19 Unconventional Homes Built Around Trees
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19 Unconventional Homes Built Around Trees

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By Jen Woo
This takes “bringing the outside in” to the next level.

Designing with nature in mind, be it sourcing eco-friendly materials or forging connections between home and landscape, has become more and more common—and with good reason: the benefits of greenery include reduced stress, better focus, and cleaner air. Plants are, undoubtedly, in—and in some cases, inside. The forward-thinking homes below take things a step further by bringing trees into the layout.

Stepping Park House by VTN Architecture

To combat the environmental impact of a shortage of green spaces in Ho Chi Minh City, local firm VTN Architecture designs homes with lush interiors. Stepping Park House exudes a greenhouse vibe with a plethora of trees and foliage spanning all three levels of the 5,081-square-foot abode.

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This modern, glass-walled, weekend lake house in Austin is built around two massive oak trees. One is growing directly out of an ipe deck and through a dedicated hole in a Western red cedar overhanging roof, which doubly allows light to flood into the home. 

This Kyoto house was designed with one specification—Japanese aesthetic. Kept simple and with an open plan, the living room serves as the home's heart with a double-height ceiling. With limited space for a garden, this area became a courtyard encircling an indoor tree. 

Atelier Vens Vanbelle renovated a decaying house in Ghent, gutting the multi-story building, restoring the brick façade, and replacing the roof. They also brought in a nearly 40-foot-long oak tree, craned in through the roof, building in a spiral formation around the trunk to create an open interior space without walls in the living areas. Plus, it was all done within a budget of 150,000 euros.

With a number of environment-centric structures on the three-acre property, this home in Sebastopol, California, is a labor of love spanning a decade. The latest addition is the 713-square-foot, indoor/outdoor Shotcrete dining pavilion dubbed the Amoeba. Cut-outs in the concrete slab floor create space for an indoor jungle of taro, fig trees, bird-of-paradise, and bamboo; a sub-surface drain connected to a perforated underground pipe slowly filters out excess moisture to the groundwater. 

Part of an eco-friendly glamping retreat in Dorset, UK, Woodman’s Treehouse is built using local materials where possible and includes traditional wooden craftsmanship throughout the interior. The structure stands on high stilts to minimize its effect on the land, and all the existing trees are protected and maintained unharmed and untouched.

Tree House at Jalan Elok in Singapore holds a lush sanctuary within its concrete walls. Trees permeate the living area, ground floor terrace, and kitchen, while internal green walls extend to the full height of the three-story building. Find ferns, trees, and even a man-made pond and waterfall in the atriums on the ground level of the house.

At architect Miguel Ángel Aragonés's house in Mexico City, angular walls enclose outdoor living spaces. The shocking white finishes are tempered by an abundance of greenery. Throughout the day, the quality and color temperature of the light and shadow change the character of the mono- chromatic palette. The floors are made of white travertine imported from Spain.

This indoor/outdoor family home in São Paulo revolves around a tree and the gardens that occupy around 50 percent of the site. The tree with large, outstretched branches was used as the guiding force for the design with the living, dining, kitchen, and reception areas arranged around it. 

Casa Serpiente, or "Snake House" in Lima, Peru, is named after the building's twisting form that meanders around 25 trees. As the second-largest desert city in the world, it almost never rains in the area, making trees precious. The home has plenty of open space and light, while an occasional trunk pokes through the house. 

House 2.0 relies on recycled wood for support—notably, two enormous former mooring posts of basralocus wood and an entire elm tree, which supports the suspended living room.

When Jeremy and Robin Levine remodeled their house in the Eagle Rock district of Los Angeles, they chose to keep it at the scale, if not the style, of other houses in the neighborhood. They expanded it back and front by building shady decks around existing trees. The sliding, slatted doors of triple-panel wood reinforce the inside-outside living experience. A young, drought-tolerant Tristania conferta (also known as Australian brush box tree) grows up through the chill-out room under the deck at the rear of the house.

Most beachfront houses treat the ocean as part of the visual landscape with panoramic views and wraparound balconies. Tom Lloyd-Butler’s beach house by Ernest Born, however, is deeply interior, and far more interested in its tranquil inner courtyard than anything beyond. One transparent addition later, the avid surfer has a new outlook. Aidlin Darling took pains during construction to preserve the cypress trees that give the Great Highway House so much of its charm.

By merging typical Saigon architectural and stylistic details, architect Toan Nghiem of a21 Studio created a space that brings family together. Stacking roof layers, open flowering balconies, and an alleyway that serves as a living room, dining room, and outdoor playground are all filled with colorful, rich materials. Inside Saigon House, reclaimed and second-hand furniture lend history and spirit to the home. With so many small interior rooms and divisions between spaces, the addition of a net ceiling brings openness to the back alleyway, where the family often gathers to eat dinner. Not only does the net allow for ventilation and light, but it offers a place to play for the children, who love to climb and lounge above their parents.

It’s not easy to transform a 15-foot-wide building site—wedged between houses in every direction—into a home that feels more spacious than its location allows. Mamm-design’s solution was to dedicate two-thirds of this tiny 653-square-foot house in Tokyo to a 20-foot-high garden room to bring a sense of the outdoors in. A centrally positioned evergreen ash anchors the airy terrace, which is paved with complementary gray bricks. The kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and workspace are all connected to the central space, transforming the covered veranda into a surrealistic theatrical setting for day-to-day life.

For Paul and Shoko Shozi, a pair of retiring Angelenos, the goal was to shut out the neighborhood but bring in the sunny skies. Their new prefab home, the Tatami House, designed by Swiss architect Roger Kurath of Design*21, makes a central courtyard the physical, and maybe even the spiritual, center of the home. Because the Japanese maple in the courtyard had to be planted before the ipe deck was laid, Kurath designed a small removable panel to allow access to the tree’s base. The Shozis can pull up the bit of decking to tend to the tree and replace it when they’re through. And because the boards line up perfectly, only the gardener need know it’s there. From the kitchen and living room you’re well connected to the courtyard and the rest of the house. 

Lakewood Residence by Mark Wood Design

Mark Word Design incorporates trees directly into the deck and seating area at the Lakeview Residence in Austin, Texas.

What differentiates a house designed by architects from a woodland nest built by a robin or a rabbit? That basic, elemental question—and a desire to narrow the gap between the two— inspired the 1,300-square-foot home Hiroshima-based architect Keisuke Maeda designed for a teacher, her two teenage daughters, and their cat in the hills of Onomichi, on the southern end of the Japanese island of Honshu. "It’s a nest that’s dug into the ground and covered with fallen leaves, where inside and outside flow into each other. That seemed right for a house near the woods," says Maeda.

Rather than a traditional frame construction, the Kansas City, Missouri, home of architect Jamie Darnell and Michele was built using SIPs (structural insulated panels) that came in four-by-eight-foot sections in kit form. With ladderlike steps leading to the front door, the place feels like an ultrapolished tree house. The arboreal atmosphere was intentional. "We’re tree people," Jamie says. Jamie built the decking, of ipe, to accommodate a tree by the entrance to the garage.