Dad, Are You Zooming in My Treehouse?
Seth Reagan and sons in their custom-built backyard getaway.
On weekday mornings, attorney Seth Reagan commutes roughly 15 steps across his Eastside yard, climbs a ladder, and pours a cup of coffee. So begins a remote workday in his kids’ treehouse.
“I get all kinds of comments about my backdrop when I’m in Zoom meetings,” he says of his unusually rustic home office. “People are always asking if it’s real.”
It’s real. In 2020, Reagan was one of the many local homeowners who called Wild Tree Woodworks, a company that specializes in arboreal hangouts. Owner David Geisen builds plenty of grown-up treehouses—the kind you might rent for a weekend getaway. But when the pandemic kept everyone home, he saw an uptick in inquiries for ones intended for actual kids. Now, he says, they comprise about half of Wild Tree’s docket.
The Seattle area, with its preponderance of mature trees, is an ideal place to build in the branches. It’s no accident that Treehouse Masters—a popular show that still airs reruns on Animal Planet—centered on a builder out of Fall City named Pete Nelson. For 11 seasons, he created fantastical treehouses with bridges, multiple stories, the occasional recording studio.
Even when kids are the justification, says Geisen, “it’s the adult that wants the treehouse” these days. He designs most backyard projects for the whole family—a canopy clubhouse where children can retreat with friends, but adults can also have a glass of wine, maybe on a deck surrounded by foliage.
When Reagan originally pitched the notion of a treehouse to his wife, Jen, the idea began with a stand of four stout trees, two Douglas firs and two western red cedars, in the couple’s side yard. They felt almost purposely planted to support a treehouse, says Jen. Plus, septic piping beneath the side yard meant the family couldn’t build anything directly on the ground. Reagan wanted a structure he could work in, but he also envisioned family game nights, friend hangouts, and a reading nook where his daughter or two sons could take a good book.
Geisen’s design included a green metal roof and a live-edge slab of western red cedar as a built-in desktop. He suggested a tiny loft for potential overnights. His team fashioned a small round stained glass window to let in additional light; a demolished house in Portland supplied reclaimed windows and wall paneling. The miniature home is insulated and wired for electrical outlets; Reagan uses a space heater during colder months. “There were a few days in summer when it got extremely hot and I had to tough it out.”
Thus far, the adults confess to using it more than the kids—Jen even threw a friend’s birthday party up there. Seth Reagan thinks that will change when they’re older and more into their own private space. Meanwhile, Geisen installed swings and a fire pole beneath the structure for play. Even when the Reagans are inside their regular house, “It makes us happy to look out the windows,” says Seth, “and see something that looks like a work of art.”
Like Seth Reagan, Bothell resident Luke Anderson visits his family’s new treehouse at some point during each workday. He’s not there to take a meeting, but rather a “micro break”—a deep breath as he absorbs the wooded views, and the results of his own self-taught labor.
In December 2020, Anderson and his wife, Kelly, gifted their three kids a treehouse—well, technically a Lego treehouse set and a promise to follow up with a real one. When his family moved here from Colorado two years ago, Anderson was immediately taken with the Northwest’s “big, tall, thick trees everywhere you look.” He decided to build this treehouse himself, despite having no experience, no tools, and a time-intensive day job in Amazon finance.
By January, he was sketching layouts on graph paper and getting acquainted with companies that supply the necessary hardware, including the all-important treehouse attachment bolts that thread into the trunk to become almost like another weight-bearing branch. A heavy box of them arrived at Anderson’s doorstep in February.
“I was picturing a little shack,” he says. “Something a kid could crawl into.” Today he’s nearly done with a structure that boasts a deck and proper staircase, a sliding glass door, and a design scheme that’s “kind of the little brother” of the Andersons’ actual house. The treehouse sits at the edge of a wooded ravine, with big windows to frame the expanse of trees.
Anderson soon learned to let the trees themselves dictate the size, height, and floor plan. He invested in a few saws and sought help and counsel from both family (his visiting handyman father-in-law, an architect cousin) and newfound friends (aka the guys at the lumber yard). Time once spent commuting got channeled into “solving hundreds of little problems along the way,” including how to navigate those historically high lumber prices.
He estimates he put in more than 500 hours, as a project for his kids morphed into a personal mission over the course of 14 months. “I built every single inch,” he says. “Every screw, every cut other than a couple I outsourced to my 14-year-old son” to instill a sense of ownership. Anderson’s been so busy with finishing touches, he hasn’t even begun to consider how his family will use the space. “Having built it may actually be the most satisfying part.”
More elevated treehouses around Seattle. As told to Ann Karneus and Allecia Vermillion
The Vacation Home
Caitlin Cable, Capitol Hill (with a beach home on Hood Canal)
Kid(s): Ages 10 & 12
When we built our beach house, we wanted to have a little retreat for the kids. Michael Murphy of Barefoot Treehouses milled wood already on our lot; he made this cool kind of bendy, craggly railing system.
My son hooked up a solar panel to plug in a laptop and watch movies. When my nieces visited, they brought out blankets and beanbags and made it a teen treehouse for the weekend. I always thought, in a couple of years, we’ll do some interior work, maybe paint or put in cushions. I would never do that now. I love that it’s a nice, malleable space inside.
The STEM Lesson
Emmett Lalish, Leschi
Kid(s): Ages 4 & 7
I wanted to build something that wouldn’t harm the tree, and was inspired by a tensegrity-shaped baby toy. Tensegrity is a generic term for structures that are held up by mostly tension. There’s a bunch of tension members, usually ropes of some kind, and then floating compressive members that don’t attach to anything. I basically had to build a tiny scaffold to get up there. There’s not much in the way of fasteners, so it was tricky to design and think through.
The whole treehouse is about seven feet in diameter. It has the advantage of being lightweight, flexible, and ridiculously strong. It’s got a single hammock in the center. and that’s where the kids mostly spend time.
Miles James, Bainbridge Island
Kid(s): Age 10
I got a bunch of old scrap wood from a friend of mine who owns a construction company and then built a platform as large as I could. The base of it is a dead tree that used to lean toward the house.
I always wanted one when I was a kid and my daughter really wanted one, a “no boys are allowed” clubhouse kind of thing. I made the roof waterproof so she could use it whenever. My daughter hangs out in it very often—she and her friends play in it all the time. There’s a little bed and a hammock, so two kids can sleep up there, and there’s an extension cord running from the house so they can use lights.
The Backyard, Reclaimed
Ezra Ahn, Magnolia
Kid(s): Ages 5 & 8
It was just one of those classic pandemic activities. We have a pretty unusable, sloped backyard with some large trees, so we thought building a treehouse would be a great idea. I had never done a building project this large, but I did some online research—you can learn how to do anything on YouTube. I came across this Ana White Modern Playhouse design, and on their website they sold $12 treehouse build plans.
We put toys and books up there, and some beanbag chairs so our kids can sit down and play. During the summers, we’ll all go up there and have lunch. We have a pretty nice view looking out over the Ballard Locks, so it’s fun to watch the boats go by from up there.