Treehouse Living: 4 Custom, Eco-friendly Options

Have you ever considered living in a treehouse? These custom treehouses may just inspire you to get your eco-friendly home building plans off the ground.

| August/September 2001

  • Multi-Story Treehouse
    A house on the ground is just a house. But treehouse living? It may seem like an idea in the realm of favorite childhood fantasies, but a family treehouse could be a reality for you.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/ROGER WEBSTER
  • Night-time Treehouse
    This striking nighttime shot is of a custom treehouse built in the crown of a large tree.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/DAVE YOUNG
  • Treehouse in Trunk
    Karen Grayczk’s treehouse sits perfectly in the crook of a separated trunk … a perfect and stable fit.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/KAREN GRAYCZK
  • Miso Barrel Treehouse
    Using miso barrels was a radical idea, but it worked. “To be honest,” says John-san, “I cannot imagine living in a groundhouse any longer.”
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/JOHN GATHRIGHT
  • John-san
    John-san reads the paper on a swing outside his custom treehouse.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/JOHN GATHRIGHT
  • Inside miso barrel treehouse
    The inside view of John-san's custom miso barrel treehouse.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/JOHN GATHRIGHT
  • Larry Engel
    Larry Engel, an attorney who is thums up about carpentry, works on his treehouse.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/DAVID KIBBEY
  • Split-Level Treehouse
    Larry Engel’s beautifully detailed split-level treehouse sits in an old oak tree.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/DAVID KIBBEY
  • Engel's Treehouse
    Engel’s house is made mainly of painted plywood.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/DAVID KIBBEY
  • Airplane Bedroom
    A salvaged airplane has been creatively transformed into a bedroom space.
    Photo courtesy CHELSEA GREEN/SAM EDWARDS

  • Multi-Story Treehouse
  • Night-time Treehouse
  • Treehouse in Trunk
  • Miso Barrel Treehouse
  • John-san
  • Inside miso barrel treehouse
  • Larry Engel
  • Split-Level Treehouse
  • Engel's Treehouse
  • Airplane Bedroom

Whether you want a refuge and retreat, a place for peaceful study and meditation, or even a permanent home, building up might be the solution. A treehouse can be just a simple deck with a rope ladder or an ambitious three-story structure with a living area, bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen. (See How to Build a Treehouse for helpful building tips.)

There are now increasing numbers of eco-friendly custom treehouses, which use only salvaged materials and equipment: Water is collected and recycled, photovoltaic panels provide electricity, and double-glazed windows make for comfortable and energy-efficient treehouse living.

A History of Treehouse Living

Treehouses evoke deep, sometimes strange, emotions. They may remind us of happy childhood days spent building dens and hideaways. Whatever the emotional impact, there is no doubt being in a treehouse is an entirely different experience than "ground living."

And they have a remarkable history. Treehouses have long been used by the people of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Kombai and Korowai of New Guinea traditionally lived in treehouses "like nests of giant birds," according to one visitor. In the 1700s, the English navigator Capt. James Cook recorded an encounter with treetop dwellers in Tasmania.



In the Western world, treehouses were leisure fantasies. The Roman emperor Caligula held sumptuous banquets in a giant tree. During the Renaissance, members of the Medici family vied with each other to create the most magnificent marble treehouse. In Tudor England, Queen Elizabeth I dined in a house in a massive linden tree.

A new dimension of treehouses is their use as quickly erected structures to house activists protesting against tree felling and road building. A renowned example is the "treesit" by Julia Butterfly Hill in a California redwood, begun in 1997. In the United Kingdom, many protest treehouses have come and gone since the first in 1993.






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