The other night I dreamt I was driving down the coastal road in my hometown of Palm Beach, Florida. I passed a towering palm, one I’m certain doesn’t exist, with a ladder nailed into its trunk. High above the cottages and just below the umbrella of shocking green fronds, a treehouse had been built. It was as impossible as it was rustic—just three walls, a floor, a ceiling and some sparkling lights. It was everything I could ever want. My dream was no doubt conjured from spending time talking treehouses with Pete Nelson, the host and lead designer/builder on Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. Of course, my treehouse was absolutely nothing like what you’ll witness on an average episode. During its 10 seasons on air, Nelson has traveled across the country to create dozens of shockingly elaborate treetop mansions, music studios and guest rooms. Nelson even built a workshop for Santa. These days, he’s dreaming even bigger. During our chat, he gave updates on his latest treehouse-building escapades and where his treehouse journey had taken him. He even shared the lesson he’d give to all the amateur builders out there.
Nelson is more than just the host of his own wildly successful show. Nelson’s bio notes that he’s had a love for treehouses since he was just a sprout. While he originally went to college for economics, he soon found his post-college life wouldn’t satisfy him unless it kept him connected to the trees he loved so much. His first endeavor in the treehouse business: Nelson wrote 1994’s, Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb. The first of five treehouse-related books, his debut set him on course to be the country’s most famous and knowledgeable treehouse builder. But Nelson is adamant that the most important job of a treehouse isn’t luxury—it’s escape. These days, Nelson is dreaming of escaping, too.
“I’m very embarrassed about this, but I have not been to Costa Rica yet,” he admits. “And I understand that Costa Rica has a lot of treehouses and I feel like I would go out on a limb—no pun intended—to say that I have seen more treehouses than anyone else on this earth, probably by a long shot. And yet, I have not been to Costa Rica, so my name is mud.”
Costa Rica is just a drop in the bucket for Nelson, though.
“I love to travel. I love getting on a plane and flying and seeing new things and learning and meeting people,” Nelson says, going on to hint at what’s in store for the series. “I just returned from Scandinavia. We have a show already scheduled next spring for France and possibly Italy. So, we’re getting out there.”
Traveling across the globe to build treehouses for others isn’t Nelson’s only enterprise. Another not-so-secret endeavor is his one-of-a-kind (in America, anyway) Treehouse Resort and Spa, currently under development on 23 acres of property between Redmond and Woodinville, Washington. (According to its website, the resort is slated to open for special events this summer, with construction on 20 “custom-designed, handcrafted” guest treehouses scheduled to begin in 2018.) Why would a man who spends most of his life building treehouses for others also want the responsibility of owning a collection of treehouses of his own? All of which, in essence, will be rented out on a nightly basis to perfect strangers?
“The secret is that building treehouses is a tough living,” Nelson says. “I think we do it for the love of it. We certainly don’t do it for the profitability of it. It’s almost a lifestyle. However, we have to feed ourselves, and I’ve gotten an incredible amount of joy out of the little B&B that we own in Fall City, Washington called Treehouse Point. [It’s] so wonderful. And the people that show up there are wonderful people. And it’s just been a really beautiful journey in that area.”
No matter what angle you take when looking at Nelson’s treehouses, escapism abounds. From his clients’ desire to climb a tree and escape the hubbub to Nelson’s own bouts of country hopping, all signs point to an urge to disconnect from the “real world” and reconnect with nature. As Nelson points out, though he doesn’t always play a tangible part in the average person’s escape, Treehouse Masters has served as quite the inspiration.
“I think treehouses are the ultimate structure to kind of cut your teeth on, so to speak… Amateurism is a very important thing in any culture. I think that I love how this show really inspired so many people to go out in their backyard and, without any skills—none that they knew of, anyway, and some that they knew of perfectly well-and sort of stretch their legs and make something happen. You know, failure is frowned upon in this country, and yet it’s such an important thing. Treehouses are sort of the ultimate amateur pursuit that allows for failure and failure turns to fun and gives you something that you really love about your treehouse.”
As for words of wisdom to the parents, grandparents and extended family members out there building treehouses in the name of love, Nelson suggests the website for Nelson Treehouse and Supply, which features information on how to tackle treehouse-building projects, and his books—the latest of which, Be in a Treehouse, showcases some fantastic builds across the world and gets into the nitty gritty technical aspects of building.
“[I]t’s important that you do a little research and understand two major things: Trees grow and trees move in the wind,” Nelson says. “If you account for those two things, essentially that means make your platform flexible. And if you account for growth and movement, then you’re going to be fine.”
“I say just do it,” he continues. “Bring your friends and loved ones out there… and enjoy it and be close to nature, close to your friends and close to yourself. All of it. No matter how you slice treehouses, they’re the greatest thing ever.”
The new season of Treehouse Masters premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.