Head in the clouds

No longer strictly for the kids, treehouses are the newest must-have home accessory for adults, says Robert Nurden
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The Independent Online

David Beckham and the Duchess of Northumberland have got one, the Swiss Family Robinson loved theirs, and Winnie-the-Pooh definitely had a soft spot for them. Now Chelsea footballer John Terry and TV presenter Eamonn Holmes want one.

David Beckham and the Duchess of Northumberland have got one, the Swiss Family Robinson loved theirs, and Winnie-the-Pooh definitely had a soft spot for them. Now Chelsea footballer John Terry and TV presenter Eamonn Holmes want one.

We're talking tree-houses, the new fashion symbol for the smart home-and-garden set. And they're not being built just for the kids. Grown-ups are taking to them, too, as they rediscover their lost youth and innocently dream away the hours above the ground, in a bid to wind down from their increasingly stressful lives.

Tree-houses are the ultimate in bespoke construction. Commercially, prices range from a simple raised deck at £500 to a staggering £3.3m, which was how much the Duchess of Northumberland forked out for her tree-house palace in the grounds of Alnwick Castle - the world's largest. It measures 2,500 sq ft, nestles in a copse 50ft above ground, and took a year to build.

People opt for their wooden getaway in the sky for all sorts of reasons. The most obvious is that it's a place for the children and their friends to have a place they can call their own. Tree-house builder Belinda Ogle, founder of Live Life Outdoors, made one for her two children, who demanded a trap door and entrance via rope, to keep all adults out. Since completion, she has not been allowed to set foot inside.

But the range of facilities that tree-houses can now accommodate is stunning. There are drinks decks, dining rooms, dance floors, kitchens with Agas, bathrooms with hot and cold running water, toilets, gazebos, showers, whirlpool baths, sleepover bedrooms, spiral staircases, recording studios, music centres and TV lounges. A private school in Salisbury had a classroom built in an old tree for lessons in art and the environment, and a 32-seater restaurant in the South-west has given haute cuisine a new meaning.

With concern about the time that children spend lolling around playing computer games and the resultant rise in obesity levels, outdoor activity is seen as a counterbalance. The sight of her inactive children slumped watching television was the spur for Ogle to set up her tree-house construction company.

Tree-houses come with a good pedigree. The Roman emperor Caligula held banquets in his, and the Medici family in Italy vied to see who could build the grandest. They were all the rage in Tudor times. The oldest extant one in the UK is at Pitchford Hall, near Shrewsbury, whose origins date to the 16th century.

In today's environmentally conscious climate, it seems some of us are rediscovering the delights of living, at least for a few hours at a time, with our heads in the clouds. Writers in need of peace and quiet may prefer a tree-house to a garret. And tree-houses invariably enhance the value of your property. The best trees to build on are neither too old nor too young. The favourite species are oak, ash, chestnut, lime, pine, beech, apple, walnut, pear and fir. Avoid elm, sycamore or silver birch. The favourite wood for the actual construction is cedar or pine. Planning permission is required when an adjoining property will be overlooked.

A firm in Ayrshire, Scotland, kick-started the arboreal renaissance 10 years ago. John Harris's TreeHouse Company now has thousands of constructions under its belt. Clients have requested tree-houses that replicate the design of their main home - circular in one case - one that looks like their boathouse, and even a remake of the Ewok house in Star Wars.

Belinda Ogle, Live Life Outdoors, 01306 885886 or 07843 282104, www.livelifeoutdoors.co.uk.

John Harris, TreeHouse Company, 01560 600111, www.treehouse-company.com.

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