Two cabin dads set out to build a tree house for their kids, but then ....Story & photos by Steve Umland
The large tree house stands among large pines a short walk from Mark and Maggy’s cabin. Its single, luxurious room has a door leading onto a wrap-around porch. Two soft reading chairs sit next to a lamp. The hide-a-bed sofa is perfect for sleep-overs and a small round dining-room table is sized just right for playing Monopoly with the kids. The crow’s nest 20 feet above the main level is just for fun.I vaguely remember – about two months into the project – Maggy saying something about just wanting a simple two-weekend project with a couple of 4x8 sheets of plywood. She should have known better! In fairness, Maggy eventually got involved in the tree house project too. She helped Eric, their son, nail the wood shingles on the exterior walls before they were raised in position. Maggy even came out to take a picture of Mark and me hoisting the sleeper sofa up, hand over hand. I suspect she secretly wanted documentation of what looked like insanity. Mark admits that what really drew him in was solving the problem of how to build the structural support for the subfloor. Timbers brought in from Washington State – with fabricated brackets welded, to his specifications, for the subfloor timber joists – were just the beginning. The pièce de résistance? Eight lag screws through these special brackets are the only intrusion into the tree. Mark admits that he never actually visualized the tree house until after we had built the 16x16-foot platform up in a mature Norway pine. The wood-shingled walls, wrap-around porch, front porch landing, multi-tiered metal stairs, crow’s nest and electricity (with built-in, self-fixing interruption connector) were all just afterthoughts. Mark, who loves to solve design problems, worked out the subfloor to include the porch and walls. He also had to do the math on the roof pitch where it intersected with walls and continued out over the wrapped porch. He was in design heaven. Walking up the pinecone-covered path and looking up at this structure, you’d never guess all the nuances that went into building something this much fun. The doors and screens are all custom made. The windows came from a salvage yard. The metal roof was designed to shed heavy snowfalls. (This tree doesn’t need any extra weight!) Mark and I spent one full summer trimming, painting, staining and caulking. He and another friend designed the metal stairs that come across from a nearby tree right to the front door. Throughout the project, Mark was in the clouds – I mean, heaven. And the kids? Samantha and Eric love their tree house. It was something else to watch their faces every time they walked up the path from the cabin to check on its progress. Mark has named it “Loony Roost” from a sign donated by two close friends. Loony Roost? Maggy has a totally different name for it. Mark and I still haven’t scheduled the first poker game or stocked the fridge with our favorite brew. Oops! What I meant, Maggy, was we haven’t scheduled the first marathon game of Monopoly with the kids or stocked up on Mountain Dew. Whatever was Maggy thinking when she suggested that Mark and I build a tree house for the kids? It was the perfect project for two guys who love to work on, design and dream up weekend projects at the cabin. So, Maggy, be careful what you wish for in the future. You might just get it!
CONSTRUCTION OF THE TREEHOUSE in the tall Norway pine took more than three summers to complete. Mark basically had no plans beyond the platform – the shingled walls, wrap-around porch, crow’s nest and electricity were all afterthoughts. Thank goodness for helpful friends!One of the hardest parts of the project was figuring out a support system that wouldn’t intrude on the tree. Mark ordered custom metal brackets to support the floor trusses.
Maggy eventually did get involved in building the tree house. Here she helps son Eric nail shingled siding onto one of the exterior walls.
Finished walls are stacked against the wood shed before being raised into place.
The tree house starts to take shape. Lattice work surrounds the tree trunk in anticipation of the crow’s nest.
CAST OF CHARACTERS• Mark: architect, foreman and interior designer. • Steve Umland: photographer and lead carpenter • Mike Svea: director of metal fabrication. • Maggy: original creative concept – even if she didn’t know it. For added inspiration: If you are considering such an insane project as building a tree house, two books are must-reads: “The Tree House Book” by Peter Nelson, and “Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and Other Tall Tales” by Peter Nelson and Gerry Hadden. You see what is possible and you can’t help but get committed – I mean, excited.
As the platform is filled in around the tree, Mark ponders the next step.
Once the platform was completed, Mark had to design and build the rest of the tree house.
Mark and I are cabin neighbors. Both of us are do-it-yourself fanatics who like to get together and build things.Truth is, we like to be building anything. So it was hard to understand why Maggy, Mark’s partner for life, had stopped me mid-swing of the hammer as I was putting up a cross beam in the new woodshed. With hands on her hips, she was visibly upset. “Why can’t you do something with the family?” she nearly shrilled. “Don’t you guys know how to have some fun?” Oh, she was addressing us both. “You two are either building a new box for the storm windows or, or – who knows – totally redesigning a new unneeded wood shed!” About 30 seconds ago Mark and I were having fun. Now we were unwitting participants in Men are from Mars and Women are from … you know.
Maggy wasn’t through. “If you won’t stop and take the kids fishing why don’t you ... Let’s see …Why don’t you build a tree house for the kids? The kids would love to have a tree house to play in.”She was, of course, being sarcastic. She really wanted Mark to take the kids fishing! Mark glanced at me with that look. The wheels were turning and he said almost in a whisper: “This might be worth some research.” Three summers of weekends later, we have a tree house for the kids. Well, the truth is, we have a tree house. Who exactly it was built for still makes steam come out of Maggy’s ears.