And now his work is available to rent nearby in Gatlinburg, TN. In 2019, Nelson designed and built eight treehouses for a company called Treehouse Grove, and last summer he added another eight, for a total of 16 available to rent. They are located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you’ve never seen Pete’s handiwork, it’s much cozier than you’d imagine for a treehouse. They have high-speed internet, air conditioning, and full bathrooms—like a condo built around a live tree. Their newer treehouses are larger than their old ones, with 3-4 bedrooms holding 6-10 people, and they come with full kitchens, balcony platforms, and guest suites. All 16 are unique from each other with no duplicates. And speaking of unique, one of the new builds has a garage door in its bedroom. Guests will be able to raise it, allowing them to roll the bed out onto the balcony so they can take naps outside on sunny days.
I asked Joseph Ayres, owner of Treehouse Grove, what made him decide to go into the luxury treehouse business of all things. He answered, “Gatlinburg has always done short-term rentals. Everybody’s gone up to a cabin in the woods in Gatlinburg for decades… We started to look at what could set us apart…” Eventually, they thought, “Everybody loves a treehouse, right? It kind of brings you to your childhood memories of either creating a fort in the backyard or playing around a tree. A lot of people had those experiences growing up.”
Ayres also spoke about the building process, saying it’s a lot different than building a cabin. He explained, “When you’re connecting to a live structure, you’re getting arborists involved and making sure the tree is stable and can support the loads it needs to support. It’s kind of like [going] to a structural engineer to [build the] foundation of your home, to make sure it’s going to be sturdy enough… Well, you do the same thing with these trees, and that’s kind of where Pete has the expertise. They’ve done all sorts of research over the last couple of decades through the University of Washington and a couple of other third parties… They know the different types of species of trees and the different diameters and how high you might be tapping into them and all that type of stuff—what the actual load can be. I was pretty impressed: a live tree can hold 50 to 75 thousand pounds.” Additionally, they have to take into account the fact that the tree will keep growing. Because of this, they do maintenance every year.
Joseph Ayres is also the owner and developer of the WindRiver community.