I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. ~Henry David Thoreau
Trees are awe inspiring. Walt Whitman talks about them profusely, Thoreau speaks of them as Gods, and they provide our planet with one third of the oxygen we breathe every day (plants, blue-green algae and other marine organisms do the rest). It is no wonder that we have a fascination with one of Mother Nature’s most towering examples of symbiosis and beauty, and why so many people dream of living in a tree house.
Although it is nearly impossible to build a tree-friendly tree house, there are ways to minimize the damage, and some tree house designs are simply drool-worthy, especially when they keep the health of the tree in mind.
When considering the problems with building your tree house on the tree, there are a few things to reflect upon:
- Trees can be infected by bacteria and viruses, causing loss of its precious branches or even the death of the whole tree.
- Because trees slowly grow larger over time, increasing the diameter of their trunk every year, tree houses that do not plan for their eventual growth can stunt it, or even kill the tree.
- The most conscientious tree house designs allow for even weight distribution to different parts of the tree, or displaces it to numerous trees, so that the tree’s health is minimally affected.
- Though it is nearly impossible to ‘do no harm’ to the tree, a process called compartmentalization helps to isolate damaged or infected areas.
Visit Tree Houses
Of course, one way to live among the trees without hurting them is to simply build your house amid the trees, instead of using them for structural support, or you can simply visit some of the most amazing tree houses in the world that have already been constructed – some clearly worthy of the Swiss Family Robinson’s envy.
This Chilean tree house has floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies offering views of both the Patagonian Andes and Mocho Choshuenco Volcano. To stay here you’ll pay more than $300 US a night, but you’ll have access to rainforest showers, two restaurants, and a full pool and spa.
If that’s not your style, and you opt for a more rarefied sojourn in nature, how about a tree house modeled after a French chateaux among Chestnuts and Oaks? Though not as high as some tree houses because of being built near the trees instead of on them, the tree houses at Chateaux Dans Les Arbres in Dordogne boasts quaint little arbor-dwellings surrounded by 360 degrees of trees.
Hinchinbrook Island in Australia is seriously in the thick of it – trees that is. It sits within the country’s largest national park replete with 96 acres of lush rainforests, rugged mountains, and coarse sandy beaches, with just one option for accommodations: the Island Resort, a secret hideaway with 15 spacious tree-house bungalows that would make any tree lover swoon.
Of course staying in one of these magical places is likely to make you want to construct your own tree house.
Building Your Own Tree House
If you are seriously thinking of building your own tree house, you will likely want to talk to Pete Nelson, a Seattle-based architect known as the ‘tree whisperer.’ His portfolio includes luxury homes perched on branches, a tiny red brew house with peacock window and brewery inside, and a round tree house made out of cork tiles, that has a grass roof and fireplace in the center. The most expensive tree house he has been commissioned to build was $365,000, but his building ideas could be used even for tiny tree houses.
Nelson, who has been building tree houses for twenty years, says:
“The energy a tree emits is undeniable. It’s the sort of energy that makes the hairs stand up on your neck a little bit.”
His Trillium Tree house is simple in design, but calls to the naturist in all of us. It certainly makes tree-house living seem more affordable and possible.
It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far! ~John Muir, July 1890
For a tea tree house (no pun intended) you can visit Japan where the only way to access this structure is by ladder. Terunobu Fujimori’s tea house, Takasugi-an, which literally means “a tea house too high,” floats in the clouds in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, precariously atop three chestnut trees.
Finally, this man in Tennessee can boast for the title of ‘largest tree house in the world.’ His tree house took 14 years to build and is made entirely of salvaged materials, and stands with the support of six trees rising ten stories into the green-leafed canopy. It’s around 12,000 square feet and even has its own ‘indoor’ basketball court.
It just goes to show there’s no tree house idea too big or too small, but remember to be kind to the trees.
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