Free to a good home: one egg-shaped tree dwelling, gently lived in. Featured in architecture and design magazine Dwell. Sought after by tourists from around the world.
Nearly four years after Joel Allen first decided to build a sleek, wooden tree house hidden away on Crown land in a forest near Whistler, the carpenter is taking it down. Within the next week, Mr. Allen will list the dismantled parts of the tree house, called the HemLoft, on Craigslist – the very site where he acquired most of his supplies.
What is now an X on the treasure map of tourists and curiosity seekers began as a somewhat arbitrary goal for Mr. Allen, a former software developer who – after a failed attempt to retire by 26 – became a carpenter, living out of his car. Fuelled equally by necessity, creativity and a love of the outdoors, he decided to build himself a small loft in the woods. Dissatisfied with the clunky beams that hold up traditional tree houses, he began tossing around unconventional ideas with designer friends until one suggested an egg-shaped structure.
What followed was nearly two years of clandestine construction, due largely to the fact Mr. Allen's "perfect tree" was located on Crown land, on a steep slope under some of Whistler's most expensive homes. After a terrifying attempt to drive a five-metre-long, 36-kilogram wooden rib up to the secret location, then manoeuvre it down a 45-degree slope, he decided to bring the remaining ribs up in halves.
He purchased the supplies for the structure's framework, but most of the remaining material – an estimated $12,000 worth, including clear cedar siding, ash hardwood flooring and roofing – was found on Craigslist.
"It turns out that there are a lot of wealthy people in Vancouver who like to get rid of valuable scraps," said Mr. Allen, now 32, with a chuckle. Most of the valuable materials were leftovers from homes being built in West Vancouver.
The final product included a writing desk, a deck, an outdoor kitchen with a portable stove, a small spiral staircase leading up to the sleeping area and a million-dollar view. Mr. Allen and his girlfriend, Heidi, lived in it for just a week before taking off on a cross-Canada road trip. In their absence, he welcomed strangers, via a website, to find and stay in the HemLoft. A guest book racked up "hundreds, if not thousands" of messages, he said.
Before long, Mr. Allen's girlfriend became his wife, and his wife became pregnant. With a new home in the B.C. Interior, the couple no longer has time to maintain the tree house.
"I didn't think through any of this in the beginning, but it turns out building something that has become really popular, and that has drawn a lot of attention, comes with a burden of responsibility – for the upkeep of it, for the safety of people," Mr. Allen said. "With all the people visiting, there is also a lot of wear on the environment. And it would be sad to see it deteriorating over time."
Within a week, Mr. Allen will dismantle the HemLoft and put it up for grabs on Craigslist Whistler.
"I thought it would be kind of poetic to see it come full circle, to see all those materials I bartered off of Craigslist to go back on to Craigslist list, kind of as more than the sum of their parts," he said.
He has already received expressions of interest from across Canada.