A sylvan sanctuary brings the Danilchik family back to nature.
THE DANILCHIK FAMILY lives in a Swiss chalet that hovers between two centenarian Western Red cedars and overlooks a tidal strait near Port Orchard Bay. Raccoons on the hunt for table scraps scurry up a wooden ramp that rises 50 feet above the spongy forest floor and leads to the front door. They aren’t welcome inside, where a plumed felt hat and a pair of skeleton keys hang on coat hooks and plump armchairs sit next to a bookshelf filled with European folklore—Swiss Family Robinson, Heidi. (There’s also a worn copy of The Giving Tree.) The phrase " Traumen sie auf …” is painted above a doorway. It’s German for “They dream on….”
The Danilchiks—Heidi and Paul and their eight-year-old daughter Maile—have been living here for five years. “I grew up above the tree line,” says Heidi. Her father, Richard J. Brooks, was an avid mountaineer (his REI member number was 739), and the family spent weeks at a time in the mountains. In 2001, Richard died, and Heidi and her mother discovered that reading about gardening and nature distracted them from grief. This led them to The Treehouse Book, a coffee table tome filled with photos of treehouses you can live in. “It captured our imaginations,” says Heidi. She read on the book’s jacket that its author, Peter Nelson, also co-owned the TreeHouse Workshop, a Ballard company (it has since moved to Fall City) that designs and builds treehouses around the world. Soon the company was hard at work creating a new home for the Danilchiks on a piece of woodsy property inherited from Heidi’s family.
There is a bathroom but no shower, a fridge but no stove, a large sink but no washer or dryer, and piles of books and an Internet connection but no television. These were intentional choices, made possible by location: If the Danilchiks need modern amenities, they just stroll down a mossy path to their set of fully outfitted cabins, built in 1952.
Everywhere in the treehouse, there are stories. The kitchenette’s Douglas fir countertop has names carved into the surface, a practice Heidi encourages. Among the etchings is a crooked heart encompassing the names Anna and Bubba, the artist and contractor who met while collaborating on the treehouse and went on to marry. The interior white cedar trim is leftover timber from Heidi’s great-uncle George’s company, Pocock Racing Shells, which built the first boat shells for the University of Washington’s rowing program.
Maile’s bedroom is an inglenook with two twin beds. Snuggled beneath her snowy-white comforter, she can ponder an oil painting of alpine vistas and a chalet that looks a lot like the one she lives in. Right outside, a knobby wooden ladder ascends to the master bedroom loft, where a queen bed sits next to a toboggan-turned-nightstand.
Exterior maintenance requires an extra-tall ladder or sturdy, dangling ropes and a healthy sense of adventure, and the twin cedars that support the house get frequent visits from an arborist, who takes tissue samples, injects fertilizers, and checks in on the Garnier Limbs—a system of buttressing bolts that the trees adopt as if they were their own branches. When the cedars sway in the breeze, so does the house, which gives some people vertigo. And then there are the raccoons.
But it’s all part of life in the trees, says Heidi. “A lot of people see their home as an escape, but the TV is always going. Here, deer bed beneath the house. The occasional bear walks by. It’s our own little world—but it’s got Wi-Fi.”