When The Dispatch caught up with Pete Nelson, he was in Texas, converting lumber and steel into a touch of heaven 40 feet off the ground.
“This is exactly the dream I imagined in 1987,” said Nelson, star of “Treehouse Masters” on the Animal Planet network.
Nelson’s unconventional dream of becoming a treehouse builder has served him well.
Nelson, who will speak at the Columbus Dispatch Home & Garden Show next weekend, is in the fifth season of “Treehouse Masters.” He has written five books on treehouse design. He and his wife, Judy, run Nelson Treehouse and Supply and operate a treehouse bed-and-breakfast retreat near their home outside Seattle.
“It was always my goal, as unlikely as it might sound, to become a treehouse builder,” said Nelson, 54.
“I started as a builder of single-family homes in Seattle. I’m a builder. That’s what I love. I’m also a little ADD and found that big houses were too much for my short attention span. I thought, ‘Let’s try to figure out a way to do these treehouses.’ Now it’s 30 years ago, oh my gosh.”
Nelson estimates that he has built 350 treehouses. But as “Treehouse Masters” fans know, these treehouses are not like the ones kids slap together in the backyard.
Nelson’s treehouses are more like elevated cabins.
Most come with real furniture, electricity, bathrooms, kitchens and some include multiple stories. They are accessible from a ramp or stairs instead of a ladder. They are fully enclosed, with windows and roofs.
And most cost far more than a typical Columbus home.
“We build for upper-end clients, there’s no doubt about it,” Nelson said. “We’re building $300,000 treehouses, and there’s part of me that wishes, ‘Gee, I wish we could build these for regular people.’ …
“It’s a fulfillment of (clients’) childhood dreams, I guess. It’s also sort of an escape for them.”
Nelson has built a few treehouses in Ohio. One of his favorites is at the Cornerstone of Hope in Independence, which serves grieving families.
Nelson also helped to build two treehouses at The Mohicans campground in Holmes County — a small bright red one with Gothic windows that looks like a chapel in the sky, and a two-story cabin made of old barn wood.
The red treehouse was featured in the first season of “Treehouse Masters,” but what Nelson and The Mohicans’ owner, Kevin Mooney, remember most about the project is the weather.
“It was a little stressful, I have to say,” Nelson recalled. “We were below-zero weather at one point, hanging from ropes. ... I don’t want to repeat that, but I know if we have to, we could power through it again.”
Nelson brought a perk home from the Mohicans project.
A friend of the Mooney family, Patrick Willse, who helped on the project, ended up joining the Treehouse crew — running away with the circus, as Nelson puts it. In September, Willse literally joined the family by marrying Nelson’s daughter, Emily.
“I hinted that I was thinking of moving out west,” Willse said. “Pete said, ‘Forget Colorado. Move out with us.’ Then he sent me a plane ticket to Dallas to work on a treehouse there. After that, I moved to Washington.”
More than 60 treehouses later, Willse loves building them.
“Every job is different,” he said. “Building with trees is never the same twice.”
Mooney can attest to the appeal of spending time in the branches. His four treehouses at the Mohicans are in high demand.
“It’s amazing how many people really enjoy themselves up here,” said Mooney, who plans to add two more treehouses this spring.
“Treehouses just make people smile.”