written by:
April 15, 2012

Our latest special issue, Dwell Outdoor, is on newsstands now and available to order here. A guidebook of sorts for making super-livable indoor/outdoor space, Dwell Outdoor pulls out some incredible al fresco rooms and highlights never-before-seen houses, treehouses, fire pits, and pools, as well as the products to re-create them at home. Here's an excerpt, featuring a wooden perch hidden in the treetops of British Columbia.

A world-class ski resort, Whistler, British Columbia, is known as the playground of the well-heeled with mansions to match. In stark contrast is builder Joel Allen's egg-shaped treehouse suspended above a hemlock tree. A former software engineer, Allen designed this modest 200-square foot retreat to include loft sleeping quarters, an outdoor deck (with views of the snow-capped Tantalus range), and a work area tucked behind the stairs. Over the course of four summers, Allen built his getaway using $10,000 worth of castaway items collected via Craigslist. “People thought I had gone a little bit mad,” says Allen. “I was compulsively refreshing Craigslist every two minutes waiting for that next item to come up and grab it before anyone else.” Here’s a look inside:

Joel Allen had always dreamed of building his own home and this miniature treehouse was the first step.
Joel Allen had always dreamed of building his own home and this miniature treehouse was the first step.
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Having no formal architecture background himself, Allen enlisted the help of friends to gather some ideas for the design. After one such conversation, he hit upon the idea to use the egg as as a basic volume. “The thing that I really loved about it was th
Having no formal architecture background himself, Allen enlisted the help of friends to gather some ideas for the design. After one such conversation, he hit upon the idea to use the egg as as a basic volume. “The thing that I really loved about it was this idea that you could hide the structure in the form. In most tree houses you’re looking up at them from the bottom and all you see is its support structure. You don’t get a good sense of the form of the actual tree house.”
2 / 11
Allen trudged in and out of the Whistler forests looking for the perfect spot to build. Finally, after investigating a patch of old-growth trees, he discovered a hemlock that stood at the precipice of a 20-foot drop.
Allen trudged in and out of the Whistler forests looking for the perfect spot to build. Finally, after investigating a patch of old-growth trees, he discovered a hemlock that stood at the precipice of a 20-foot drop.
3 / 11
Allen’s tree house is a challenging walk away from the nearest roadside or electrical source. Allen had to first construct scaffolding, then a deck to store his building materials. Then, with the deck in place, he built separate platforms for waste and fo
Allen’s tree house is a challenging walk away from the nearest roadside or electrical source. Allen had to first construct scaffolding, then a deck to store his building materials. Then, with the deck in place, he built separate platforms for waste and for materials so he could finally start building the treehouse proper.
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Eighteen-foot-long ribs run from top to bottom to form the treehouse's struts. The floor package runs into the ribs and creates a triangle, which negated the need for more structural support. During construction, Allen broke one of the long ribs but rathe
Eighteen-foot-long ribs run from top to bottom to form the treehouse's struts. The floor package runs into the ribs and creates a triangle, which negated the need for more structural support. During construction, Allen broke one of the long ribs but rather than throwing the material away, he repurposed it for the entryway.
5 / 11
After realizing he didn’t have enough money to complete the project, Allen started scouring Craigslist for materials. At summer's end, the apartment he shared with his fiancée was stacked to the rafters with his internet finds. “We hardly had a place to s
After realizing he didn’t have enough money to complete the project, Allen started scouring Craigslist for materials. At summer's end, the apartment he shared with his fiancée was stacked to the rafters with his internet finds. “We hardly had a place to sleep,” says Allen.
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Inside, the tree house boasts built-in furniture Allen crafted from his free Craigslist finds. “If I would have used pre-built furniture, it would have just dominated the space,” says Allen.
Inside, the tree house boasts built-in furniture Allen crafted from his free Craigslist finds. “If I would have used pre-built furniture, it would have just dominated the space,” says Allen.
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Allen cleverly used the oft-forgotten space behind the stairs as a work area complete with a built-in desk.
Allen cleverly used the oft-forgotten space behind the stairs as a work area complete with a built-in desk.
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All the main siding was made from a clear cedar that was once the interior of a sauna. “The cedar was in pristine condition because it was indoors all its life,” says Allen. He received the cedar all busted up because wreckers had ripped it out of the sau
All the main siding was made from a clear cedar that was once the interior of a sauna. “The cedar was in pristine condition because it was indoors all its life,” says Allen. He received the cedar all busted up because wreckers had ripped it out of the sauna with crowbar. Undeterred, he simply broke it down and made new edges that would fit the sides.
9 / 11
“I designed around all the materials I had in our suite,” says Allen. Glass from broken cabinets became windows, a double pane full-height door turned into a sliding glass door (after Allen added his fiancée’s rollerblade wheels to the track).
“I designed around all the materials I had in our suite,” says Allen. Glass from broken cabinets became windows, a double pane full-height door turned into a sliding glass door (after Allen added his fiancée’s rollerblade wheels to the track).
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Allen credits his fiancée for being an instrumental part of the building project due to her gift for grasping spatial concepts and her ability to make Allen’s ideas real. “She knew what I was talking about and could come up with elegant solutions,” says A
Allen credits his fiancée for being an instrumental part of the building project due to her gift for grasping spatial concepts and her ability to make Allen’s ideas real. “She knew what I was talking about and could come up with elegant solutions,” says Allen, “I never once had to rebuild anything after she got onto the project.” The two are now in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, building small custom-tailored houses for lakeside retirement communities.
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Joel Allen had always dreamed of building his own home and this miniature treehouse was the first step.
Joel Allen had always dreamed of building his own home and this miniature treehouse was the first step.

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