Home, sweet tree There's nothing like a treehouse for keeping your head in the clouds

June 28, 1998|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From a leafy perch in the treetops, the world stretches out below like an uncharted voyage. A treehouse tucked amon the branches is a treasure-trove of adventure, a secret place that will carry not just children but also adults as far as their imaginations will send them.

"People have delighted in treehouses for centuries," said Jonathan Fairoaks, a certified arborist and treehouse design and construction consultant from Glenmoore, Pa. "What could be more fun than a treehouse?"

What indeed? For three years, Fairoaks lived in a treehouse in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. His cabin in the trees had a loft, bathtub, wood stove, front porch, running water, stereo, generator and lighting.

"It was delightful," he said. "Everyone wanted to come over and see it."

Building and being in a treehouse is a childhood fantasy. Youngsters love a hideaway among the leaves and branches, where a treehouse made with scraps of wood magically becomes an arboreal spaceship rocketing toward the stars, a pirate ship on a stormy sea, a rowboat on a lazy river or a rumbling stagecoach.

These rough-hewn treehouses will never go out of style. But today, treehouses are branching out beyond clubhouses where no girls - or no boys - are allowed. Treehouses are becoming works of art.

Adults are enlisting the help of architects, carpenters, arborists and, yes, even treehouse consultants, to build sophisticated treehouses with price tags ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars for their children - and, on occasion, for themselves.

Do-it-yourselfers are gathering tips from a growing number of treehouse-building books, such as "Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and Other Tall Tales" written by Peter Nelson, a carpenter in Fall City, Wash., who builds homes on the ground when he isn't high in a tree, and Gerry Hadden.

"There's definitely a lot of treehouse building going on," said Nelson, a self-proclaimed "treehouse promoter" and founder of the World Treehouse Association, an information-exchange organization with 800 members who either have or want to have a treehouse.

People are using their well-designed, carefully crafted and comfortable Swiss-chalet, shed, multistory or wraparound treehouses not just as play areas for children but also as vacation homes, weekend retreats, meditation spaces, entertainment areas, offices, guest houses and bed and breakfasts. A few adventuresome souls have treehouses that are full-time residences.

"What has excited me about treehouses is the trees themselves," said Nelson, whose office is in a cedar tree. "They have a lot of energy in them - a real life force. I have a real respect for the tree itself, and the health of the tree is a primary concern. We all recognize that the tree is to outlast the treehouse."

With a partner, Jake Jacob of Seattle, Nelson has formed Treehouse Workshop, a treehouse design, consultation and construction company. For $500 a day, they'll provide assistance at a treehouse construction site.

Fairoaks also works as a treehouse consultant, helping with the selection of the right tree, designing the foundation - that is, the main beams and flooring - working with a local carpenter and recommending a mounting system that won't harm the tree.

"A treehouse is a living process," he said. "I let the tree dictate the design."

Although he no longer makes his home in a treehouse, Fairoaks enjoys climbing 90 feet up a tulip poplar to his observation treehouse to enjoy the view of the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside.

"When people's feet leave the ground, their psychology changes," he said. "Being closer to the clouds ... brings out their joy and happiness."

BUILDINGA DREAM

What do you get when you add together three young boys and some beautiful woods? Grace Ott figures the answer is a treehouse.

"I think that's a boy's dream," said the mother of Michael Jr., 9, Louis, 7, and Curtis, 4-1/2. "They just love it, and they're dying to sleep out there."

The Otts' new treehouse in Owings Mills is a stained plywood A-frame that was custom-designed and built by professional arborist Bill Anacker and his friend Nathan Dunlap, who prunes and trims residential trees and builds treehouses and creative swings.

Set on a platform that rests on cables suspended from two huge tulip trees, the treehouse can be reached by climbing 15 feet up a ladder made from two smaller tree trunks and lots of branches for rungs. A trapdoor leads to a deck with porch-rail pickets made from cut-up tree limbs. Admiring the view are (from left) brothers Michael and Curtis and friend Michael Pierorazio, 8.

STORIED PLACE

What to do, what to do, what to do when your treehouse is a house that's a tree? This Winnie the Pooh treehouse is 4 feet in diameter and 12 feet tall, like a tree trunk with slab wood siding, stylized branches with bird faces painted on the ends, a cedar-shingled roof, yellow wooden door and circle windows.

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