OUT ON A LIMB
In a tree house, you can go away without going away
The house: At 6 1/2 feet by 8 1/2 feet wall to wall, one can safely say space is at a premium. The house and crow's nest are bolted into two grand Douglas firs, one with a split trunk. The Seelys live on about an acre of fir- and cedar-wooded land on Bainbridge Island. The crow's nest over the tree house is perched about 30 feet in the air. The base of the house is about 8 feet off the ground. The house, platform, crow's nest and bridge went up in 11 days last spring.
The goals: A getaway without going away for kids and adults alike. Eric and friends use it for water-balloon and squirt-gun battles and pine-cone-throwing skirmishes. "When the enemy person comes across the bridge we can hold them off for quite a while," Eric says. Sometimes it's a fort, sometimes it's a quiet hideaway for drawing and to have tea and cookies. "Another thing you can do up here is cloud watching," he says. He's also considering a garden of hanging plants or even his own very exclusive restaurant, the kind "where you serve really fancy food. The reservation kind."
Key features: The house is simple yet beautifully crafted and built to last. Trim over the front door and a rope banister add a special touch what Krista calls a "cartoon charm." The bouncy but sturdy bridge connects Eric's house to the deck of the family home. The small, cozy deck leaves just enough space for two. And the crow's nest can be used as a jail or reading nook. The roof is metal, and the spindles on railings are rough limbs from the tree that holds the house.
Architect: Anna Daeuble of TreeHouse Workshop in Seattle with Jake Jacob. Jacob and Peter Nelson, co-owners of TreeHouse, have conducted workshops at IslandWood, the education center on Bainbridge, and have taken the class over to Eric's house. The tree-house observation classroom at IslandWood, in fact, is a TreeHouse Workshop creation.
Interior designer: Eric Seely
Cost: A tree house like this one costs about $16,000.
Quote: "The larger kids are enjoying the adventure. We had sort of a tree-house warming with about eight kids from the neighborhood," Krista says. And who doesn't need adventure in their lives? Good adventure. A view of the world you can get only in the trees. It worked for Tarzan. It worked for the Robinsons, the Swiss family Robinsons. It worked for Pooh's pal, Owl. "It came out far better than we had imagined. We were thrilled," Krista says.
Advice: Krista Seely points out that a tree house for children is not a "little-kid kind of thing. It's not for wee tots."
And remember: Trees move. Therefore, tree houses move. Go with it, the Seelys say.
Animals gotta nest. Human animals included. It's our comfort, our protection, our womb with a view.
So when Jake Jacob of TreeHouse Workshop in Seattle eyeballs a fir or a maple or an oak and bends way back to follow the path of the trunk, he's thinking about a human nest. "There's painfully little data about how live trees sustain load," Jacob says. "But obviously it works because people have been building tree houses for years."
He points out that trees are the oldest living structures on Earth. "They are amazingly resilient. The trees have so much to say about what we build. The trees are living beings."
And, yes, he did have a tree house as a child. A peach-basket-wood-platform kind of a deal.
"A retreat like this represents freedom from responsibility. It inspires dreams," Jacob says.
Because the tree is the foundation for this kind of home, it is all important. So before house plans begin, Jacob has a little one-on-one with the tree in question.
"I do often get feelings from the tree," Jacob says, while not wanting to be labeled some touchy-feely, tree-hugging, flannel-shirt-wearing nature geek. He's not. It's just that the tree's the thing here.
"If the tree then goes into decline, we've done a disservice," he says. "People have this notion you somehow just do it. But once they have information brought to them about the connection between a structure and a tree, they understand more about what you can do. In the end, they get more or less what they want. What I do is come as close as possible to bringing those things the requirements of the tree and the vision of the owner together."
In the process, Jacob and TreeHouse Workshop co-owner Peter Nelson meld the living wood with their passion for wood as a building material (preferably reclaimed). "One of the fun things about this is that we're blazing a trail. There's not a lot of code about putting real buildings in trees," he says.
That's one good reason to consider a few things before you branch out, so to speak. Among them:
It's a good idea to consult an arborist before and during building. "It's analogous to owning a boat. Any wood structure requires maintenance. And, Jacob says, after watching for hot spots, especially during the first two years, you are almost guaranteed a support with a long life barring acts of God.
Bolts, used to secure the supports, won't hurt the tree as long as they're spaced 18 inches apart. "A tree is very capable of sealing the wound and moving on."
Unlike other houses, tree houses move. And that's OK. Hooks connected to the bolts allow the floor supports to slide as the trees move and grow.
Jacob's preferred supporting tree is an oak, because it is so strong. The other top trees, in order, are: big-leaf maples, cedar and Doug fir. Hemlocks often have weak tops and root systems. Poplar and cottonwood are brittle in the wind.
Call TreeHouse Workshop at 206-782-0208 or check out www.treehouseworkshop.com for workshops and more information.
Rebecca Teagarden is Pacific Northwest magazine assistant editor. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top