Think Outside the House
May 5, 2010
Tree Top Inn
What child doesn’t want to swing from the trees like George of the Jungle? Artist and builder Barbara Butler is making that fantasy a reality one tree house at a time. Butler established her successful company back in 1987 after requested by Bobby McFerrin and his wife, Debbie, to create a play structure in their hillside yard. The request captured Butler’s imagination, prompting intensive research. "I went and played on all these play structures and reconnected with my love of playing and the outdoors," says Butler, who is assisted in her projects by her sister, Suzanne, brother, James, and husband, Jeff. "Once I did that first one, that was it. I was totally hooked."
Butler’s company offers many standard designs that are fully drafted and ready to be built, but a majority of her time is consumed with custom tree house designs. "Because yards are so custom, people want me to build something specifically for their yard," Butler says.
Butler advises a starting budget of $20,000 for a tree house, though designs like the Tree Top Inn (pictured above) can command upwards of $160,000. "The Tree Top Inn was built for a grandfather who wanted it for the grandkids, but part way through the process I realized that he really wanted it for himself," Butler says. "[The grandfather] eventually admitted, yes, he wanted a place to read the paper in the morning, but the grandkids do get to play on it quite a bit."
Creating structures and tree homes for celebrities like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Butler admits her tree houses aren’t what most people conjure up when thinking about luxury. "They are very rough and tumble for luxury items because really I am interested in kids exercising and having outdoor experiences," Butler says. "They redefine luxury in the sense that you are giving your kids this sort of primal experience in the yard. The tree houses are really about exercising, roughing it and having a relationship with the trees in your yard."