Photo by Haley Ausbun                                The Browne’s treehouse has evolved from child playland to den.

Photo by Haley Ausbun The Browne’s treehouse has evolved from child playland to den.

The transformation of a treehouse

The structure went from pirate playground to practical den.

When Curtis Browne built his family’s pirate ship treehouse, he planned to change the shape as his kids grew up.

So two years ago the Browne’s remodeled for the next stage: a cozy room for guests and downtime, with multiple decks for casual conversation.

The treehouse sits to the right of their home in unincorporated Renton. It’s on the highest point of a slope with rock steps leading to a wooded spot just big enough.

Curtis and Stephanie Browne have taken their playful pirate ship to the next level, a space more suited for their needs as their children grow older. It continues to move along, as they move along.

Much of the total structure is repurposed. Curtis can point to all the windows, doors, and boards of wood that came from parts of other houses, old doors and building scraps from friends or people on a Buy Nothing Facebook page.

Stephanie admins the local Buy Nothing Facebook page, which encourages members to offer services or items, for nothing in return, as an act of daily good.

Still, it cost up to $30,000 total for both sets of construction, Curtis said, due to the wiring and hardware.

In 2010, Curtis took his initial design to Pete Nelson’s workshop. Nelson, who devoted his life to treehouses, was on the brink of fame. A few years later his Animal Planet show “Treehouse Masters” would air. The Brownes remember a news crew filmed the training.

Nelson also started Treehouse Point in Fall City, Washington, where the Brownes first heard about the workshop.

Curtis said part of the original pirate ship makes up the foundation of the new treehouse. The way he puts it, they “chopped it in half and then just built up.”

Visitors still enter through part of the old construction. The “bow of the ship” was transformed to a deck fit for a patio table, and a staircase that spirals up to a sealed room. The room includes a bed, heater, electricity, TV, computer and a sun deck. The bed is a repurposed desk, with the drawers still usable beneath it. The room has seven windows, but handmade linens to cover the natural light.

The treehouse is built connected to five tall Firs. On the second-level deck, it looks like a long way down. It’s about 25 to 30 feet.

Curtis said it’s scarier from the roof — he’s afraid of heights. He has used this project as a way to grapple with that fear. He felt the danger, getting high-up daily and hanging off ledges.

Stephanie’s cousin, who needed some hands-on experience for his architecture career, helped Curtis with the rebuild.

The treehouse is a feat of construction. It’s sturdy in even the latest windstorm, but if Curtis shifts his weight a little, the whole thing sways side-to-side with him. It’s connected with cables that allow for movement. The structure has the ability to grow with the widening trunks and also go with the flow. Curtis compares it to a bridge — you need to prepare for one part to move and another to stay.

One of the benefits of the treehouse is the isolation from sounds of daily life. Well almost, as one can occasionally hear the nearby Renton Fish and Game Club gun range. Still, guests sleep longer than they thought possible, the Brownes said.

The couple has never actually slept in the room. They’re too busy offering it to others. Curtis also uses it for work, he’s a remote employee at Universal Management solutions, a digital far-cry from his treehouse hobby.

“It brings us back to what we care about,” Stephanie said. “Keeping (the treehouse) personal and lowkey. Something about keeping it simple has been nice.”

The Brownes continue to plan ahead: they’re thinking up ways to include running water and make it an Airbnb, and Curtis is even taking bids to help design treehouses in neighboring areas. They even toy with the idea of doing this professionally.

For this treehouse and the designs of others, Curtis has a philosophy: first whimsical, then get practical and, finally, make it inspirational. They’re currently in the practical stage.

“It’s like moving through one phase to another, like through life. So start whimsical: explore, play. Then maybe things get really practical. And then later in life you’re like, ‘OK, I need something to inspire me. To take me to the next thing.’”

Just make sure the whimsy is strong enough to build on top of.


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The transformation of a treehouse

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