Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2006

Branching out

Families make outdoor time creative with elaborate treehouses

July 30, 2006


Sarah Faith takes it just a little personally if you ask whether she had a treehouse when she was growing up.

"No, I did not," she says, sounding a bit like a pouting 8-year-old. "And I'm still mad about it."

That's partly why she helped arrange for her kids - 6-year-old Tabetha and 7-year-old Raymond - to have a play-perch in a pin oak that sits in the family's backyard 3 miles south of Lawrence.

There, Raymond has sword fights and hurls water balloons at friends, and Tabetha pretends to be a princess, though she admits that occasionally even she and her girly friends "pretend we have bad guys" to chase.

Checkers, Hula Hoops and the Slinky may have lost some of their appeal with children, but treehouses are still cool.

During the day, Faith's children use their treehouse's bucket-and-pulley system to hoist toys and impress their friends. On some temperate nights, the treehouse becomes a makeshift bedroom for Faith.

"She loves it," Tabetha says, "A LOT."

The Faiths' treehouse is a basic, classic structure - a floor surrounded by vertical panels, with a window opening facing west.

Ken Waldock, 61, walks up his prized treehouse and considers it another classic design.

"This," he says," is your basic little cozy treehouse."

That would depend on your definition.

The house, supported by surrounding walnut trees and posts, is big enough to hold around 10 children. It has a deck on the outside and an air conditioner inside. A loft is designed to look like a treehouse inside the treehouse.

This is Waldock's retirement project on his 40-acre spread north of Eudora. He sounds like an excited boy as he walks between the three treehouses and one tree "stage" on his property, talking about future improvement projects.

He has Scout groups stay at his place five or six times a year. He had someone get married there once, and occasionally families will use it as a place to get away for a weekend.


See a video tour of a treehouse guided by 7-year-old Caden Anderson. Enlarge video

It's not a business, and it's not a nonprofit foundation of any sort, but Waldock says he offers it as a service to people who might appreciate a good treehouse getaway.

"There's a need for a treehouse park," he says.

In addition to the treehouse with the loft, Waldock has a slightly smaller climate-controlled treehouse and a third just 2 feet off the ground, with a ramp leading up for wheelchair accessibility.

The houses have TVs, clocks, futons and artwork. They started as custom-made sheds and are supported by both beams and 1-inch rods and brackets piercing the trees. Waldock's original treehouse, which he says he built "just for practice," has survived a microburst slamming a tree into its side.

"On the coldest winter night," Waldock says, "just for the heck of it, we go to the treehouse, just to brave it."

Use your imagination

Granted, not all treehouses are popular year-round.

The Anderson children - 6-year-old Caden, 5-year-old Makenna and 2-year-old Kyla - tend to shy away from their new tree abode when it's super-hot out.

But it just got completed a month ago, and they're still fans of catching fireflies, using the trapdoor and pulley system and even sleeping at night 8 feet above their home in west Lawrence.

"The kids enjoy it," Cherise Anderson says. "Even with computer games and PlayStation, treehouses are pretty cool."

Her husband, Jeremy, grew up with a treehouse and took a week of his work as an adviser to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to build one for his children. He says it was only slightly different from building his deck, which attaches to the treehouse via a bridge.

Caden asked his friends to draw potential designs for the treehouse. But most of those looked like snakes, dragons or dinosaurs, so Jeremy chose a more traditional design.

"It was actually pretty easy to build," Jeremy Anderson says. "I had a lot of fun doing it with Caden, and being able to do it with him."

Jeremy Anderson says he likes the idea that the treehouse requires a little imagination.

"It can be whatever you want it to be," he says. "It can be a car one day, a ship one day, or it can be a house."

Caden has a birthday coming up soon, and he plans to show off the house to his friends.

"I'm mostly up there every day," he says.

If there's any doubt this structure is indeed a "house": It's complete with an electronic doorbell to signal a guest.

Second story

The treehouse at the Dedloff residence is about to undergo a renovation.

Wayne Dedloff built it seven years ago for his children, shortly after the family moved to Riverview Road. It is about 4 feet off the ground and has a ladder leading up to it, a slide leading down and gymnast rings and a climbing net attached to it.

But the boys - Hunter, 10, and Logan, 8 - are old enough to want a treehouse with a little more elevation. So Dedloff is planning to add a second story before the start of school.

The boys have grand plans, including a fireman-style pole down the middle of the structure.

"They're the architects," Wayne Dedloff says. "I'm the contractor."

Logan says the treehouse - even without the addition - is a hit with his friends.

"Whenever I invite a friend over," he says, "I climb up here."

Wayne Dedloff admits there's a bit of catharsis in having a treehouse in his backyard. He was an Army brat who never had a treehouse of his own.

"This is the backyard I never had," he says.

"I have to test everything, to make sure it holds my weight," he adds with a smile. "Whenever they're not around, I climb up here."

Logan's ears suddenly perk up, and he asks: "What do you climb on, dad?"

"Oh, nothing," Wayne replies.

Elevated fun

Back at the Faiths' home south of Lawrence, 7-year-old Raymond explains why he wanted a treehouse.

"I really wanted to climb," he says, "but there wasn't a climbing tree."

Now, he has a way to get up into that oak, and can climb even higher on the branches leading off of it - especially if his mom isn't looking.

Sarah Faith says she has some rules for the treehouse - including no spitting from the top, and no hanging over the edge.

Generally, she says, she's not worried about her kids up there. Her father commissioned his friend, a home builder, to construct the treehouse.

"It's well-built," she says, "for a treehouse."

Treehouses, occupants have colorful history

A brief (and selective) history of treehouses: A.D. 37-41 - Caligula, the Roman emperor, holds banquets in a hollowed-out plane tree. 1300s and 1400s - The Medicis, a powerful Italian family, occasionally hold competitions to build the best marble treehouse. Mid-1700s - World's oldest-known treehouse built in Shrewsbury, England. It still stands today. Late 1700s - Famed Captain Cook finds treehouse dwellers in Tasmania. 1812 - "Swiss Family Robinson" first published, featuring a family deserted on an island who build a treehouse. Though the details of the book don't survive subsequent film versions, the treehouse does - allowing Disney to capitalize on a Swiss Family Robinson resort set in the trees. 1926 - First Winnie the Pooh book was published. The series included Christopher Robin and Owl, who both lived in treehouses. 1932 - "Tarzan the Ape Man" released, forever linking treehouses with bad grammar. 1980 - Korowai clans of Papua New Guinea begin to move to villages, away from the treehouses they've lived in for generations. Three years later, a film crew from the Smithsonian comes to study both their treehouse construction and their cannibalism. 1980s - Bob Redman builds more than 10 treehouses in New York City's Central Park before being caught. 1983 - Ewoks make living in trees super-cool in Star Wars' "Return of the Jedi." 2001 - "The Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy begins to leave off where the Ewoks began, promoting the cause of pop-culture treehouses. 2003 - Tattooed women "Sihka" and "Aeon" prove that living in a tree can be futile, as they spend several nights in a tree slated for demolition near Lawrence's Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Aeon, who replaced Sihka during the tree vigil, eventually was escorted down by a fire-truck ladder. The tree was knocked over to make way for the Hobbs-Taylor Lofts.


Confrontation 11 years, 10 months ago

I remember Sihka being in the tree by Hastings. The tree eventually got so tired of the smell that it took its own life.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.