The lure of treehouses

If you go down to the woods you'll see an array of arboreal abodes. Charlotte Philby reports

I'm not much of a Star Wars fan, but there was one aspect of George Lucas's vision that left a lasting impression: the Ewok village. Nestled high in the trees of the forest moon of Endor, the Ewoks formed their own private world, safe from the perils of life on land.

The Ewoks aren't the only fictional characters to have made a world for themselves high in the canopies. What better home for Tarzan or Peter Pan? Nowhere encapsulates the spirit of youth – the pursuit of freedom in a world of constraint and responsibilities – like a private retreat among the stars.

According to the American architect and arboreal enthusiast Pete Nelson, "the treehouse possesses a transformative power. It speaks an ancient language, and the message is universal: 'Climb up and be in harmony with nature. Let go of earthbound encumbrances and be free.'" Spellbound by these homes in the sky, Nelson set upon a journey across six continents in search of modern treehouses that raise the stakes in creative design. His findings are compiled in his new book, New Treehouses of the World.

At the start of his journey, in the small town of Crossville, Tennessee, Nelson found a man reaching a higher level in more ways than one. Some 18 years ago, Horace Burgess received "a mission from God". "A vision of an enormous treehouse church presented itself to him," explains Nelson, "with almost every imaginable detail intact." Since then, Burgess has spent 15 years creating a hand-built cathedral that now stands almost 100 feet high.

Burgess scavenged wood to create an intricate, eight-level structure enveloping the remnants of an old white oak tree in his grounds. The pulpit stands before a large wooden cross, embedded in solid internal beams. This area, at the summit, is accessed by a great spiral staircase, tunnelling up and around the oak. Bells fashioned from old acetylene bottles hang from wire in a belfry that stands 97 feet high, while an enormous corrugated-plastic skylight illuminates the nave.

When not in service, the church doubles up as a basketball court: a hoop is fixed on the main wall above where the local congregation otherwise gathers. Burgess's exquisite creation has since become the heart of Crossville, and he is not the only one lifting the spirits of his community through the power of the treehouse. Far across the Atlantic, in a deprived neighbourhood in Tangier, Newman discovered a charity established with the help of Roderick Romero, an American spiritualist, former musician and treehouse designer.

He and his partner, Anisa Romero, an artist, have raised the stakes with their innovative treehouse design. Their opulent creations have graced the pages of Vogue and The New York Times, but the real reward for them is harnessing the "tranquillity and natural splendour" of the treehouse, to bring happiness and hope to deprived neighbourhoods across the world. In Tangier, Romero helped initiate a captivating outlet for local children.

The Tangier Treehouse Project taught youngsters carpentry skills by helping them build a boat-shaped structure in the branches of a giant ficus tree. The boat symbolised "the kids' hope for the future, and a better life", says Nelson. And the treehouse was the perfect medium for this. In his book, Nelson reflects on the restorative power of a place "surrounded by the raw energy of nature, where the soul is inevitably rejuvenated and the spirit lifted". But he talks about more tangible benefits, too.

In a world where natural resources are diminishing, and the impact of global warming places the need for sustainable development high on the international agenda, Newman argues that environmentally friendly treehouse tourist resorts, as seen in Thailand, India and Japan, are proof that the future of property development really is up in the air. Whether or not this sort of high-rise building could ever replace the growing sprawl of concrete tower blocks that permeate Britain is debatable, but there are a number of people in the UK embracing their childhood fantasies.

Jenny and Richard Grindon have fulfilled a lifelong ambition in the grounds of their family home in Haslemere, Surrey. "Our neighbours had one first, and friends of all ages arrive with tents and sleeping bags," explains Jenny, who has three children between the ages of two and 10. "Some camp in the garden, while the lucky ones get to sleep in the treehouse." It was too glorious an idea not to emulate, and the Grindons had their own built in October last year.

"We live in a woodland and it called for a treehouse," she continues. They enlisted the skills of Tree House Life, which offers everything from basic children's playhouses from around £3,500 to palatial affairs complete with hot tubs, which, unsurprisingly, do not come cheap. The Grindons chose something in the middle. "We wanted ours to blend in with the land," says Jenny. "It has a number of platforms and runlets, set around an old oak tree. There is a zip rope, a rope bridge, a swing, a slide and a great wall of climbing net." It's the ideal space for good, old-fashioned family fun.

"Because we live on a slope, there was little scope before for our children to play games outside before," she continues. "But now, every day when the kids come home, we go outside and play battles across the fortress. You have to be a big kid to think of something like this, but who doesn't have an inner child just waiting to be released?"



'New Treehouses of the World' by Pete Nelson (£19.99), is published by Abrams and is out in May

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created