Tree Houses in the Press – A Room with a View:

Treehouses Bring Back Childhood Memories

The Burlington Free Press – July 17, 2010

A Room with a View
By Hannah Crowley, Free Press Staff Writer

When you are small, there is something magical about the leafy, secluded independence of a treehouse. When you are big, you might have to stoop, but the special feeling lingers, morphed into something more like nostalgia, thick with memories of whispers, flashlights, sleeping bags and s’mores.

Some are simple. A few plywood boards nailed across thick branches, more of a perch than a house. Others rival regular homes with their sunset views and amenities. Regardless of how they are outfitted, there is nothing like spending a lazy summer day surrounded by greenery, a few chirping friends and the quiet of the forest.

“It’s nice for the kids to have a little space of their own,” said Kris Yandow of Georgia. Her husband, John, built a treehouse for their two daughters, Elizabeth, 14, and Holly, 12.

Their 8-by-12-foot wooden treehouse sits at the edge of their woods, a small deck overlooks a perennial garden and a small pond with a waterfall. It is insulated and has power. The final plan includes installing a trap door and a basket-pulley system to bring up all the things one might need in a treehouse, including Oliver, the family’s little West Highland Terrier. A full-sized futon provides a lounging spot and a bed for sleepovers.

“It’s really been a family project,” Kris said. The family designed, built and chose the furnishings for the treehouse together. The Yandows allowed their daughters to make a wish list for their treehouse, which “of course had to be edited somewhat,” Kris said. (Requests for cable television, Internet, a refrigerator and an elaborate walkway system with lookout towers that would stretch from tree to tree were scrapped.)

“It is a great way to get the kids out of the house and away from the TV and computer and enjoy being outside,” Kris said.

Complete with Electricity

For the Blackmore family in Colchester, it came down to either a zip line or a treehouse after Chaz and his son, Ben, 8 (then 3), read the ‘Dangerous Book for Boys.’ Mother Jeanne Blackmore vetoed the zip line as a bit too dangerous for the boys, so a treehouse it was.

Catapults, though – those were doable.

The treehouse has electricity and a pulley system. The wide, flat structure was planned to fit around an irregularly shaped cluster of tall, straight trees in the Blackmoore’s backyard.

Chaz said Ben and his sister Sammie, 6, spend lots of time in their leafy escape, finding solitude, or more mischievous pursuits, such as an elevated perch for hide-and-seek or a prime vantage point for surprise water balloon attacks.

They plan on having a sleepover in their treehouse this summer, if the bugs aren’t too bad.

Easy Access

Critters aren’t an issue in Burlington at the home of the Hales – well, mostly. Their treehouse has a screen door featuring the silhouette of Casey, the family’s pet Chihuahua. The structure is an 8-by-8-foot platform with a maple tree rising up through the center.

Paul Hale and his wife, Ellen Zeman, built the house for their daughter Sophie, 13. Sturdy stairs and grab handles make the house accessible for ‘old folks,’ Hale said, as well as Sophie, who uses the treehouse to hang out with friends and occasionally as a place to do her homework.

The materials used in the Hales’ treehouse were all recycled from a major renovation done on their home in 2008. The home’s old deck was converted into the platform and supports; there was just enough siding to cover the small structure, meaning the little treehouse’s siding and trim match the main house. The only things purchased were new hardware and a few small playhouse windows.

“There’s something peaceful about being up there overlooking the backyard and the house,” Hale said.

Recycled materials

Using reclaimed material is something Chris Webster and Traci Sawyers of Richmond focused on when building a treehouse for their daughter Haddie, 12, and son, Eli, 9. The floorboards and walls are made from milled boards from his father Ted Webster’s southern Vermont property; the windows were from the Reuse Zone in Richmond and ReSOURCE in Burlington.

Webster said he had plenty of help from his father during construction, and the planning process was “a lot of sketching, erasing and more sketching.”

Three generations of the Webster family are present in the treehouse: Built by Chris and Ted for the children to play in, the structure also features an antique ship’s light that Chris’ grandfather, Harold, unearthed from the sand under their Ocean Gate, N.J., beach house in 1956. It gives off a warm, gentle glow, perfect for a treehouse, and looks like an antique camping lantern.

Family retreat

In Essex Junction, Geoff Glaspie built a treehouse for his daughter Giselle, 13, “to have a sanctuary in our trees in our backyard – to share the living space with the birds and the squirrels.”

The house is bolted to a maple, an oak and an additional wooden support column. It has a 4-by-10-foot deck, two screened in windows and a stairway to access it from the ground. Staggered shingle siding of western red cedar stained a warm red gives the little home a fairy tale cottage-like look.

Glaspie said he positioned the treehouse so it would have a view of the sunset in the evenings. For Giselle, his wife, Beth, and himself, the treehouse is a place to “just soak in the breeze blowing through the trees,” Geoff said.

Beth spends time reading, writing and finding quiet in the canopy of trees. “I love the sound of rain falling on a metal roof,” she said. “It’s like a little retreat. I never thought I would use it. When no one is home, I go out. There is no phone, I don’t have housework staring at me – it’s just lovely.”

All about the trees

Dan Wright, contractor and arborist of the Pennsylvania-based Tree Top Builders, switched to working solely on tree houses eight years ago. “Who wouldn’t want to build treehouses for a living?”

Wright recently completed a project in Williston. The treehouse is situated between three hemlock trees on the edge of a stream. It has a sleeping loft, a porch that overlooks the mini gorge and a piece of stained glass from Burlington artist Lawrence Ribbecke featured in the gable.

In his own yard, Wright prefers platform structures and tends towards plenty of windows in his designs.

For him, it’s all about the trees. “I just love the open air, you don’t want to forget where you are.”