Design ideas for building a tree house

From a varnished wood and brass eyrie to a chrysalis-like pod, James Alexander-Sinclair seeks out the weird and wonderful world of tree houses to find inspiration for an aerial retreat of your own - be it in your garden, or a holiday adventure.


Anybody who has grown up in a garden with a climbable tree will understand the attraction: the enhanced view, the oneness with nature and the marked thrill engendered by the ever-present possibility that you might fall out. The genus tree house divides into two distinct species: those that are built into the branches of trees and those that hover around the canopy but are actually supported by sturdy poles concreted into the ground.

Here you can find inspiration for building your own treehouse and discover how to get your lofty outdoor fix with some of the finest tree house accommodation in Europe and beyond. 


1 Shoogly is a good Scots word, which perfectly describes Takasugi-an (meaning tea house built too high). Designed and built by Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori on top of the trunks of two chestnut trees, as a retreat and a tea house, it is very simply kitted out with tatami mats and a perfectly placed window overlooking the Japanese city of Chino.

2 This platform sits comfortably in the crook of a plane tree and is accessed by an elegantly sweeping staircase. Designed by Dominique Lafourcade in the gardens of Les Confines, near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France.

3 Perching precariously in a pear tree, this may lack the sophistication of many of the others but it is, in some ways, more charming.

4 Behind the twiggy exterior is a hotel suite with two bedrooms, a bathroom and sitting room. All suspended from trees in the forests of northern Sweden. Access is by ladder, which is then retracted to leave you in what is basically a bird’s nest. It was designed by Bertil Harström in 2010.

5 The Redwoods Treehouse, built around a redwood tree near Warkworth, north of Auckland in New Zealand, can host a party of about 50 people (provided they remain standing most of the time), and is designed to look like a hanging chrysalis. The pod is 10m in height on a 40m-tall tree, and was built in a couple of months from sustainably grown pine and poplar. 


6 This is an example of the sort of tree house in which the Korowai tribe of the Indonesian Province of Papua have lived for centuries. High up in the forest canopy, they did not come to the notice of the wider world until the 1970s.

7 Like the Bird’s Nest (see 4 above), the Cabin is a snug hotel room overlooking the Lule River in Sweden. You access this one by a long bridge through the trees, which delivers you to a deck on the roof of the capsule. It seems to hang on the side of a pine tree with an amazing view across the forests of Lapland. Cosy but undoubtedly very romantic.

8 This is in Chongqing, China, and is built around a concrete ‘tree’. Brightly coloured and quirky, it has become a bit of a tourist magnet, and you can see why. What child would not be enchanted? There are nine rooms in total with the topmost one being about 12m off the ground.

9 One of a series of three houses that form another tree house hotel, this time on Vancouver Island, Canada. They are suspended from the surrounding trees by a network of flexible and stretchy ropes so that, while snuggled up in your varnished wood and brass eyrie, you will sway with the winds and feel as if you are floating. 


Useful information

You can book the Bird’s Nest and the Cabin through Treehotel and the Tree House Hotel in Canada (above) through Free Spirit Spheres. Closer to home you can spend a night in the trees at Treetops at the Fox and Hounds Hotel in Devon or Into the Woods on the Isle of Wight. The Redwoods Treehouse in New Zealand is available to hire for functions.

There are planning implications for the more exuberant tree house builder. Broadly speaking, your treehouse should not be more than 4m high but, if worried, then it is sensible to ask your local authority before you get too carried away.


Words James Alexander-Sinclair

This article was taken from a longer feature in the December 2017 issue of Gardens Illustrated (241)




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