Living in a Tree House: Not Just Child’s Play
Sep 23, 2015
After close to two decades of constructing tree houses for other people, Michael Garnier decided it was time he had one of his own.
And so, eight years ago, the Takilma, OR-based builder and owner of the Treesort, a 36-acre tree house resort just outside the Siskiyou National Forest, built a three-story, 1,800-square-foot home perched amid a grove of white oaks.
“It’s a full-on house up in the trees,” Garnier says. He’s not kidding. The spot comes complete with comforts like plumbing, electricity, and a spiral staircase winding up the trunk of its center support.
Full-time tree house dwellers like Garnier are still something of a rarity. But, he says, customer demand has been growing steadily as more and more people take to living in midair.
Little Acorn Tree House (Blue Forest)
Inside the Little Acorn Tree House (Blue Forest)
Amberley Castle (Blue Forest)
Blue Forest's Quiet Tree House (John Cullen Lighting)
“I sell tree house parts to hundreds of people each year who are building their own tree houses, and then I build a certain amount of tree houses myself,” Garnier says. Business, he notes, “has just continually increased.”
Indeed, whether they are used as ecolodges, recreational spaces, or private residences like Garnier’s, tree houses are popping up around the globe. In Turin, Italy, architect Luciano Pia has designed an entire apartment complex, called 25 Verde, which incorporates nearly 200 mature trees.
Hot Tubs and Home Cinemas
U.K.-based sustainable builder Blue Forest offers luxury tree houses for adults and children that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Blue Forest’s projects have grown progressively more complex in recent years, says Catherine Hills, a sales and marketing assistant at the company. The tree houses include “Aga ovens, hot tubs, home cinemas, offices, wet rooms, and secret tunnels,” according to Hills.
“Tree houses mean freedom and independence and creativity and imagination,” says Dan Wright, founder of Philadelphia-based tree house construction firm Tree Top Builders, of their growing appeal. And while they’ve typically been considered the domain of children, he notes that “some adults can be youthful at heart and tap into that vibe, too.”
That said, requests for children’s structures continue to significantly outpace orders for adult versions, Wright says, noting that tree houses may be cool but they aren’t an especially practical primary home option for most.
You May Need Some ‘Green’ to Live in the Trees
As might be expected given the expertise and heavy lifting involved, these structures are considerably more expensive than ground homes, he says, with prices starting around $10,000 for a small children’s play space and ascending into the half-million dollar range.
Buyers will likely need to pay in cash as mortgages aren’t typically available for such properties, Wright says.
But for those with the financial means, the idea of living high in the trees can be alluring, Wright notes, and he, too, has seen his business grow steadily since he launched it 13 years ago.
And owners don’t necessarily have to sacrifice space to live in these lofty residences. Several years ago, he helped build a tree house in a California redwood forest that encompassed 3,000 square feet.
Wright also pours a little cold water on the idea that tree houses are especially eco-friendly, noting that because they are exposed on all sides they are generally harder to insulate than conventional homes and require more energy for heating and cooling.
Garnier says, though, that living amid the trees helps keep his energy bills down. “I’m using the elements to my advantage,” he says. “In the summer I’m in the shade, and in the winter I’m in the sun.”
And if he ever gets tired of climbing up to his home, he has a plan for that, too.
“I’ve built into the framework a spot for an elevator,” he says. “So if I ever need it, I can put one in.”