Looking down on things

Treehouses provide kids with a place of their own

Treehouses provide kids with a place of their own

June 11, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

In 1999, Brian Smith started building a house in the trees on his family's 20 acres near Cove Gap, Pa.

The retreat - in a cluster of trees - technically is not a treehouse.

"We didn't want to kill trees," Smith said.

But it works. The main thing treehouses provide kids is a place of their own.

A skip across the small stream that runs through the farm, the house in the trees is shaded by towering elms.

The Smith children - Alex, 8, Kaylee, 6, and Micah, 3 - can be far enough away from the house and barn to make noise and enjoy the privacy of their wooded shelter but close enough so their parents can keep an eye on them.


The house in the trees has board sides and a stairway to enter. Alex likes to walk down the sliding board to leave. A plastic tarp roof is anchored with a purple, orange and green-striped cord - colors Kaylee likes. The woods hum with the sound of cicadas - a few of which Micah caught with a smile.

Smith didn't build the playhouse on the ground.

"The appeal is kids like to look down on things," he said.

That's what 10-year-old Mitchell Stenersen likes to do from his treehouse.

"You look down and see bugs," he said. He also gets a good view of the many deer that share the woods on the west slope of South Mountain near Boonsboro.

Mitchell and his father, Roger Stenersen, built the treehouse in about a week last summer. They didn't find plans specifically designed for a treehouse, so they adapted garage and outbuilding designs and built a house on a 7-foot tree.

"It has a shingled roof and is screened in," Stenersen said.

There's a 6-foot ladder and a door on a side wall.

Mitchell can stand up in his treehouse, but his father can't. That was part of the plan.

Treehouses provide seclusion, said Bryan Swisher, who teaches apprenticeship construction at Boonsboro High School.

The playhouse Bryan Swisher built for his daughter 10 years ago sits atop a 12-foot-tall stump of a formerly huge pine tree. It has a metal roof, shutters on its windows, a slide off the side and a swing underneath.

The treehouse is "gonna come down," Swisher said. His daughter, now 14, no longer uses it, but it served her well. It's the place she discovered bird-watching, a hobby Swisher said she's still into and the focus of her 4-H projects.

The sky's the limit in treehouse construction, said Anna Daeuble of Treehouse Workshop Inc. The Seattle-based company, founded in 1997, designs and builds treehouses. No stock construction plans are available, Daeuble said.

"It's such a custom product," she said.

And then some.

Treehouse Workshop - online at - has built more than 50 treehouses. They include structures in Washington state and a 1,000-square-foot San Diego spread complete with plumbing and air conditioning. In conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the company designed and built a tree fort for an 11-year-old client who required a forest view, a metal roof to hear the rain and a ladder and bridge so his dog could join him.

Some clients have children. Others are grandparents. Some just want a place to escape. Everyone seems to remember the feelings evoked by being in a treehouse, Daeuble said.

The company's treehouses are luxury items, she said. So far, price tags have ranged up from $7,500.

Daeuble recently traveled to Florida to consult on a design for a treehouse resort.

There's a treehouse resort of sorts in southern Washington County. Maple Tree Campground in Gapland is 20 acres of woodland which offers year-round tree cottages, three-season treehouses and tent sites.

The campground, built 25 years ago, backs up to the Appalachian Trail and gets return visitors, said Dana Carey, who has worked at Maple Tree for a year.

"Treehouses appeal to the child in everybody," Carey said.

To learn more...

Here are some books about building treehouses, playhouses and forts: For more information about treehouses, visit the Web site of Treehouse Workshop Inc. at

Books about treehouses include:

"The Treehouse Book" by Peter Nelson, Judy Nelson, David Larkin, 2000

"Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb" by Peter Nelson, 1994

"Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and other Tall Tales" by Peter Nelson, Gerry Hadden, 1997

"Playhouses You Can Build: Indoor & Backyard Designs" by David R. Stiles, Jeanie Stiles, 1999

"A Kids' Guide to Building Forts" by Tom Birdseye, Bill Klein (Contributor), 1993

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