Lounging on the leather couch, positioned in front of a 12-foot high window, we watch the summer thunder storm, and its accompanying winds bustle through the tree tops. As I take a slug of my local IPA, the rain whips at the window, coming horizontally in bursts and the tops of the surrounding pines thrash violently, “but see, no movement, totally stable,” Cam Green says. “You wouldn’t know that we’re in a tree house, would you.”
Yes, kind of like Tarzan, we are at home in the trees. Thirteen feet above ground, we’re sat in the main living space of a splendidly luxurious tree house. At 370 square feet, with an additional 210 if you include the outdoor deck space, this home-on-high, this tree fort for grown ups, is the brainchild of Mr. Green and his partner, Lauren. Costing a cool $300,000, the structure, near Minden, Ont., includes a full bathroom with flushing toilet and shower. There’s a king-size bed high in the mezzanine, and the aforementioned living space, which is climate controlled with a heat recovery ventilator, includes sofa, coffee table and propane stove, plus a kitchen area complete with fridge and space for food preparation.
Mr. Green has been fascinated by building in trees since his childhood. “Borrowing” materials from the burn pile behind his parent’s cottage on Balsam Lake, he and his buddies would knock together tree houses in the bush, much like many other kids. But, while others grew up and forgot about their aerial construction projects, Mr Green’s interest in architecture and the potential for building in trees blossomed. In 2014 he took a course in sustainable tree house design and construction, at the Yestermorrow Design Build School, in Waitsfield, Vt. “We learned how to build the specialized foundation structure that you need to support a tree house in a growing tree,” Mr. Green says. “I’d always wanted to turn my dreams into a reality and now I had the skills to do it.”
But, time has a way of getting away on you and it wasn’t until 2019 that the couple could begin their build. The design, by Mr. and Ms. Green, and overseen by B.C. architectural designer Lindsay Duthie of Lindsay Duthie Design Studio, is a tale of two parts. Mr. Green focused on the structural and engineering aspects, while Mrs Green undertook the interior and aesthetic design of the building.
Most critical was the attachment to the two red maple trees, which support half of the building’s weight. Specially engineered for the project by Oregon-based tree house guru, Charlie Greenwood, the tree house attachment bolts (TABs) are a dynamic fixing that runs right through the heart of the tree. The rod and bolt system supports two steel arms that carry heavy I beams, on which the main structural members of the wooden floor system sit. Additionally, three steel posts support the rear of the building, keeping it totally stable.
“The most important element on this kind of project is, of course, the trees,” Mr. Green says. “And with that in mind you must work clean. By that I mean that no dirt or foreign bodies can be allowed to get into the wound that you create in the tree while installing the TAB because they have the potential to infect and damage the tree.”
To this end every cutting and boring tool was sanitized, holes were cleaned out and sanitized as soon as cut and a paint-on sealant that helps the trees heal applied as soon as the TABs were in place.
“The tree is kind of your reason for building a tree house,” Mr. Green says, “so protecting it is paramount. Even the ground under it was covered with wood chips and plywood while heavy construction took place. We wanted to be sure not to damage or compact the roots.”
The deck on which the building is constructed is massive. Three large 13-inch-by-7-inch glued laminated timbre beams form the foundation, upon which Douglas fir joists, each 4 inches by 12 inches are laid. All “float” 13 feet above the forest floor. From here on up, to its 33-foot tall peak, the tree house is a fairly conventional stick frame build.
“The only differences are the corrugated steel structure of the wall around the big window, to stop deflection, and the fact that we used screws instead of nails so that they wouldn’t pop due to any unforeseen movement,” Mr. Green says.
Aesthetically, the vibe is all clean, modern lines with a “woodsy” twist. This is where Ms. Green comes into her own. Cedar is the predominant material externally: the deck, penny joint siding and privacy screens for the outdoor shower, all hewn from the hard wearing wood. Invisible glass handrails border the deck, giving a real sense of being truly among the trees. Inside, the cool grey of the straw and clay floor – a super environmentally friendly product, laid by a local artisan – is complimented by Baltic birch plywood paneled walls and ceiling.
“Lauren has a great eye for this kind of design. I just do the grunt work,” Mr. Green says with a laugh.
Signature pieces, such as the mini propane stove and ladder to the mezzanine, are black, adhering to a minimal colour pallet informed by the window and door frames. The bathroom, too, is all dark tones; the hexagonal floor tiles and almost mirror-like black wall tiles contrasting nicely with the quirky, black trimmed white enamel sink.
A chunky leather couch and woollen throw rug soften the aesthetic and add a cozy feel to the living space, which will be especially welcome in winter months, when the family is really looking forward to living amidst the snow blanketed forest.
The Greens have managed to successfully turn a life long ambition into a reality, and a burgeoning business opportunity, as their new tree house building company, Fort Treehouse Co., gets off the ground (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the completion of this wonderful build.
As for the couple’s two boys – Arlo, who is two, and Sidney, just weeks old – as they grow up they’ll have the best tree house in town. But, it’s a safe bet that dad will be helping them build their own, something more rough and ready like those from his childhood, soon enough.
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