Baltimore Tree House

Baltimore Tree House

By Miyoko Ohtake
The wooden structure next to Laurie and Peter Stubbs' house outside Baltimore is made out of trees and is nestled in the woods but it isn't technically a tree house. "The trees here are basically poles with very high branches--90 feet high!--so there was no way we were going to be building in the trees," Laurie says. "We've been trying to think of a non-tree house name--the Fort, Tree Fort, Bamboo Fort--but nothing's really stuck." Plus, it's not just for Stubb's children, daughters Abigail, 9, and Emily, 13. "Kids are small for a very short time and then they grow up and go to college and you're left with this structure," she says. "We wanted it to have a use after they're gone--a place we can sit in and read or have a drink and entertain company."

The tree house, for lack of a better name, comprises two eight-foot-by-eight-foot platforms that create two floors. The lower one is accessed by a ramp and the upper one by a wooden ladder. The structure is screened with bamboo shoots, placed in close proximity to one another on the front and spaced wider and wider apart as they wrap around the sides to the back. "The idea was to screen the view of the driveway in the front," Stubb says, "but when you're inside, you don't want to feel like you're in a box. You want to feel like you're in the woods and see out."

Stubb and her family moved to their home, located on 2.25 acres just north of Baltimore, in 2001. "The outdoors here are a big playground," she says. "We had always wanted to build something for the girls that looked natural." In the summer of 2008, they finally materialized their wish with the 128-square-foot "tree house" that they designed themselves. Drafting the plans came naturally: Laurie is the principal of Place Architecture, Inc. and her husband, Peter, is an architect at a firm that focuses on institutional projects.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

To see more images of the tree house and read more about its design and use, please visit our slideshow.

Over the course of the month of June 2008, Laurie and Peter cut down bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource, from their property and created the screen around the play structure. The bamboo was originally a green color but has turned brown as it's dried.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

Scale was an important design factor. "We wanted it to be flexible," Laurie says. "It's scaled down for a child but is also tall enough so an adult can walk in it." The height between the floor of the lower platform and its ceiling is six feet—so taller adults do still need to duck slightly, but most can make it through. "Kids are small for a very short time and then they grow up and go to college and you're left with this structure," she says. "We wanted it to have a use after they're gone." Pictured here is Laurie and Peter's daughter Emily.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

Although the tree house blends into the wooded area on the Stubbs' property, it's less than 100 feet from the house and Laurie can watch the girls (in this image, Emily is on the top platform and Abigail is in the lower-level entry) at play from her home office.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

"The girls use it all the time," Stubb says. "There are ropes tied to it and they climb the rope ladder or use a swing to climb down into the adjacent ravine. Abigail plays house and makes food with mud and leaves." Abigail isn't the only one serving up a meal in the house: Laurie and Peter have been able to enjoy drinks and entertain guests out there, too.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

Maintaining the tree house has been a rather simple job. "It gets somewhat slick when it rains but it's holding up well," Laurie says. Besides brushing off leaves in the fall, there's little other work to do.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

The structure has held up well through its first winter—and so far into its second. "The kids love it in the winter," Laurie says.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

Although the family is pretty pleased with the structure, there is one thing they'd change if they built it again. "Our youngest daughter, Abigail, wanted a drawbridge," Laurie says. "The thought was to install a pulley system so you could lift up the walk-up entrance plank and close off the structure, but when we were finished, it was so heavy—since we had to make it structurally sound—that there was no way we could do it. We'd rethink a way to do that."Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

One thing they did change was the ladder, which was originally positioned perpendicular to the floor. "It was hard to go up and down, especially when carrying things," Stubb says. Not long after construction was complete, Peter took it out and installed a new ladder at an angle.Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.

"I think I almost built it for myself," Stubb jokes. "It's just fun to be outside and be creative, make up games and enjoy the natural setting. That's hard to find in today's world of computers and gadgets."Photograph courtesy of Laurie Stubb.


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