Your childhood dreams just became 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. And we ain’t talkin’ no tree forts either, but legitimate tree houses complete with solar, compost bathrooms, kitchen and water.
In fact, so prominent is the rise in treehouse demand as we, the people attempt to escape the 24/7 drudgery that has become the modern workplace that Animal Planet TV created TreeHouse Masters - a show dedicated to showcasing the country’s best and most luxurious fairytale castles in the sky. And they’re built by host and owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply, Pete Nelson, who combined his lifelong treehouse obsession and his building skills to become America’s No.1 authority on all things treehouse.
Sure, $300,000 might seem excessive when you picture your average tree fort, but one look at any of Nelson’s creations and it’s quickly obvious these abodes are just as comfortable as any home - only in the trees, and away from everything. And 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. 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, people seeing a treehouse for the first time or the 100th - it’s always spellbinding. In the middle of the woods, a shelter just waiting for you. When you sleep in the trees, you sleep. You may be a person who wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, but you will not wake up on your normal schedule. You’ll be shocked with how peaceful they are. 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 $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. The more exciting it is. But we recognize a lot of this is over the top of the regular dream - the Tarzan and Jane thing. But we still harbor those fantasies ourselves. And everything we build still has that essence.
There is some good news though. They’re not all the expensive…
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. You can find materials and advice. And 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. They don’t need all the bells and whistles. I want people to embrace nature, trees and treehouses.
But your clients are building super treehouses….
[laughs] They want all the creature comforts. You’re gonna 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 - bathrooms. We do composting toilets. And some people want real plumbing, which is very easy - the crawl space is 12-15 feet in height [laughs]. Every treehouse we build now we put air conditioners in.
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, 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. And lofts are becoming quite popular, too. Normally, you cordon off a nook for the bed with curtains that open to the main room. Believe it or not, 400 sq feet is big for a tree house. The average size is about 200 sq feet.