NPR Story
4:03 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

An Adult Spin On A Childhood Favorite: The Tree House

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 4:36 pm

When you hear “tree house,” you may picture kids perched in a tall oak, inside a patchwork fort of crudely nailed together construction scraps — maybe a rope ladder dangling from the trap door.

Well, a new cottage industry has emerged, putting a grown-up spin on this childhood refuge.

From Here & Now Contributors Network, Brian Bull of WCPN has the story.

Reporter

  • Brian Bull, reporter and producer for WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

OK. Changing gears. I say treehouse. You say what? Leftover building scraps, crudely nailed together, maybe a rope ladder and kids? But there is a new cottage industry putting a grown-up spin on this childhood refuge. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WCPN's Brian Bull reports on one Ohio entrepreneur's foray into recreational treehouses.

BRIAN BULL, BYLINE: Fifty-year-old Kevin Mooney doesn't miss working as a financial adviser. The hours are long, the travel constant. On this rainy summer day, gazing out at the Mohican Wilderness near the town of Glenmont, about 90 miles south of Cleveland, Mooney says the woods is the only place he finds real peace.

KEVIN MOONEY: There's something about being out here. I enjoy it much more here, hearing the birds, rather than sitting on a highway.

BULL: Since quitting his advising job, Mooney spent the last eight years growing Mohican Cabins. It's almost typical: a spring, summer and fall, back-to-nature getaway, with conference and wedding facilities, except that two cabins - rather than being nestled within the trees - are actually in the trees.

LISA BRICE: Wow.

DEBBIE BRICE: Wow.

LINDA BRICE: Oh, my goodness gracious.

DAVID BRICE: This is neat.

BULL: The Brice family from Columbia Station, Ohio, is checking in. Lisa and Debbie Brice(ph) brought their parents Linda and David here for their 42nd wedding anniversary.

OK, here we go.

Linda Brice marvels at the rustic accommodations 25 feet off the ground. Roughly half a dozen trees support the 300-square-foot lodging, which sports satellite TV, air conditioning and a kitchen.

BRICE: This is absolutely amazing. I couldn't even envision. When they were talking about a treehouse, I had no concept.

BULL: Kevin Mooney plays tour guide.

MOONEY: The floor is made of seven species of wood. The cabinets, we took down a barn and made these kitchen cabinets out of it.

BRICE: It's got the comforts of home. It is so cozy. It smells good. It's like we're just here to find peace.

BULL: A far cry from the treehouses that anyone else probably stayed in as a kid.

BRICE: Well, yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BRICE: That was just a flat board, right?

BULL: It's recapturing one's childhood that draws people to treehouses, says Mohican Cabins' co-owner Laura Mooney. She also says there's something primordial at work.

LAURA MOONEY: Animals escape up into trees for safety. And I know that humans throughout history have escaped to the trees. A safety factor, a calmness, despite the fact that you're 30 feet up.

(SOUNDBITE OF POWER SAW)

BULL: Eight hundred yards away, Mooney's Amish work crew builds a second treehouse. Safety is a top priority for Mooney and his fellow builders. The federal government doesn't regulate treehouses, so caution is key.

PETE NELSON: Building in the trees is potentially hazardous.

BULL: That's Pete Nelson, the treehouse builder who inspired the Mooneys. He is the star of a new Animal Planet reality show, "Treehouse Masters."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TREEHOUSE MASTERS")

NELSON: I travel the country with my top-notch crew, building the most amazing treehouses on Earth.

BULL: Nelson's Washington-based company has designed more than 100 treehouses in the U.S. He says without regulations, treehouses are...

NELSON: Very much an underground thing. My greatest fear right now is that people, they see these things we're building on TV, and charge off into the trees without doing good research, and hurt themselves or the trees.

BULL: Nelson and other tradesmen have joined the International Treehouse Association started by Kevin Mooney. They critique plans and offer advice on surveying the right kinds of trees, as well as the best hardware, based on the most up-to-date technology. Back at Mooney's resort, the Brice family settle into their treehouse - sort of.

BRICE: Debbie and I are afraid of heights.

BRICE: Yes.

BULL: Good thing you're in a treehouse.

(LAUGHTER)

BRICE: I know. So I'm not looking over the edge, if you've noticed.

BULL: Mooney's grand plan is to create a vast treehouse village. He joins nearly two dozen treehouse resorts and hotels that have sprouted worldwide in recent years. These range from rustic bamboo huts in India to luxury suites on stilts in California, complete with fireplaces and hot tubs. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Brian Bull, in the trees above Glenmont, Ohio.

YOUNG: Quite something. If you want to see pictures, go to hereandnow.org. Look at that, Jeremy. There's one with a huge wrap-around deck, and the tree is growing through the house.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm still trying to get past hot tubs in a treehouse.

YOUNG: And I know that this is resonating for you.

HOBSON: I did get my start in radio at age nine, hosting a show called "Treehouse Radio," although we did in the studio, unfortunately.

(LAUGHTER)

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.