ISSAQUAH, WASHINGTON: Treehouse Masters' Pete Nelson pauses in front of the Temple of the Blue Moon treehouse at Treehouse Point.
Treehouses aren’t just for kids anymore. While a backyard fort might be fun for the littles, adults are opting for their own, more extravagant, getaways in the trees. Imagine watching the game or hosting a cocktail party inside a neat little outdoor space with a cool view. Don’t know if you’ve got the right tree for the job? Unsure about the possibilities for your treehouse pad? Not to fret! Pete Nelson, host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters will be making a special appearance at this year’s MidSouth Home Expressions Show to cover the ins and outs and share stories about some of his most interesting treehouse-building projects.
Like most, Pete became excited about treehouses as a child. He was 7 years old when his father built him his first at their New Jersey home. As he grew up, he maintained a passion for treehouses but chose in college to pursue a degree in economics. His treehouse fantasies came back full-force upon graduation. Pete’s inner carpenter spoke loud and clear: He was meant to become the “treehouse guy.”
1 of 2
2 of 2
Today, Pete runs his own treehouse-building business, Nelson Treehouse and Supply, in Fall City, Washington, and operates Treehouse Point, a treehouse bed & breakfast located outside of Seattle. His wife, Judy, and his adult children, Emily, Henry, and Charlie, work alongside him in the trees. Pete has written several books about building — and living in — treehouses, including Treehouses; The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb and Be in a Treehouse, an inspiring text that details the technical aspects of building in the trees and showcases treehouses all over the world.
His latest endeavor as host of the popular Treehouse Masters series has allowed him opportunities to work on various elaborate treehouse projects, including a “Space Crab” — a zinc-wrapped structure meant to resemble a spaceship and a horseshoe crab — at the children’s camp, Camp Southern Ground (a special-needs camp in Peachtree City, Georgia, founded by country music superstar Zac Brown). He’s also built a treehouse tasting room at the headquarters of Angry Orchard, a hard cider company near Walden, New York.
But treehouses aren’t just for celebrities or corporate companies. Regular folks can dream big — and be in a tree — too. Take a look in your backyard — the Memphis area is practically an arboretum with its age-old oaks and poplars — or have a look at your lake house, see beyond the branches and tap into your tree’s potential. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to build in and on a big tree. So long as you have the space, you can make your treehouse work.
In a New York Times interview promoting the 2013 premier of Treehouse Masters, Nelson said, “My definition of a treehouse has broadened substantially. In the beginning, I thought a tree-supported structure, even a supporting post on the ground, was cheating. To me, that was a stilt house. It’s just being up in the trees that now defines a treehouse. If you want to be in a stilt house among the trees, is it a treehouse? Sure. It’s all about sharing in the energy of the tree. However you do that is fair game.”
When asked by the Times’ Steven Kurutz about the bonds that people develop with their treehouses as opposed to their homes, Nelson said, “A home is a home and it’s a wonderful, warm thing. But the difference in the treehouse is that it’s a place where you are absolutely away from it all. Every one of these structures is a place to unplug and unwind. At first, I thought we’d be building backyard offices, but in 15 years I think I’ve done three. The use of these things is about reconnecting with natural worlds.”
1 of 2
2 of 2
Memphis: What can visitors to the MidSouth Home Expressions Show expect to see in your presentation?
Pete Nelson: Folks often ask about my path to building treehouses as a living; I like to take the time to answer these questions and tell the story of how treehouses came into my life and inspired me to make treehouse construction my career. I also like to cover some nitty-gritty techniques of treehouse building, including how to install and maintain a healthy hardware connection to a tree. Additionally, I’ll be describing the evolution of my treehouse designs and builds and show some of the projects I’ve been most proud of. At the end of my presentation, I like to leave plenty of time for audience questions; I love meeting and speaking with fellow treehouse enthusiasts.
What piqued your interest in building treehouses? How did you go from economics to treehouses?
When I was seven, my dad built me my first treehouse in a three-stemmed maple tree in our backyard in Ridgewood, New Jersey. From that moment on, I was hooked on the treehouse life; I loved how treehouses evoked a sense of adventure, wonder, and togetherness in folks of all ages. I built my first adult treehouse in the backyard of my Colorado Springs home when I was 25. As a young person, I harbored a passion for architectural design and carpentry; I’ve always found it immensely fulfilling to create tangible things and have something real to show at the end of each workday. That said, I’ve been deeply grateful for my economics degree; it’s been a great asset in founding and growing my small family business.
Treehouses were especially attractive to me because of their relatively short project timelines, as well as their small scale. Designing for small spaces in a short period of time is creatively challenging, but also digestible: I can get my head around the design very quickly. I was also captivated by the challenge of building in a living organism. The promise of stimulating design challenges combined with my deep love of nature made the treehouse life an easy choice. Treehouse construction is truly a labor of love; it continuously ignites and excites me. I became dedicated to making my passion for treehouses my career, and feel deeply grateful that I was able to achieve that.
Assuming most of the treehouses you build serve as second homes or “getaway” places, do any of your projects serve as primary homes?
Yes, we built a treehouse that functions as a primary home for a client on the Oregon coast. This treehouse is the epitome of tiny-space living; in 220 square feet, it contains all amenities of a modern home (including plumbing, electrical, laundry, kitchen, dining area, and bed). Built in an enormous Sitka spruce, this treehome celebrates the wild, stunning beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
You built a treehouse at Horseshoe Lake in Eastern Arkansas?
That treehouse was such a memorable project; we loved working with our clients, who asked us to build a space where their family could admire sunsets, unwind, and spend time together. We built the treehouse on the shores of a lake, and provided a roomy screened-in porch where our clients could keep a lookout for birds and other wildlife. It was a privilege to collaborate with artist and fellow treehouse designer Roderick Romero, who created a stunning nest of woven branches in which our porch could perch. We love building treehouses like this one, where folks can come together to connect with nature.
What are the best types of trees on which to build?
In the Pacific Northwest, we’re lucky to have an abundance of prodigiously strong, sturdy trees, including Douglas firs, cedars, and spruce trees. When we build around the nation, we love working in oaks and maple trees. I always avoid building in cottonwoods and alders, as the former frequently lose branches and can die suddenly, and the latter are often structurally unstable and quite small.
Pete Nelson will give two presentations at the MidSouth Home Expressions Show at Landers Center (4560 Venture Drive, Southaven, MS) on Saturday, February 4th, at 12:30 and 3 p.m.