We recently partnered with Dove Men+Care to chop it up with master treehouse builder and author Pete Nelson. Pete has also partnered with Dove Men+Care on an incredible treehouse project in Chattanooga, TN inspired by the ingredients in the brand’s newest Elements collection. Check out our interview below and head to the DM+C site for details on the new collection and a chance to experience the treehouse project.
Nelson, you grew up in Ridgewood, NJ. and spent time in various parts of the country. Does the influence from your journeys find its way into your work?
Absolutely! I’ve been fortunate to travel around country and even abroad building treehouses and meeting incredible people. I’ve found inspiration and new ideas from every trip I’ve taken. I had a particularly inspiring trip to Scandinavia last year – I was impressed by the innovative design of the treehouses I visited, and hope to spend more time there in the future. I especially admired the integration of Scandinavian treehouses with their natural surroundings – this inspired me to design the treehouse I’m working on currently for Dove Men+Care Elements to seamlessly and naturally blend into its environment
How did you get into treehouse business? Building a treehouse is something that we dream of as kids. You’ve managed to turn this dream into a very successful business.
Back in 1987, a high school friend of mine sent me the book How to Build Treehouses, Huts and Forts by David Stiles. This book rekindled my childhood love for all things treehouse and inspired me to pursue this unique, arboreal career. I built my first “adult” treehouse during college, in the backyard of my home in Colorado Springs. Around that time, I met the love of my life and partner in business, Judy. After graduation, I moved to Washington State with Judy, where I built single-family homes and started writing books about treehouses. In 2006, Judy and I opened our overnight retreat center,TreeHouse Point, to celebrate the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest with visitors from around the world. I had been building treehouses and writing books for nearly 20 years when Animal Planet approached my family-run treehouse construction firm, Nelson Treehouse and Supply, to launch the reality television show Treehouse Masters. Through all these years, I’ve worked hard to attract talented and committed team members who are simply the best at their jobs. I’ve seen that when you place your trust into talented people, they flourish, along with the business as a whole. My capable crew has been essential to the success of all my businesses.
Do you remember your earliest memory of when you wanted to do what you do today?
I built my first treehouse with my dad in the backyard of our New Jersey home when I was just five years old. I was really young, but I remember that being an extremely fun and exciting experience. My father always fostered outdoor adventure— he was an incredible storyteller, and inspired his kids to spend time exploring and creating in the woods. I fell in love with the magic of treehouses by building that first treehouse with my dad.
The next treehouse that really stuck with me was one I designed, but never built. It was a treehouse that my best friend and I dreamed up and drew while in high school. We had hoped to bring our design to life – but once spring came around, we found we lacked the resources and experience to build it. Despite it never coming to fruition, that drawing has stayed with me all these years. It’s one of the first memories I have of wanting to make my passion for treehouses my life’s work.
What is the typical lead time to design and complete a project?
There are many factors that affect the lead-time for a treehouse project, including its size, intricacy, location, and the types of trees available onsite. We’ve been known to complete treehouses in less than a month, from design to build. However, it typically takes around three months for us to move from the design stage to a tangible structure. This includes time for permitting, engineering, and prefabrication. But every project truly is unique.
You currently live in the Northwest. How has the Northwest influenced your work?
I’m inspired by the verdant quality of the nature in the Pacific Northwest. This geographic area boasts some of the strongest trees in the country – these prodigious trees are able to host the wildest of my treehouse dreams! I feel so lucky to live in a part of the country that has access to incredible materials, sourced locally and sustainably from the surrounding forests. My favorite wood to work with is western red cedar from the Pacific Northwest– I use it so frequently in treehouse builds that it could be considered my signature look!
When did you realize that you had a real talent for building really great treehouses?
I believe that if you have passion coupled with drive, you open yourself to success. I’ve always excelled at and gravitated toward small-space, innovative design and carpentry – I was also attracted to the additional challenge of building in the trees. It’s taken a lot of time, hard work, encouragement, and luck to transform my dream into a thriving treehouse industry. I’m so grateful that I get to work in something I love every day!
You’ve partnered with a lot of great names and causes from Zac Brown band to the Animal Planet. Now you’re partnering with our good friends at Dove Men+Care. Tell us a little bit about what you have going on with DM+C.
When Dove Men+Care approached me to design a treehouse in Chattanooga, TN, inspired by their new Elements product range, I couldn’t wait to start drawing! I’m essentially creating a spa up in the trees, and am having so much fun with this one! The treehouse will include a premium, spa-like bathroom that will allow guests to feel like they’re showering in a secluded, tranquil, and natural setting. My design includes a glass-encased tree within the bathroom, huge skylights, and expansive windows that will bring the outside in. Visitors will feel intimately connected with the trees. It’s been a really exciting project for us, and is set to be complete later this spring – you can go to dovemencare.com/elementstreehouse to learn more.
Do you have any favorites in the DM+C lineup?
I’m really enjoying all of the new products in the Dove Men+Care Elements line! After a long day building out in the trees, I like coming home and showering with the new Elements Charcoal & Clay body wash – it smells great and leaves my skin feeling moisturized and refreshed. I need to get my crew using this body wash now, too – they could really benefit from it, particularly after a few hot days on the build site…
If you weren’t building treehouses for a living, what else would you be doing?
It’s likely that I’d be building single-family homes, which is what I was doing before I founded my treehouse construction firm. But it’s hard to think about what I’d do instead of working on treehouses because I love my job so much! I feel grateful everyday to be working alongside such talented, hardworking people who love what they do as much as I do.
You have achieved a lot of success. What advice would you give to someone chasing their dreams or someone just starting their own business?
I think my story and success is evidence that you can indeed make a living doing what you love. The process and journey is not always easy, but if it’s something you’re deeply passionate about, and if have a great team to support you (I’m not a one-man show!), it is possible to achieve great success. It takes equal parts passion, grit, teamwork, and luck to transform a dream into a successful business.
Below is a rendering of the floorplan for the Dove Men+Care Elements Chattanooga, TN treehouse.