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Off the Beaten Path – Up a Tree(house) with Roderick Romero

Off the Beaten Path – Up a Tree(house) with Roderick Romero
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By Stephanie Schroeder

“Treehouses started as something just for kids, and, you know, maybe 30 years ago no one thought it could become an occupation to build them,” says Roderick Romero, who will be 50 next month.

Romero is one of an elite group of sought-after adult treehouse builders. Adult treehouses, you ask? Why yes, the proliferation of treehouses for adults has been taking place for the past decade or so.

“I love it! Gosh, I think I have the best job in the world to be honest,” says Romero, who has carved out his own niche as a treehouse builder for celebrities. “We used to do it as kids, build forts and stuff. Then I just went through life – had a band (Sky Cries Mary), then was a pre-med student, went into theatre and music, when a woman from Mexico who was interested in the band asked what I might do for a 180 acre art show. I said, Oh I’ll build a big nest up in that maple tree and people can climb up and have tea and then continue walking through the forest.”

Romero confides that he then had to figure out how to do just that. This was around 1997. He and a friend from the neighborhood suspended the nest in the tree, successfully, to their own surprise.

“In 1999 my brother asked me to build one for himself and the kids, then with the third, I really lucked out: the musician Sting and his wife Trudi and their kids wanted one on the land of their Italian villa in Tuscany. That was just crazy and suddenly I’m in Italy building this vey large tree house overlooking a beautiful lake.”

Next thing ya know…

“Then their amazing friends came by. Donna Karan came over and loved it, and I did two for her. Next thing I know, I’m doing one for Julianne Moore and then she introduced me to Val Kilmer and I just kind of fell into the celebrity niche and next thing you know it takes over my life – in a good way,” recounts Romero. “It’s so much fun: I get to work out in nature and use nature…and this was about the time I met Pete Nelson, probably the most prolific treehouse builder in the world. We met in 2000 and foster a great friendship. He had just written his first book about treehouses and we bounced ideas back and forth, and we shared crews.”

Pete Nelson also has a wildly popular show, Treehouse Masters, on Animal Planet. At the time they met, the two builders were asked to do three or four treehouses a year each. Now Nelson has upwards of 500 requests annually. Romero currently receives over 100 requests for treehouses a year.

“Of course I can’t do that many, but the demand is massive, which is great for me because I live in New York City and sometimes it becomes overwhelming and then I get to go out into nature, sit out by a campfire at night and climb trees during the day,” says Romero. “A lot of it is timing and expectations from clients. Maybe they want something really extravagant, or something small for their kids, the other is for a nonprofit. I do some large projects to pay the bills, then a smaller ones, and I every year I try do one for a nonprofit I believe in.”

Romero built a treehouse for an orphanage in Tangier. He took his crew over for a month.

“And these street kids, who lived in dorms, we taught them how to utilize found wood and worked with their carpentry professor at their school to get them off the street. We worked with him really closely and they all trained themselves… Fifteen students out of the 16 with whom we worked are now apprenticing as carpenters in Tangier,” Romero says proudly. “Then I did a community garden in NYC. I donated all the lumber and all the time, at least 50,000-60,000 kids have gone up into it.”

I Would Like To Go To Ze Hôtel…

There is also, within the treehouse movement, a proliferation of treehouses used as alternative lodging accommodations. There are many great treehouse hotels and they are definitely an innovation in the hospitality realm.

“I did a B&B in Hawaii that gets a lot of diverse people who stay for a night or two. And, I’ve done prototypes for treehouse communities,” Romero says.

“The way I work with clients is that mostly they give me carte blanche. They know I use only reclaimed and salvaged lumber and they know I’m building a sculptural house that is contemporary mixed with primitive. The process is that I present a design and they might tweak it like increasing square footage or adding a deck or they might want it further up in the tree. I then redraft the design and present it to them again and then they sign off and we just get going.”

“Nine out of ten of my clients become amazing friends. The time I spend on site with them for two months and stay at their place – I can stay late at night so I can keep scheming and dreaming,” Romero laughs.

Romero tell us the last eight houses he has built along with master carpenter Ray Delmonte, who is 48 and has been a carpenter since he was around 10. They’ve got an assistant carpenter and also pick up one local worker wherever they go and, if it works out, they keep him on for the entire job.

“It’s really important because it gives it a more local feeling,” says Romero, “and also they know all the lumber yards, all the sources, and the arborists who can come to inspect the trees every time we move to a different country or region, and we have to educate and reeducate ourselves about the kind of bugs that are in the wood.”

“Once we turn off the saws and stop making noise up there – that’s when we sit there and watch the wildlife come around and its like they’re checking out our work. I love that there are so many species of trees and wildlife in one area, like in Topenga, CA, all these owls would come at night and just sit there and hoot.”

Romero is philosophical: “Its wonderful and I love that moment when all the sound goes away and we can return to that peaceful part of nature that is the reason for having a treehouse anyway…it’s a reconnection to nature and you don’t have to go on vacation for it. For kids it’s treehouses are a place for fantasy and for adults it’s a return to that and an escape from the humdrum and daily grind.”

For those who cannot afford a personal treehouse, or even a vacation in a cleverly-built nest, the meditation and relaxation aspect of treehouses are something you can find in a quiet corner of your home or apartment ­– treehouses are a state of mind as much as physical structures.

 

 

 

 

 

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