My name is Tom Norian and I live with my family in Marin County, California. Here I share the "play-houses in the trees" that I built during the summer and fall of 2003.
Like most fun projects the start and end dates are hard to pin down. Things start with a dream, and idea, and eventually a commitment to put the dreams into reality. The real commitment was a promise that I made to my son a year before construction began. Deciding where and how you're going to put a Treehouse into a small yard, or which particular tree to use takes most of us some head scratching.
If you're reading here, and don't have a tree-house yet…consider yourself started!
As for when the treehoues will be complete? A year later there are still plenty of loose ends. I also have some secret dreams for further improvements! In my pratical mind there is always more room for some more trim, perhaps a bit more weather-proofing plexiglass and a bit more varnish here and there. The dreaming mind invsions yet more!
The houses were requests of my kids, but also dreams of a Dad who is probably never entirely going to grow up. Nice to get more skills and better sets of tools as I age though!
We have a small lot, and I wanted to respect neighbors' privacy where possible. Positioning the houses so they wouldn't cast more shade than the trees already did was one main design accomplishment. Another design goal was orientating the windows so the children couldn't easily peer into other peoples' homes (and the neighbors wouldn't feel like they had lookouts aimed at them too). The location of the structures themselves actually shield neighbors windows from view lines between our living room and neighbors bedrooms.
The tree-houses give the kids other places to play, and serve as retreats for them on those days they feel a bit grumpy and could use a little time by themselves in their own "domain". Having two treehouses give the kids a separate places to put their own special things. That's not possible for every family, but it was something I wanted. The age and sex difference of the kids probably made that a bit more of a priority. The seven year old boy doesn't really like playing house and the little girl is less fond of birds skulls, and other boy's "treasures". Beyond the enjoyment the kids will find, I think its fun to build things. I don't think I got too far carried away...but I suppose others might have a different opinion. .....I'm still musing of play structure space between them with rope bridges and a lookout platform in another tree.
The houses are nestled among the trees, but not supported by the trees.
I knew that at least the access points must be from the ground and in watching the way the poplar trees whipped around in the wind in variable arcs and deflections the notion of spanning between these tall healthy trees ( close to 100 years old and thriving) seemed an invitation to disaster. Building around only one would not give me enough room in the right place and even that would rip away from any ladder or stair structure. So I decided upon a tower in the trees rather than a house supported by the trees.
My son's main request for his tree-house was that I should build it in high up in the trees. Oddly enough the higher the house was placed the less obtrusive it seemed it would be.
However notions of height also carry with them notions of falls. The structure is a bit higher than is comfortable for all mothers; however I've taken some steps to insure that no outside climbing takes place. The roofs are purposely designed to be too week to climb on, and a bit steep and smooth to try. The large cantilevers and lack of grips on the siding make the windows inaccessible. I have bars on two of the windows allowing one to be a secondary escape hatch which I'll try to enforce strict rules on. The placement of tree branches outside of it would minimize the height of any direct fall.
Access to the tower is via a spiral series of platforms. I had many memories of near falls as I rushed to clamor up long ladders and friends slipped or were slipped upon. It keeps the kids falling on each other as they rush that I was concerned with and I think my solution avoids that common hazard.
I built the entire structure single handedly. Getting the 20 foot 4x4s in place was a bit of a trick & but screws, hardware and temporary supports, and patience to re-adjust made that work ok. The design originated from the space with considerations of more standard lengths of wood & however that slipped a bit too.
The 4 foot wide tower really needed full 2 foot square platforms & making the square more like 53 inches. I was comfortable with 2 foot cantilevers on either side for the deck & however the corners seemed a bit dicey on their own, I felt like I wanted additional shear for the very gusty winds we occasionally get, and heck it would look more custom to have more facets. Another issue: large tree trunks were also in the way on one side so cutting all four corners instead of two helped to balance the structure. What I eyeballed from the ground turned out a bit differently 15 and twenty feet up as I built my way upward by the stair platforms to where the house would be. In the end no corner could exactly be the same & which lent caused some lengthy head scratching trying to come up with wall heights and roof slopes that would look purposeful. I also wanted the large skylight to look somewhat centered. I'm happy with the result.
The treehouse project allowed me to use up some shingled bi-fold doors, shutters and various odds and ends that I had been squirreling away with the idea that they might eventually be useful for something someday. (much to my wife's prior dismay!) I am also happy with the way I used structural elements to look more like paneling and wainscoting, and how I was able to use lighter weight and cheaper siding and roofing and still achieve a decent quality of appearance and stiffness of structure. building a treehouse The tree-houses have withstood 70 mile an hour winds un-damaged, winds that took down some neighborhood trees and power lines. I'd attribute that to course knowledge, orientation of angles and eaves, and slip passages for the wind.