IT ALL STARTS with a strong and flexible platform . . . for a treehouse, when you’re building a treehouse.
But the same could be said of Pete Nelson’s career building them.
Nelson is a carpenter who, since 1997, had a nice niche gig around here advocating for and building houses in trees. Jobs in general were plentiful, the salaries fat and, yes, homeowners did want extravagant and beautiful homes in their trees. Nelson, a true believer, even wrote a couple of books extolling the virtues (not harmful to trees) of the well-built treehouse. Got himself something of a following.
Then the recession hit. The good times vanished.
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The reality, Nelson says, “is that when you make a living building treehouses you always wonder if you’re going to make payroll.”
During those dark days he and his wife, Judy, had nothing but time to work on an idea they had for land they bought in Issaquah along the Raging River; the Nelson family would build and run a treehouse bed-and-breakfast on four wooded acres. They would call it TreeHouse Point.
The project, however, almost took them down. “We called it the bucking bronco,” Nelson says. “We mortgaged our house to the teeth.” Humor gone grim, they unofficially named the riverside property “Unemployment Beach.”
And then Pete Nelson became a TV star.
“Pete, can you sign this book for that fan?”
“Fan?” Nelson asks, grabbing his snap-apart reading glasses. “Oh! Oh, yeah, she’s staying in ‘Temple.’ What’s her name? Lora,” Nelson asks and answers, already scribbling in “Be in a Treehouse: Design, Construction, Inspiration” (Abrams, $37.50), his sixth and newest book on the subject that consumes his life. (“I can’t tell you how excited I get about this stuff!”)
The dark days? Gone with a new client and a phone call from cable channel Animal Planet: Did Nelson want to make a television show about treehouses?
“Treehouse Masters” began airing in June 2013. Meanwhile, business at TreeHouse Point, the Nelsons’ recession project, has picked up. The six houses available for overnight stay are full for months ahead. The old company, TreeHouse Workshop, is now a teaching enterprise. Nelson Treehouse and Supply designs and builds.
“Temple was the first,” Nelson says fondly, leading the way to the Temple of the Blue Moon, 18 feet up and tethered to two trees, the main one a substantial Sitka spruce. “This is the tree,” he says, sucking in the fresh forest air, giving the spruce a friendly smack.
The cedar cabin, the largest here, is 290 square feet. It has a swinging bridge and a small porch. Inside is a queen-sized bed, lots of windows and mega-fan Lora Lane.
“I’ve had all of Pete’s books on my coffee table for years,” says Lane of San Diego, who’s using her vacation to stay in the treehouse of her dreams. “And then the show started and I’m texting friends not knowing that this is my Pete Nelson!
“I had to stay in Temple.” And then to Nelson, “I knew it was your first one. It’s the famous one.
“I’m a treehouse girl.”
Nelson pauses for photos, big smile. He gets it.
So do many others. In “Be in a Treehouse,” Nelson reports that several treehouse-only building companies are now operating in the United States. Europe is experiencing something of a renaissance, led by Germany’s modernist designs. Sweden has a treehouse hotel. In Costa Rica, a 600-acre treehouse community has sold out phase two of its building sites. There’s more, in Japan, beyond.
“Treehouses just have that thing about them,” Nelson says. “They’re magic in many ways.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.