John and I recently had an awakening at a meeting with a potential architect last month, in which the architect – a fairly philosophical fellow – suggested that our plan of keeping the treehouses as year-round accommodations defeated the point of a treehouse. He asked how we would keep them warm in the winter and I responded that we would simply insulate them and throw in a woodstove. This prompted him to sigh, put his head in his hands, and, careful to articulate with tact, suggest “then what is the point of a treehouse? About the time you board up the windows and close it up tight, what it the point of having the getaway in a tree?” It seemed to him that piping in water, insulating pipes going up a tree, building up high where the winter winds threaten to ‘blow your house down’, and all the other accommodations and efforts we make to get the unit into a tree, were an exercise in futility – if you can’t actually *enjoy the tree*. The breeziness, the green leaves rustling in the wind through an open window, a treetop deck with open french doors. Looking out the windows and seeing the outside world from a bird’s eye view.
Now I fancy myself a woman of the big picture, one to whom this type of introspection would have already occurred. But I was blown away hearing this part insightful, part just plain logical perspective that I had not considered. One of the main points of our accommodation is to help guests acclimate and sensitize themselves to the seasons. How could I have been so blind!? This conversation then sent me spinning immediately and for the next few weeks into a phase of thought where the treehouses could only be seasonal.
I’ve since come back to center a bit. I still agree that an open, airy, high in the sky treehouse is basically antithetical to a Maine winter, but I do think there are ways to build year-round treehouses in Maine that are more suited to our climate. To me, no visual better illustrates that a treehouse can work in a Maine winter than this one by the folks over in Georgetown, Maine at Seguin. I think with all the windows and lights, it is beautiful and magical, still honors the Maine winter, and lets the user experience the “tree-ness” of the unit. I imagine the R factor on all those glass windows is about 1,000,000, and I further imagine this was probably taken during the first gentle snow of a mild early December or something (I’d like to see the picture in a blistering late January) but the point is it can be done. You build lower to the ground, you insulate, you use lots of high R windows, and make the thing a bit more stout and brawny, overall. But the guest still feels that fundamental connection to the outside. Plus, and this is a pretty important consideration for our business, you don’t lose half of the leasable calendar on a unit you just blew $100K building.
So we’re landing somewhere in the middle, we think: mostly year round units, with careful attention to details that keep the user connected to the environment, coupled with a few extravagant, high up, ‘summer luxury’ seasonal units on appropriate sites. These will indulge a bit more of the airiness of a classic treehouse and represent a full summertime exhale. I love to philosophize. But I also need to make this business generate net revenue. I dance this dance daily, called “Building a Social Enterprise”: make money + maintain integrity = make social change. One challenge at a time.