Take a bough

21st August 2019

Treehouses have morphed from bashed together childhood dens into high-design pods for playful grown-ups – and one Bristolian maker is leading the way.

Words by Alex Moore

  • goodwood magazine

  • goodwood newsletter

  • estate news

  • estate newsletter

010y9660.jpg

Oh, to have had a treehouse – the ultimate secret lair, the den of all dens, perfectly out of parental earshot. Alas, for many of us, treehouses were the stuff of fiction – from Peter Pan to The Swiss Family Robinson. But if you missed out on having a treehouse as a child, what’s to stop you having one now, especially as there are so many innovative designs out there? 

Bristolian Luke Leppitt mastered the art of creating these arboreal dwellings while living with the Tree House Community in Auroville, India. Founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa, aka “the Mother”, Auroville is a utopian township – the biggest of its kind in the world – and one that many a backpacker has visited while passing through Pondicherry. Leppitt stayed there for three years, studying sustainable forest management and treetop construction. During that time, he was part of a team that built 30 treehouses around Auroville, including, he says proudly, a palatial four-storey number in mahogany.

The main idea of the business was to create sustainable housing – treehouses, log cabins, stilt houses, that sort of thing

Since returning home, Leppitt has set up Treetop Co, a construction company with treehouses at its heart. It seems he’s very much in tune with an architectural zeitgeist. In Sweden, the acclaimed Treehotel has seven avant-garde treetop suites. In Costa Rica, Finca Bellavista is a treehouse community set in 600 acres of rainforest, connected via zip wires and suspension bridges. And in America, treehouse expert Pete Nelson has built spa retreats, cottages and breweries over the course of 11 series of Treehouse Masters on US television network Animal Planet. 

“The main idea of the business was to create sustainable housing – treehouses, log cabins, stilt houses, that sort of thing,” explains Leppitt. “So I thought, why not build something a bit different as a way of kick-starting the project?” Two months later he revealed Treetop Co’s signature The Chrysalis, the UK’s first mobile treehouse pod. The company’s ethos is never to drill, bore or screw into a tree, because, as Leppitt explains, “Holes in trees cause rot; the more holes, the more rot.” Instead he carefully places his structure within the tree, or in the case of The Chrysalis, hangs it from a sturdy branch. 

Now that our imaginations are running wild, what sort of tree works best? “There’s an abundance of ancient oak trees,” says Leppitt, “and they also have the country’s hardest wood. They’re a true symbol of England. Beautiful, gnarly old trees.”

This article was taken from the Summer 2019 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

  • goodwood magazine

  • goodwood newsletter

  • estate news

  • estate newsletter

  • kitten_von_mew-copy.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    The Revivalists

  • stirling-moss-ready.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    The name's Moss… Stirling Moss

  • bruce.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    Say Cheese