Real Estate

Treehouses: Not just for kids anymore

“Black Bear Bungalow” is an observation treehouse on a 1,000 acre property in Farmington, PA. The decagon treehouse features walls of glass, a wrap-around deck, cathedral ceilings and a closed-circuit bear cam tracking system nestled in three white oak trees. Inside there is a roaring fireplace and a handmade oak bar.
Source: Pete Nelson | Treehouse Masters

Want to get away from it all? A tiny home that moves with the earth's force—swaying gently in the trees, or floating on the water—is the perfect escape from life's frantic pace, or say the lucky people who live in them.

Ask Pete Nelson, the creative force behind Animal Planet's hit TV show "Treehouse Masters." For the past 25 years, Nelson has been building treehouses for people who need to get away from the world for awhile. He said the demand for treehouses has never been greater.

"It's out of control, how many people want them," he said. "Unquestionably, there's a trend now for grown-up treehouses. People need innocence in their lives. They need a place that will take them away from their busy lives."

Nelson currently has a backlog of 1,700 requests for treehouses, with more coming every day. Stress, he said, is what usually drives his clients to seek an alternative to traditional living spaces.

According to Nelson, there's a wide range of costs with treehouses. "A simple platform in a tree with a deck costs $120-150 a square foot, but fitting kitchens and baths into a small space can throw your budget out. I'd be lucky to hit $120 a square foot [if a kitchen or a bath is installed.]"

"A fully appointed treehouse with kitchen, bathroom, heat and air conditioning costs about $350-500 a square foot," he added. "We're building those around $200,000."

Nelson continued: "Trees are healing. They're a meditative retreat from the stress zone. It takes about 10 minutes of breathing in the rich oxygen of the forest before your cares melt away."

While living in a treehouse may seem far-fetched, psychologists say home design that prioritizes contentment and tranquility is actually quite a sensible idea.The American Psychological Association's 2013 Stress in America survey concluded that stress, especially work-related stress, is a key factor in contributing to long-term health problems. "Money (71 percent), work (69 percent) and the economy (59 percent) continue to be the most commonly reported sources of stress," stated the report.

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James "B-fer" Roth, 56, of Warren, Vermont, spent five years of his adult life residing in a treehouse. Now the founder of The Treehouse Guys, (specializing in building treehouses for children with disabilities) Roth calls the experience "the most romantic, greatest escape from the real world."

The “Luck O’ The Irish Cottage” in Orange County, CA, is a quaint, Celtic-themed dwelling in an olive tree. The unique round space features the peat-burning fireplace and charming décor of a real Irish cottage.
Source: Pete Nelson | Treehouse Masters

"The sway of the trees—it's subtle, but it makes you feel like you're floating," he said. "There's a lulling, serene quality. Your mind can just let go."

Of course, truly escaping from life's pressures is easier said than done. Nelson admitted most of the treehouses he builds for his clients are getaways or retreats, rather than primary homes. Still, a temporary relief from the pressure of day-to-day life is better than nothing.

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"Absolutely people are looking for an escape," agreed Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Santa Monica, Calif. "People have never-ending stressors these days. Even a day away from reality can help with a reboot."

Durvasula herself lives in a tiny mountain hideaway perched on the edge of a canyon. "After an intense workday with patients," she said, "it's my ashram." She feels the growing appeal of the so-called "tiny house movement," with its aesthetic of simplicity and harmony with the earth, could be a reaction to high stress levels in people's lives.

"I think that life has hit overload," she noted. "The Internet has created a world where we work 24/7. So yes—we're looking for ways to de-stress—and peaceful respites are one way to do that. Bonus points if they do something cool like hang over a stream, or are high in the trees."

California artist and landscape architect Elise Brewster, 52, knows well the lure of living on the water. Twelve years ago she traded a large house filled with possessions ("it was a beautiful house") for 28 square feet of floating living space at the Berkeley Marina.

"I'm living in the remnants of a forest," she said of her cocoon-like wooden boat home. "The tidal pulse is like a heartbeat. My home feels like a big whale womb."

"Motion is inherently soothing. It takes us back to our infancy," Durvasula said. "If you asked 20 kids to design their fantasy home, probably seven or eight of them would design something that moves."

Sal Cataldi agrees. Once the quintessential stressed out New Yorker, Cataldi, 58, founder and creative director of Cataldi Public Relations, bought a 22-by-45-foot house barge 10 years ago in Port Washington, N.Y. Initially, it was a way to save money after a stressful divorce. It quickly became his floating sanctuary.

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"After my ex and I separated, my house barge chilled out my whole situation," he admitted.

Now, Cataldi begins each day floating in a kayak on the marina. At the end of the day, he relaxes on the deck of his small floating home, watching the swans float on the sunset-glowing water.

"I think it's absolutely essential to have an escape from the daily grind," he said. "My home also serves as a refuge for friends who are similarly stressed out. I tell them, 'here, take a kayak. Go.'"