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Mastering the Treehouse

​Some people call Pete Nelson the “treehouse whisperer.” The world-renowned treehouse designer, builder and TV host who creates some of the craziest—and most expensive—treehouses on the planet, started young.

“I built my first treehouse when I was about 10 years old in a maple in the backyard of the house,” laughs the 59-year-old host of Treehouse Masters, now in its fifth season on Animal Planet. “Growing up in New Jersey, I always had a passion for designing and building.” But that passion didn’t immediately take Nelson to a career in the treetops—he started out building homes in Seattle in the early 90s. It wasn’t until he wrote The Treehouse Book in 2000, that people started asking him to build a different kind of house. “I knew then that I could actually fulfill my dream of building treehouses for a living. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”

Treetop Sanctuary

On Treehouse Masters, Nelson works with a dedicated crew of designers and builders (including his son, Charlie), who brave unpredictable weather conditions and unusual treetop formations to customize multi-bedroom treehouse sanctuaries. The show has juicy plotlines, big personalities, moments of crisis and of course, a happy ending for all.

Most of the builds are outfitted with water and electricity—something Nelson says homeowners should not attempt on their own. Perhaps that’s why he started Nelson Treehouse and Supply. The company will design and build you a custom treehouse for approximately US$525 per square foot. With a 200 square foot minimum, and extra costs for things like permitting, special materials and freight, an average treehouse build (without plumbing) costs from US$150,000 to $180,000.

A Magical Experience

That’s a pretty penny! But if you’ve seen Treehouse Masters, you know that a Nelson-built treehouse is a work of art: a completely customized, one-of-a-kind luxury. If you want to experience the magic without building a treehouse in your own yard, Nelson’s got you covered. That is, if you don’t mind a wait. With his wife Judy, he runs the TreeHouse Point Retreat, a treehouse bed and breakfast in Fall City, Washington. The unique, six-bedroom property is a popular destination— especially for weddings—and tends to be booked up months in advance.

Clearly, there’s something magical about a treehouse. One thing’s certain, after a visit to TreeHouse Point or an episode of Treehouse Masters, every viewer longs for their very own treehouse. If you’re inspired to try your hand at it, check out Nelson’s tips for creating your own treetop sanctuary.

Treehouse Building Tips from the Masters

Get the Right Hardware

“One key technical fact you’ve got to grasp is that trees move and sway in the wind,” says Nelson. To begin a build, he recommends purchasing a TAB (treehouse attachment bolt) to connect the construction to the tree in a way that still allows for movement. It holds up to 12,000 pounds of weight and does not damage the tree in any way.

Work with Your Environment

Your build has to be “site-responsive,” meaning that the layout of the trees dictates how your house will look—not the other way around. “The existing trees will give you your platform configuration,” says Nelson. Much of his work involves “reading” the landscape first, designing second.

Salvaging Lumber

In the spirit of “real” treehouse building (the kind that 12 year old boys do), Nelson recommends repurposing old wood for non-structural elements. (Don’t use salvaged wood for structural elements like support beams, he cautions.)

Watch Treehouse Masters Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Animal Planet.