The treehouse…that magical safe haven in the sky where imaginations run free and kids rule the roost. A secret hideout where you can keep watch of the enemy, whether it’s the school bully or your neighbor’s little sister.
Unlike the makeshift forts our dads cobbled together with salvaged two-by-fours and a hunk of sheet metal — when best friends communicated through two cans and a string (not text messages) — some of today’s treehouses have been elevated to an art form.
The phenomenon has actually spurred its own television show, Treehouse Masters, which debuted last May on Animal Planet.
While the concept of the “extreme” treehouse is more prevalent on the West Coast, it has made its way to the Buffalo area thanks in large part to Buffalo Treehouse LLC of Amherst, one of only a very few companies in the Northeast devoted to treehouse construction.
Said owner/designer Ricardo (Rico) Rivera, “It gives us the ability to build something much more whimsical and memorable for children, to take creativity to a whole different level.”
Or to multiple levels, in the case of the “Cedar Silo” at one family's Southtowns home. Built with the tree running straight up the middle of the 23-foot structure, the innovative design includes two stories and plenty of room for their nine-year-old son and his friends to explore.
With a reclaimed cage ladder from an old silo in Akron serving as the inspiration, the treehouse attracts its fair share of attention — including a helicopter that hovered overhead during construction. Visible from the road, the homeowners say passersby are constantly knocking on their door to ask if they can check it out.
“It’s a real magnet for the neighborhood kids,” they added. “Which is great, because we’d rather have them at our house where we know what they’re doing.”
And what they’re doing is engaging in good old-fashioned creative play. From putting on Westerns and spy movies to simply climbing up and down the ladders, “there’s not a lot of stationary play,” said the parents.
In today’s world — when physical activity among children often takes a back seat to technology — treehouses remind us of what it meant to have fun when we were growing up.
“Back when I was young, we didn’t have cell phones and gadgets. It was all about fantastical, made-up play,” said the owner of “Piper’s Playhouse,” which was built by Buffalo Treehouse this past fall in Amherst.
Recalling fond memories of the treehouses he had as a boy, he said he was determined to give one to his two girls, ages 2 and 13. “It’s a way of maintaining some of my childhood while passing some of it along to my children.”
He estimates his eldest daughter spends at least two hours a day in the treehouse, even in the winter. An avid reader and fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, a cabin in the woods was her dream come true. “I’m always telling her that she doesn’t have to be wired and connected; she can read a whole book by candlelight.”
But being wired can also have its advantages, especially in the case of another treehouse in the Southtowns. Tricked out with electricity, an iPod dock, speakers and Wi-Fi, it still gets plenty of use by the kids it was originally built for. Now a senior in high school and a recent college grad, the brother and sister continue to hang with friends and even practice their instruments in it.
Conceptualized by their mother (a toy designer) and built by their father (an electrical engineer), it was a “real collaboration” according to their mother. “We were giving all of this time to work and realized that we had never really pooled our talents and done anything together.”
Embarking on the project in 2008 after a great deal of research, and enlisting the help of a local sculptor to create the base, the couple has been adding features here and there ever since — including a staircase that allows for entrance from the garden. The finishing touches were completed just this past summer.
“It’s been a labor of love,” added the homeowner. “My father built me the most amazing treehouse when I was a little girl and it was such a big part of how I grew up.”
She notes that she will eventually take the treehouse over once her kids have completely left the nest. “It will be even more fantastical, maybe a drawing studio,” she added. “I can’t wait to get my claws into it!”