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Treehouses: the Arboreal Hideaways that are in, and branching out!

Treehouses: the Arboreal Hideaways that are in, and branching out!

This Modern Treehouse Pavilion was designed in Queensland, Australia for client Mark Parker on the Room Flip interior design TV show game. Queensland offers many such spectacular arboreal getaways/hideouts.

Treehouse: “a place every kid, and adult kid dreams of staying.” That’s why we had one designed right here on the Room Flip game, in Queensland, Australia, for client Mark Parker who wanted to have a nature-inspired getaway for his children, away from the humdrum of city life.

As children haven’t we all dreamed of having our very own treehouse? Although only the lucky ones (like Mark Parker’s kids) had their dreams fulfilled. As we got older, this dream has waned for some, but many people haven’t given up on it. More and more adults have been rediscovering the joys of Arboreal Hideaways, which has given rise to a ‘novelty lodging market’. And throughout the years, living in a treehouse has become a popular choice for many homeowners. “Today, some of the most sought out hotels and Airbnb’s are treehouses.” – states Garden State Home Loans Inc. Another Washington Post article cites: “Airbnb lists treehouses as the “most wishlisted” type of rental in its May 2021 trends report.”

So treehouses are in – and branching out.

Whether for a solo escape, romantic getaway, or a trip with the whole family, these wooden treetop abodes thrust us into the heart of nature and offer a unique stay on another level – literally! No wonder then that from Africa to Ohio, and pretty much all across the globe, this ‘green getaway’ and alternative housing has found many ardent admirers.

Treetop Lodging in Bali, Indonesia

Ahh! Such magnificent views this treetop lodging in Bali, Indonesia offers.

Treehouse Tidbits

Now that we’ve established why we all love these arboreal abodes, let’s get down to some Treehouse tidbits.

Firstly, What is a Treehouse?
“A tree house, tree fort, or treeshed is a platform or building constructed around, next to, or among the trunk or branches of one or more mature trees while above ground level. Tree houses can be used for recreation, work space, habitation, a hangout space, and observation.” – Wikipedia

As hardcore treehouse enthusiasts would tell you: the tree must be an integral part of the structure, and it must have the ability to stay in the air. In some cases, minimal ground support may be necessary to ensure safety, but if the tree is removed and the structure is standing, it’s considered a playhouse.

Wooden Cabins and Playhouses versus Treehouses

This cozy-looking wooden cabin (on the left) isn’t a treehouse although it’s surrounded by herbage. While the one on the right qualifies as a treehouse.

Treehouse Origins

“Tree house life has largely been a storied fantasy, its details woven into books (Peter Pan)” – Emilie Sennebogen in Ultimate Guide to Designer Tree Houses, numerous films and sitcoms like the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ (the Halloween episodes from The Simpsons). 

If you ask me, the most famous treehouses of all time existed only in the imagination at first, including the one that was home to author Johann David Wyss’ shipwrecked clan, the Swiss Family Robinson. Later, they’ve had a long and rich history in the real world too. Before we get into that, have you ever wondered where the wonderful idea for a house in a tree came from? 

From our very distant ancestors – the apes! Yeah, you read that right. The idea of ‘high-living, up in the boughs, is something that we humans adopted (eons ago) from the apes, who would make homes for themselves in the trees as protection from the elements, as well as predators. “Long before they were a thing of fun and pleasure, the tree house was a used permanent living accommodation, a home. They were built worldwide, wherever trees grow. They were used as shelters with a great view, practical for keeping families and their food safe from sneaking animals and floods.” – Milica Sterjova in Walls with Stories blog.

And so it goes…that the history of these magical abodes spans far, far back when they were used for survival: as a necessity and way of living in inhospitable terrains. And not as an ‘escape’ from the humdrum of city life, or children’s dens, or even the mind-blowing luxury accommodations of today!

Luxury treetop dwellings with all modern amenities

Modern-day treehouses can accommodate a host of amenities.

When and Where was the First Treehouse Built?
Although history has no evidence of when the first treetop abode was built because of its very ephemeral nature, treehouses can be traced back to ancient civilizations, more than 40000 years ago. Original treehouse dwellings comprised simple platforms suspended in a tree, or hidden up in the trees and thought to have been first created in areas such as the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, largely as a protective measure against flooding. “A smart pulley system was the only means of entrance to the platforms for both the inhabitants and their belongings in place of a ladder.” – The History of Treehouses blog. The inhabitants “came and went via thatched baskets that were raised and lowered down the tree trunk.” – Emilie Sennebogen

So When did the Treehouses for Survival take a turn for Treehouses for Pleasure?
In the Middle ages, Franciscan and Hindu monks used treehouses for living in and for meditation. Many centuries later, the world saw four distinctly fashionable periods for building treehouses: the Roman era, the Renaissance period, the late 18th-century Romantic period, and the early 21st century.

The first recorded evidence of treehouses used for recreation dates from the first century AD: the Roman era where “Pliny the Elder described one made for Caligula in a Plane tree at Velitrae. This was of the platform style, but others were enclosed in the trunks of trees.” – A Brief History of Treehouses blog, Blue Forest: the world’s leading treehouse company.

A neat little abode lodged into the trunk of a tree

Enclosed in the trunk of a tree, this looks more like a hobbit house than a treehouse, ain’t it?

The Renaissance period witnessed a staggering rise in the popularity of treehouses in Europe, especially in Italy due to Francesco Colonna’s immensely popular book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) that constructed romantic images of these abodes. Treehouses became a fashion statement in Florentine gardens, and even led to the creation of lavish treehouse restaurants, with records showing that the largest would seat up to 200 guests! The powerful and famous Italian banking family – the Medicis also incorporated them into their gardens: they built a treehouse in an oak tree, and it had its own spiral staircase and a fountain near it, further bringing the trend to the forefront.

