Branch out: treehouse living
If we can’t fly with the birds, at least we can nest with them by building a house in the trees. This is not a cheap indulgence, however, as they can cost anything from €1,500 for a simple structure to €1 million for one kitted out with games consoles, heating and CCTV
Peter O’Brien’s €25,000 design in Mullingar, which was inspired by ‘Dr Seuss’
Custom-built cedar-clad treehouse by Blue Forest. Project costs from £50,000 (€58,850)
Blue Forest’s James Bond- themed high-tech treehouse with biometric door locks and night-vision CCTV with a multiscreen control panel hidden behind a sliding wall
The treehouse head office of Mind Candy, the company behind Moshi Monsters, in London
A fairytale treehouse dsigned by UK design company Blue Forest at Birr Castle, Co Offaly
Springtime in Japan at a one-legged teahouse in Kokuto city, by architect Terunobu Fujimori. Photograph: Taschen, from Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air
Blue Cone Tree Hotel in Sweden, treehotel.se. Photograph: Taschen, from Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air
Actress Jennifer Anniston reportedly spent $2 million on one for her husband-to-be Justin Theroux that includes a den with a state-of-the art audio system. The star attraction at Birr Castle’s newly opened playground is a €200,000 Disneyesque turreted playhouse set among trees.
So what’s the appeal of tree house living? In his 1994 publication, The Art and Craft of Living out on a Limb, Peter Nelson, an expert tree house builder and author of several books on the subject says: “Tree houses lift the spirits. They inspire dreams. They represent freedom: from adults or adulthood, from duties and responsibilities, from an earthbound perspective. If we can’t fly with the birds, at least we can nest with them.”
A tree house offers seclusion, a chance to commune with nature but most of all adventure, says Andy Payne, managing director of Blue Forest, the UK-based design company behind the fairy-tale confection at Birr Castle. His clients include Madonna and Eric Clapton. “Inside every adult is a big kid. A tree house lets you time travel back to your childhood.”
Blueforest prices are not for the faint-hearted. The “timber-frame houses in the sky” range in price from about €35,000 to €1.175 million, according to Payne. “The way the construction is supported, the engineering behind it is important. They’re insulated and designed for the occasional sleepover.”
Payne grew up in East Africa and spent his childhood enjoying the beauty and adventure of the great outdoors. The father-of-three’s own treehouse, Bensfield Tree House, started life as a home office. Accessed by a 24-metre rope bridge over a pond and built around a mature oak, the property is now available to rent short-term.
The oak fulcrum is the house’s only rustic touch. The centrally-heated space has a chalet-style pitched wood-panelled ceiling and polished floorboards. It is offers an adult-only escape, that couples can rent. No kids are allowed.
His children, Emily (9), Joseph (6), and Molly (3), are still waiting for a tree house of their own.
Most Blueforest clients want something that is out of this world. One commissioned a high-tech hideaway, with everything from biometric fingerprint recognition door locks to night vision CCTV with a multi screen control panel hidden behind a sliding wall. “It also featured an audio-visual media centre with all the latest games consoles, cool plasma plates, a toilet and just about anything the recipient, a nine-year-old, could possibly want in a tree house,” Payne says.
Tech company Mindy Candy, the people behind Moshi Monsters commissioned him to create a treehouse in their head offices in Shoreditch in London.
Castles in the air
So how feasible is it for an Irish person to commission a castle in the air? Colm Doyle of Cabinteely-based Doyle Landscapes has built about a dozen such tree houses for Irish clients. An advocate of the Swiss Family Robinson approach he builds his structures within a group of trees so that they don’t “hurt” the tree.
One costing €25,000 includes a cedar shingled roof structure with proper wood floors, insulation, glazing, electricity and running water. But it doesn’t have to be that fancy. His prices start from €1,500. He constructed a design in his Wexford cottage that is set on a platform so that his kids can jump off it and into a sand pit.