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Article Published June 14, 2017

Home Among the Trees

By Jenn McCulloch/

Move over man caves and she-sheds, adult tree houses are here, and they are reaching new heights of trendiness. With hectic schedules, many people are looking for new ways to unwind, and what better way than connecting with nature in a way reminiscent of childhood?

"It's probably nostalgia, and it gives you a level of flexibility in design and layout to be more playful, while being closer to outside and simplicity," says Russ Campaigne, a partner at Campaigne Kestner Architects in Guilford. "There's a therapeutic value to it and the inspiration for such a project would come from an experience from childhood."

CK Architects was contracted to design a tree house to accompany a kitchen remodel in a 1970s Guilford home. While the use was mainly intended for the client's son, it was designed as a space where the family could spend time outdoors.

"It sits on a high rock outcropping and has a third-story observatory for viewing stars," Campaigne says of the structure that is waterproofed and has power and a zipline. "It's just off the woods of their main property and it's a fun space for the family."

Those who love the outdoors but aren't quite ready for a treehouse can bring the same vibe into their home, too. Mark Simon of Centerbrook Architects in Centerbrook has used different design elements to not only give homes a natural look, but to give homeowners an overall sensory experience.

"People think a lot of glass will give the indoors an outdoor feel and that's true to an extent, but it's about getting the views, feeling the breezes, smelling the outside, and hearing the outside," says Simon. "All of your senses tell you you're living outside, and that really gives you the feeling of indoor-outdoor – it's more than just visual impressions."

Simon has worked on several projects that have incorporated these elements into the design. Inspired by the great camps of the Adirondack – his great grandfather owned one – Simon used wood in many different ways while designing a marsh-side lodge.

"We used a lot of natural stick-work, lined one room with birch bark, made handrails out of twigs and apple stumps – everything was an old idea reborn," says Simon. "I don't think there's any place like it on earth. We were careful to keep as much forest around the place as we could as we built, so through those gigantic windows you get views through the pines, connecting the inside and outside. The spirit of the woods comes in, and the spirit of the house goes out."

Simon notes that elements like a gothic style ceiling of branches, natural woods, and stone fireplaces and walls give the inside of the home a feeling of nature.

Other ways to get closer to nature without building a home in the trees include expanding your living space with an outdoor deck, which can reach out closer to trees and foliage, or joining the tiny house movement.

"Because there is no foundation, a tiny house can be positioned in a way that it's within two feet of big old pines so that's an opportunity that's pretty special," says Campaigne. "A tiny house is something mobile that doesn't disturb the environment."

The location is also an important factor. When choosing a property, Campaigne stresses that it's important to consider the sightlines. Advancements in technology have allowed the use of larger panes of glass for more expansive views and Campaigne also recommends higher ceilings to allow more of the view.

"When designing, sighting is the very first part of the exercise," says Campaigne. "If you're designing to bring the outside in, you want to be sure that you like the outside view at all times of the year."