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All the charm of a childhood tree house is captured in this designer getaway


Up a creaky ladder, through a wood floor and into a private world of leafy surroundings and glimpsed views – while the rustic, parent-built tree house is a cherished childhood memory, its most attractive features can be reinvented and refined for an adult sensibility.

This grown-up tree house, by architects Christopher Kempel and Rocky Rockefeller, is enjoyed as a study and living space by its owners. The design combines aspects of treetop construction with a more architectural appeal, appropriate to an outdoor environment dotted with large sculpture.

Faced with few suitable trees on the site, the architects elected to incorporate a live, but fallen tree as an anchor. The intention was to hover the new tree house above it, suggesting a delicate tension between building and nature.

"The one-room building is suspended on five steel poles reminiscent of supporting tree branches," says Chris Kempel. "Extending this metaphor, the poles are continued up through the roof. Although rigid, the structure gives the visual impression of swaying in the breeze."

Other references to a child's lofty domain include a metal and plank stair as the ladder and a view port like a hatch in the floor.


The floor of the structure, walls, windows, doors and the ceiling, are all finished in wood, with a variety of types used to avoid one species dominating, says Rocky Rockefeller.

"We capped the building with clerestory windows and a butterfly roof to maximize light, provide visual interest and as a nod to an earlier project with the same client that was never quite realized. This kind of roof shape also contributes a pulled-apart look, perhaps reminiscent of a father's amateur effort, where the surfaces don't quite align."

With windows facing away from the house towards the hillside and valley views, this tree house provides a serene, relaxing adult retreat.

First published date: 02 February 2011

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Credit List

Structural steel Banks Welding
Siding Western red cedar tongue and groove with Michigan Prestain
Roofing Standing-seam metal roofing and fascia by Rheinzink
Doors and window frames Mahogany by Old English Milling and Woodwork
Flooring Exterior stair in Pau Lope; interior, American Walnut wide plank
Ceilings Tongue-and-groove Pau Lope
Wall paneling Walnut veneer on formaldehyde-free fiber board
Lighting Brocci chandelier fixture, Lucifer Lighting ceiling lights
Heating Hydronic in-floor; Pina wood-burning fireplace from Rais Art of Fire
Shower enclosure Concrete, teak
Architect Rocky Rockefeller AIA, Christopher Kempel AIA, Rockefeller Partners Architects; project manager Bridget Krajacic
Interior designer Alana Homesley Interior Design
Landscape architect Pamela Burton & Company
Kitchen manufacturer Dwyer Compact Kitchens
Builder Tom Preis Construction
Structural engineer CW Howe Associates