Man builds dream home in the trees
Oct. 04, 2015
ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — Treehouses are usually built of equal parts scrap lumber and childhood imagination, typically cobbled together by pre-teens in an afternoon.
Not so Jay Hewitt's 40-foot-tall, tri-level version he built for his grandkids over the course of two years. The fully enclosed and shingled structure features a room for family gatherings, a loft for sleepovers and a built-in spiral slide.
"I had a treehouse when I was a kid, but it was basically a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood," said Hewitt, 59, a licensed contractor and member of the Attleboro Planning Board. "I never dreamed that a treehouse would be anything like this."
Hewitt says the treehouse, supported by four maple trees behind his home on Marbury Drive, is a work in progress. He's planning to finish off the interior this fall.
The Attleboro resident and his wife are planning to put their home, including the treehouse, up for sale in the near future.
But if it doesn't sell, Hewitt already is considering expanding the treehouse even more next year.
Motivation to build a dream treehouse was fired by Hewitt's addiction to "Treehouse Masters," a 4-year-old TV series on Animal Planet that features quirky treehouse builder Pete Nelson.
Nelson, who hails from the Pacific Northwest, has built luxury treehouses for adults all over the United States, some costing as much as $80,000.
"I've seen every episode," Hewitt said.
Nelson's creative genius has inspired landowners across the country and in England to build their own ultimate treehouses, including one being used as a recording studio and others as vacation homes or primary residences.
Unlike a typical treehouse accessed by ladders or by climbing up a rope, Hewitt's version has a full staircase leading to an expansive deck.
The first floor contains an entry or "mud room," with a steep set of stairs leading to a 16-by-20 foot family room.
To get to the loft on the third level, a visitor walks up a set of stairs crafted by Hewitt from New Hampshire birch trees.
Just so visitors don't forget they're in a treehouse, tree trunks and branches that extend inside the building are left fully exposed.
Since the treehouse does not meet the minimum footprint requirement for a building, Hewitt said he did not need to take out a building permit. But, the house and all of its features are built to be code-compliant.
While there's electricity in the building, it has no plumbing and it can't be used for regular habitation, Hewitt said.
Hewitt, a facilities manager at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket and an assistant building inspector in Seekonk, said the initial idea to build a treehouse came from his son, who suggested that he might be interested doing a project for his then-unborn grandchildren.
"At the time, I said I'd build the best treehouse any kid ever had," Hewitt said.
His 6-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter are frequent visitors, and love their fantasy treehouse, Hewitt said. The treehouse is also a favorite venue for the Hewitts to enjoy summertime meals or to host activities when guests and family arrive.
Hewitt's treehouse employs many of the same features found in a new home in any typical subdivision, such as a stylishly shingled exterior, a bay window and a ventilation system.
Much of the project was fashioned from leftovers salvaged from remodeling and construction jobs, as well as materials purchased from Home Depot. Some of the components, including windows, were picked up at yard sales for as little as a dollar each.
Whether the treehouse continues to grow beyond its already impressive size depends on whether the Hewitts actually sell their home. If they don't, Hewitt is already thinking about a separate, tree-supported structure connected to the main treehouse by a rope bridge.
If they do sell, Hewitt's romance with treehouses isn't over.
Never one to overlook opportunity, he is already toying with the idea of creating a small, lakeside resort in New Hampshire in which vacationers would stay in fully furnished tree houses. There, they could enjoy both an unmatched view and proximity to the beach.
"It would be unique," he said.
Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, http://www.thesunchronicle.com