Treehouses became a significant cultural feature in Tudor England. One of the oldest tree houses constructed in the 16th Century still exists in its original Tudor style, and is known for its most famous guest: Queen Victoria in 1832, while she was a young Princess! Queen Elizabeth, I also had her treehouse, mostly used for dinners. Legend has it that as a princess whilst she picnicked amongst the branches of a linden tree, at the time of her father’s death, causing her accession to the throne to be amongst the branches. And I cannot help but share this sardonic observation by a visitor as listed out by treehouse builder Cheeky Monkey:

“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.”

While in Britain, like most things, treehouses have a link to royalty, in France, inspired by the famous Robinson-Crusoe, chic Parisians leisured in “tree-top bars and restaurants built in chestnut trees and covered in rambling roses, in a town called Le Plessis-Robinson. Meals were hoisted up to diners in a basket pulley and often consisted of roast chicken and champagne.” An oenophile’s haven, “Le Plessis-Robinson provided Parisians with a place of escapism, fun and maybe a little too much wine.” notes treehouse builder – Cheeky Monkey.

And finally, “the late eighteenth century built upon the romantic feel and sense of luxurious extravagance, having come a long way from the simple platform as a home to something that only the wealthiest of people could afford.” – The History of Treehouses blog

Treehouses in modern-day

The early 21st century saw the greatest revival of treehouse trends worldwide. With a higher level of disposable income, and a greater desire to enjoy unique experiences, countries such as the United States, Australia, and many parts of Europe adopted this trend, and continue today to build grand structures amongst the branches for us to enjoy as weekend retreats, offices, or even as full-time residences. Another crucial contributor to the increasing popularity of treehouses is the green/sustainable living movement with people choosing to once again live in the trees and “worship the environment around them.” 

Treehouses are not just a luxury for the wealthy in the modern day. With materials readily available; it is a viable option to build your very own treehouse or to book a stay in one at an affordable price.

Now, are you considering building one for your kids or yourself and in an instant, be transformed into faraway lands, forts, and hideaways? Read on.

Tips on Building the ‘High Life’

🌳 First and foremost you have to have the right tree for a treehouse. Almost any mature deciduous (trees that lose their leaves in the winter) or coniferous tree is a good choice, as long as it’s healthy. The trees have to be able to support the loads and hence, need to have a solid and intact root structure, which these types of trees provide with their dense wood compositions.
⚠️ Watch out for trees with multiple dead branches, leaf discoloration, or liquid oozing from the bark: they’re NOT healthy. Alternatively, working with a professional tree specialist, an arborist, can help make these determinations easy.

🌳 So what if you’ve got a tree! You have to be feasibly, legally allowed to construct your tree-dwelling. Every jurisdiction is different in terms of how they treat these structures, so do check with your local authorities.

🌳 OK, permission granted, now what? Come up with a Design! But hey, did you pay close attention to the shape of your tree? Because that will largely dictate the design, although there are many other architectural details to consider during the design process. For example, is the tree still growing? If yes, your treehouse design needs to accommodate the growth to keep the tree in good health.
⚠️ Avoid using too many nails, screws and bolts as they can create puncture wounds that can harm the tree and weaken its structure, especially if they’re placed close together. “It’s best to use a single, large bolt that fits snugly into a cleanly drilled pilot hole”, suggests Emilie Sennebogen.

Eyeball-shaped treehouse in Vancouver Island, Canada

This rather queer treehouse in Vancouver Island, Canada took the “I’ve got my eyes on you” expression quite literally!

🌳 Darn, I forgot to mention the Wind! Well, ‘Mr. Wind’ is also a huge consideration in treehouse design. A treetop dwelling acts like a “sail on a boat in strong winds, creating resistance that adds a considerable load to the tree’s roots. A tree will compensate for the weight of the treehouse over the first few years by adding thickness to its root structure.” Emilie Sennebogen Not just that, Wind also means that trees sway back and forth, so the support structure of the treehouse needs to allow for this to happen. So when coming up with a design, “keep in mind that a treehouse that’s lower in the tree will produce lower forces on its roots and stand less chance of being knocked over by gale force winds.” Emilie Sennebogen

🌳 OK, all things considered, now what about the look? I think people love treehouses because of the warmth of timber… when you walk into the treehouse you get this lovely woody smell. You can either go with reclaimed timber, which most professional treehouse builders use or employ the same kind of wood you would use to build a regular house. Exterior plywood is good for the floor and walls, but:
⚠️ Plywood doesn’t allow drainage or ventilation, so you must build a solid roof that’s pitched at least 30 degrees to allow rain to run off easily.

A not-so-extravagant rustic treetop dwelling

As with all things, looks matter! Though not a high-end treetop accommodation, it sure exudes a rustic charm and the warmth of timber.

🌳 Next, you can choose glass or plastic for the windows but each comes with a rider: glass is clearer and scratch-resistant, but it’s more prone to breaking. Plastic won’t shatter into pieces if hit by a branch, but it’s not as attractive.

 That’s that. Now, I’m not much of a writer, like Zara. But I tried. I hope you find the facts that I researched so laboriously, handy. So are you ready to escape to a treehouse for a bit of forest bathing: take in a bird’s-eye view of the landscape and relax as the tree rocks ever so gently in the breeze? Let me know in the comments!

Take in the bird's view from atop your tree abode and find yourself in nature

Escape to a treehouse for a bit of forest bathing: let the tree rock you ever so gently in the breeze.