become more and more of a thing too, so we do composting toilets. But some people want real plumbing, which is very easy – the crawl space is 12-15 feet in height! [Laughs]. We put air conditioners into every treehouse we build now.
You’re currently in Virginia working on a Thomas Jefferson-inspired treehouse.
We are, we’re working with Sycamores, which are great, quick-growing trees. They’re very resilient, so far as putting big holes and hardware in and around them. And we’re not too far from Jefferson’s retirement house, so we’re taking inspiration from the Monticello. I’m lifting the lines off that and using it as inspiration. This one is being sheetrocked and we’re doing a Thomas Jefferson-inspired finished package, which is over and above cool. We’ve got crown moulding and big windows. It’s a carpenter’s dream, with real and authentic beautiful trim work. That’s the sort of stuff that excites us.
What do these thing typically look like inside?
Rarely do we have separate rooms. They’re normally grand rooms. But a lot of outside space is imperative in a tree house. Lofts are becoming quite popular, too. Usually you cordon off a nook for the bed with curtains that open to the main room. Believe it or not, 400 square feet is big for a tree house. The average size is about 200 square feet.