Treehouses for Grownups: Interview with Blueforest Co-Founder Simon Payne
Architecture & Interiors
If you thought treehouses were just for kids, think again. Luxury treehouses are now de rigueur for Britain’s wealthy elite, people with large gardens and even larger wallets. Forget rustic forts with rope ladders and plywood walls; these opulent castles have full electricity, shower rooms, double-glazed windows and even hot tubs.
If you think they don’t come cheap, you’re right. Simon Payne is business manager of BlueForest, a company he set up with his brother Andy in 2006 that makes upmarket treehouses, often used as home offices, and eco-lodges from its base in Wadhurst, East Sussex. The most expensive residential treehouse to date his firm has made came with a hefty £160,000 ($263,476) price tag; the priciest commercial treehouse costs a whopping £400,000 ($658,796).
“At the moment we do quite a healthy mixture of commercial work and treehouses in people’s gardens,” says Simon. “Ones we recently completed for Centre Parcs, a family-orientated holiday village with four forest sites across the UK, were very luxurious with a hot tub, raised deck, games room and Nintendo Wiis. The main treehouse has an open-plan lounge and kitchen with wood-burning stove and four open-plan bedrooms, with full plumbing, showers and toilets. It is a proper house, really.”
BlueForest was conceived after Andy returned back to the UK after doing conservation work in endangered forests in Kenya. The firm has an emphasis on sustainable design and construction, and offers a range of eco-friendly options in its design portfolio, including compostable toilets, rainwater harvesting systems, solar heating, and using only wood from sustainable sources.
Simon says that his firm has witnessed a surge in treehouse construction, partly because of a renewed interest in building using only sustainable and eco-friendly materials, and also because people want their children to get off their computers and Nintendos and spend more time outside in the fresh air. Such parents presumably don’t build a computer games room among the branches.
Residential treehouses, according to Simon, tend to be “family-orientated” as well, but with plenty of comfort for the kiddies. “We are just about to start a project for a client that has about four separate treehouses spread around a large garden estate,” he says.
“There are still a lot of fun elements with play equipment, swings, zip wires and that type of thing coming off the treehouse platform. But some people think that a treehouse is something to use all year round, and so because of the British weather we build them with kitchenette rooms and log-burning stoves.”
Simon recently has done a lot of work involving purely sustainable buildings, often schools that want extensions. “One we just completed is with a charity called Longridge, which is a youth sports center. They do youth group visits, Scouts and Brownies and are also a training ground for the Olympic rowers, as they are on the edge of the Thames in Marlow,” says Simon.
“We’ve just built a training room, office space, toilets and showers for them, raised up about two meters off the ground as the site floods regularly. We wouldn’t call it a treehouse per se, but we use the same skills we do for treehouses.
“And we are also working with the Eden Project down in Cornwall now, as design consultants on a new project they are doing that has not been released publicly yet.”
If you don’t want to pay for something as luxurious as a treehouse-cum-palace costing hundreds of thousands of dollars – or want to try your own hand at creating a tree space, Simon also has the answer. Here is his personal DIY Guide to Building Treehouses, with construction time varying on the size and nature of the project…
Stage One. Large pressure-impregnated foundation timbers support the weight of the treehouse. Braces fastened around the base of the tree or stilts secured into the ground provide adequate support for the structure.
Stage Two. The treehouse frame takes shape around the trunk of the tree. The platform has been lined with ribbed timber decking to provide a safe, solid and level surface.
Stage Three. Next, the roof is constructed from smooth roofing joists and lined with 12mm marine ply. It will be covered with heavy-duty green mineral roof felt.
Stage Four. The roof is finished with cedar shingles to create a long-lasting and attractive weatherproof finish.
Finished. The children’s play equipment has been installed, which could be anything form a fireman’s pole, rope ladder, traditional swing and a 50-metre zip wire crossing the garden. A rope bridge also connects the treehouse to an adjoining drinks deck for the adults.
Points to Remember
When building a treehouse, according to Simon, certain things should be kept in mind…
- Normally a tree will not be harmed, although if you build too high up the trees branches could be affected. Keep height as a priority when building for small children as well, as safety should be your top priority.
- In some areas, zoning laws could apply when building up high. Check before you build.
- Certain types of trees support weight better than others, so check locally to see what the tree you want is capable of bearing. The circumference of the trunk should be at least four feet, and if the treehouse is going to be fully sported by the tree, then at least four weight-bearing points is recommended.
- Treehouses don’t necessarily have to be built on a tree. They can be
constructed on a platform supported by stilts, and simply have tree branches running through them.
Alex Levin is a writer for Granite Transformations, a remodeling company that advances green building practices by finding new ways to recycle and reduce waste such as installing granite countertops that require less material to produce and fit over your existing counters, eliminating the need for demolition.