A Dramatic Tree House by Budget-Conscious DIY Builders

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By Michele Koh Morollo
In a remote second-growth forest in Sullivan County, New York, is an off-the-grid tree house that was constructed with the help of the trees around it.

Sited on a steep, sloping hill surrounded by trees, the 360-square-foot project was designed to accommodate a limited $20,000 construction budget—and to be approachable enough that amateur weekend builders could construct it. 

Architects Mike Jacobs, Biayna Bogosian, Forrest Jessee, Leopold Lambert, and Luis Gutierrez of award-winning New York practice Jacobschang Architecture designed a tree house structure that overcame the challenge of the site's steep topography.

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To reduce the amount of site work, and eliminate the need for large footings, pumped concrete, or retaining walls, the house was designed so that most of the construction work could be done above ground, with support from the trees. 

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The perimeter of the structure was made with engineered wood beams with standard nominal lumber for all intermediate framing. 

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Sonotube footings were used to anchor the upslope corners, and Garnier Limbs were used to distribute half of the weight of the structure to two trees on the site.

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The most expensive components of the project were the three 8' x 8' steel-tube pivot doors that were prefabricated offsite and later installed with dual-insulated glass panels. 

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With the help of some friends, the tree house's two owners carried out the construction work.

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Eastern Pines felled on the property were milled, kiln-dried, and used for the exterior and interior boards of the tree house. 

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For the exterior, the boards were coated with Scandinavian pine-tar to protect them against long, wet winters. 

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A clear matte sealant was used for the interior walls and ceiling. Thanks to the large glass windows that frame a peaceful scene of trees, the cozy, minimalist interiors are flooded with natural light. 

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The main source of heat are a Jotul wood stove, and if needed, a portable generator. 

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Project Credits:

- Architects: Jacobschang Architecture

- Builder: Owners 

- Photography: Noah Kalina

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