6 Eco–Tree Houses Coming Soon to Your Backyard
Whether your inspiration is the Lothlórien elves of Middle Earth or Swiss Family Robinson, it’s more than likely that living in the treetops has been a fantasy of yours since childhood. (You can even stay in a tree house called the Hobbit House on your next trip to South Dakota.)
As California activist Julia Butterfly Hill proved 16 years ago when she perched in an ancient redwood tree for 738 days to protect it from loggers, living in trees is certainly an effective way to save them. Now, eco–house designers are coming up with tree houses that don’t just celebrate the environment—they protect it as well. Here are six eco-conscious tree houses you’re going to want for your own backyard.
Looking more space age than Peter Pan, the ecoPerch is all sleek modernist lines and airy finishes. Scottish manufacturer Blue Forest takes a just-add-water approach, promising a five-day installation time. The company designed the ecoPerch to conform with British regulations governing mobile homes and caravans to alleviate siting problems in the United Kingdom. There’s room for up to four sleepers, and a fully installed kitchen and bathroom. Super insulated and made with sustainably harvested wood, the modules are energy conscious to the extreme. You can go off the grid by ordering a package that includes rooftop solar and a methanol fuel cell, a composting toilet, and a rainwater capture system.
The creations of this Seattle building company probably come the closest of any tree house commercially available to fulfilling your longing for a full-time treetop hideaway. Ranging in size from 400 to 1,000 square feet, Treehouse Workshop’s projects include all the fun of a playground climbing structure, complete with ramps, decks, lofts, and suspension bridges. Some feature hand-built stone fireplaces and leaded windows, reinforcing the Hobbit House vibe. Whenever possible, Treehouse Workshop builds its creations using downed logs salvaged on-site. What sets the company apart from other builders are the five-day training courses it holds around the country to launch you into your forest-dwelling future.
The Cocoon Tree
Dangling like an oversize Chinese lantern, the Cocoon Tree, designed by French artist Berni du Payrat, is like a hammock on steroids. With a lightweight aluminum frame covered by high-tech tarp-like fabric, the Cocoon weighs in at just 130 pounds and is suspended with the help of nets. You can assemble one yourself or hire a team to do it for you. While this isn’t a dwelling by any means, the Cocoon holds a queen-size mattress and is big enough to sleep two. If you think you’d better try out sleeping in a spherical tree house before you commit to one, you can take a trip to Free Spirit Spheres in the northwest rainforest of Vancouver Island.
Shoo-ins for most elegant tree house design, the “inspiring dwellings” of German architecture cooperative Baumraum are equal parts childhood whimsy and modernist practicality. Its mission encompasses careful preservation and health of the host tree or trees, along with the use of sustainable materials, such as sustainability-certified tropical wood. While custom designs—including tree house hotels—are Baumraum’s specialty, it also offers modular tree houses, including the Tree Cube and the “Small is beautiful,” which resembles nothing so much as a retro trailer suspended in the air.
The Sustainability Treehouse
The ultimate proof that an eco-house belongs in the trees comes from the Sustainability Treehouse. Honored by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 10 greenest buildings of 2014, the project from Mithun Architects won certification as a Living Building for features such as wind turbines, solar panels, and an on-site water collection and purification system. While you can’t buy a Sustainability Treehouse for your own backyard, you can learn a lot from a visit to this one, which is located on the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia and houses an interactive outdoor education center. You can stay up to speed on the tree house movement in general by following the International Treehouse Association, which spotlights new tree house innovations as they come along.
O2 Treehouses are another lightweight suspension option intended to be a hangout more than a home. It’s no accident that these look like floating geodesic domes—creator Dustin Feider took his inspiration from Buckminster Fuller, using the dome model for maximum strength with minimal weight and materials. The tree houses are currently custom projects, though plans are in the works to sell them off the shelf.