Branching Out // Climb Inside Some Enchanted Treehouses

By Valerie Reinke

Nothing can transport you back to childhood quite like climbing into a treehouse. Growing up you likely dreamed about exploring the triple-decker treehouse in Disney’s version of “Swiss Family Robinson,” or the canopy dwellings of the teddy bear-like Ewoks in “Return of the Jedi.”

Treehouses are the stuff of imagination. The ultimate forts. Escapes from the ordinary On Bainbridge, a place rich with magnificent trees, it is easy to see why a passion for treehouses has taken root.

“I always wanted one as a kid,” said islander Rob Avery, who grew up in England but relocated to the island six years ago. “We never had real trees until we moved here.” Inspired, he set out to create a tiny house in the trees tucked amidst three western red cedars.
“It’s really an adult hangout,” Avery said.

“Our treehouse overlooks a forest valley with a seasonal creek. It’s magic to be up there and hear the babbling brook below.” On stormy nights he and his wife, Kris, clamber up into the tree-house to read, play games and experience the immediacy of the weather.

As owner of Bainbridge’s Alchemy Works—which specializes in home renovation—Avery has also built treehouses for other people, including one for his Baker Hill neighbors, Cynthia and Dan Jacobs, who asked for “a playhouse to attract grandchildren.” Cynthia, a retired architect, designed slanting rooflines and complicated angles into the whimsical two-story retreat, which was dubbed Chez Ray in honor of the Jacobs’ two-year-old granddaughter.

Avery refers to it as “Cynthia’s wild vision.” Like Avery, Cynthia was inspired by the trees on her property, incorporating a circle of five mature beauties into the design. Collaborating with Wild Tree Woodworks for the platform and Greenwood Engineering for its structural evaluation, Cynthia said it was Avery’s job to “solve problems and make the magic.”

Magical features include an interior staircase made with live edge planks, a wraparound deck, a romantic balcony and child-sized furniture. One of the clever details is a dumbwaiter basket that lifts snacks and craft supplies up to Ray’s loft.

Lillie and Dave Peery, who live near Battle Point Park, wanted a place for their five children to play and to hold an occasional slumber party. Designed by Daryl McDonald of Nelson Treehouse and Supply, the result is an ambitious treehouse with a curved deck like the bow of a ship, which takes in a sweeping view of the Puget Sound.

The Peerys’ 8-year-old daughter, Lia, uses the treehouse for some alone time and “to hide from my brothers.” But it is not just for the kids, Dave clarified. “A surprising number of adult guests choose to sleep up there.” The Peerys even welcomed an author friend who wrote a book in the aerie.

The masterful handiwork of Pete Nelson, owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply (and star of the popular Animal Planet show “Treehouse Masters”), can be seen in the Bog Tree House, one of two extraordinary treehouses on IslandWood’s 250-acre forest campus. Director of communications Kristine Jimenez of IslandWood, said that while the property was being scouted for a place to build the fairy tale-like structure, three separate arborists recommended the tree that now steadfastly supports it—a 169-foot Douglas fir that is between 100 and 120 years old.

Greg Geehan, an IslandWood docent, has led hundreds of schoolchildren and adults from around the world up into the lofty space for adventure-based learning. Because it overlooks a naturally occurring bog, it provides a perch where budding scientists can observe the wetland without disturbing it.

Near Fay Bainbridge Park, Shane and Cori Smith have created an outdoor entertainment space complete with zip line, firepit, BBQ and a simple treehouse garlanded with twinkling lights. Together the couple designed and built the little house for their sons, Logan (10) and Kaiden (8). It sports a door painted red to match the Adirondack chairs and geraniums below.

Transplants from Texas, the Smiths have imported Southern backyard hospitality to Bainbridge and say the treehouse is the site for “epic sleepovers.” Shane marveled at its appeal. “It’s truly a little house; we didn’t even use plans. It just took on a life of its own.”