Miércoles 11 de Octubre de 2006, Ip nº 174

The height of fashion
Por Wendy Sloane

When Brenda and Subra Subramaniam moved to Chichester from Malaysia, they decided to recreate a bit of their homeland in their own backyard. Literally. So last summer, they built a Malaysian-style treehouse in their leafy garden; a fantasy retreat for their five sons, and a relaxing trip down memory lane for them.
“During my childhood I lived in wooden houses, so we wanted to build something made of wood that would be nostalgic for us and fun for the boys,” says Brenda, a nursing care assistant whose husband is an accountant. “As we are busy working, we don’t have the time to take them away on holidays, so the treehouse compensates. It also gives Subra somewhere to go when he’s fed up with the house.”

Built by BlueForest, which makes upmarket treehouses and eco-lodges from its base in Wadhurst, East Sussex, the treehouse cost about £20,000. Made from softwoods such as spruce and pine, which have been approved by the Forest Stewardship Council, with a cedar-shingled roof, it has two large rooms where the parents can relax, as well as a sleeping loft, climbing frame, zip wire and trap door for the army of boys, aged 9 to 18.

“Treehouses are certainly gaining in popularity because of the interest in sustainable construction and building, and because people want to live closer to nature and have their kids play outdoors,” says Simon Payne, business manager of BlueForest. “It’s also the fairy-tale element of a treehouse that appeals. Everyone loves the idea of having space and going up in a tree.”

BlueForest was started after Simon’s brother Andy, now managing director, carried out conservation work in areas of endangered forest in Kenya. In the three years since it was founded, the firm has been building up to four luxury treehouses a month, ranging in price from £12,000 upwards.

“We have some with plumbing, some with shower rooms, log-burning stoves and broadband. You name it, we have it,” says Payne. Their most expensive construction to date, the £100,000 Fairytale Castle, was built on a private estate in Hampshire and has two rooms in cedar and oak, a tower and a lookout, full electricity and double-glazed windows.

The TreeHouse Company in Ayrshire builds treehouses designed primarily for adults. “Most of our clients are extremely well off and not interested in publicity. They want treehouses with bathrooms, kitchens, televisions and hot tubs,” says Gordon Brown, the designer.

One of the most alluring eyries Brown has designed is the Monticello treehouse near Reading, Berkshire, which takes its name from the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, the third American president. “The lady phoned us looking for a treehouse for her husband’s birthday present,” he says. “They have a home in the US built by Thomas Jefferson. She wanted their treehouse to be influenced by early American colonial design, a classical Italianesque house in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

The finished result, which cost about £60,000, consists of one fully insulated, heated room built around the trunk of an oak. Crafted from Canadian pine, it has classic features such as Doric columns and dormer windows.

The company’s most expensive house, built in East Sussex for £80,000, has a bathroom, kitchen and main room. Overlooking a lake, it doubles as a dining room for the family when they entertain, and as a guesthouse.

Alison Rose, who lives in Highgate, north London, and works in the City, wanted something more, ahem, down to earth when she had a treehouse made for her daughter Millie, 3. Built by Tree House Life, based in Abinger Hammer, Surrey, it took less than three weeks to construct from splinter-proof wood imported from South Africa at a cost of £12,000.

“We have quite a big woodland-type garden and wanted to create a play area that was sympathetic to it,” says Rose. The treehouse’s one circular room is roughly 24ft by 24ft and is fully insulated, with lighting, a thatched roof and removable swings and slides. “Millie loves it,” says Rose. “She spends hours in there playing make-believe games. It’s a real feast for her imagination.”

Paul Cameron, owner of Tree House Life, is adamant that treehouses should first and foremost be a place for children. “When people reach 40 and they’re earning big salaries, they think about building a treehouse with a kitchen and a dining room. They often get talked about as adult spaces, but it shouldn’t only be like that,” he says.

“Although £12,000 is a lot of money, a treehouse is something that a child will never forget. Millie loves her treehouse — she’s out there every day and she’s in fantasy land, dressing up as a princess while her ‘boyfriend’ dresses up as a man in armour and has tea parties with her. That’s what it’s all about,” says Cameron.

Eco Treehouse Company, a Derbyshire firm dedicated to building “exciting garden structures”, is one of the first treehouse builders to specialise in eco-friendly buildings. From sheep’s wool insulation to breathable plant-based paint and finishes, all its materials are designed to be at one with the environment. Its treehouses start at about £5,000 for a basic model.

“I think it’s silly to transport things halfway across Europe when we have our own sustainable timber in England that comes from managed woodland local to where I live,” says Craig Banks, the company’s owner. “We are just a small, friendly, local company. ”

If you don’t have the cash to build a treehouse, you can always visit one. Several treehouse hotels and restaurants have sprung up, including Amberley Castle’s Mistletoe Lodge treehouse, near Arundel, West Sussex, which offers “dîner à deux”, with the branches of an old oak tree as a romantic backdrop. Or spend a night in the Treehouse Suite of Fernie Castle in Fife, which has a huge slipper bath and a bed crafted from elm that looks onto a ceiling painted with a moon and stars that shine on grazing unicorns. The stuff of dreams.

How much will it cost?

The price of a treehouse built by a specialist company starts at about £5,000, depending on the size of the building — although you can find smaller ones for less Treehouse basics

  25/09/2006. Times Online.