'Treehouse Masters' building off local branches

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SOUTH NEWFANE — Not just for children anymore, treehouses are now part of the hospitality industry.

Treehouse Village Inn on Dover Road has five rooms available inside and an elegant, A-frame treehouse for guests to rent.

"Hopefully, we'll turn this into a wedding destination spot," said Steve Bowler, general manager and former television producer. "You know, the bride and groom can stay in the treehouse. Other people can stay in the inn. You can have your wedding right out here. We have a nice flat yard for a tented event or party and that good stuff."

Bowler had been a senior field producer for Animal Planet's "Treehouse Masters" for the last three years, and received a "friends and family" discount for the build. In early September, producers for the show were wrapping up filming an episode at the inn. The show airs Friday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m.

Bowler, his mother Ginger and his stepfather Mike Gammel bought the property in November. They had lived in north central Massachusetts.

"It was kind of my parents' dream, when they got closer to retirement, to find a B and B," Bowler said.

Now, he will be focusing on the inn. He said he had wanted to get out of television and film for a while because "your life is on the road."

"It was great when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I'm 39 now," he said. "When this came up, it got me back to New England, back to my roots."

In doing some research, Bowler had found no treehouses available for rent in southern Vermont.

"There's a couple up in Stowe and they do great business," he said. "They're rented out for six months and $400 a night."

He declined to disclose the price tag, but said treehouses built by "Treehouse Masters" host Pete Nelson's crew typically cost $250,000 to $600,000.

Nelson said willow trees are not "our number-one tree to build in," so his crew had to make some compromises along the way.

"To me, that's very difficult because I don't want to build in a tree that will not be an ideal tree when you're investing a lot of effort," he said. "So the plan is, let's see how it goes. We love these willow trees. They're clearly doing well. They're in the right environment with all the wetness. They like that."

Nelson called the A-frame design "very nostalgic" because as a child, he would come from New Jersey to visit family friends who built a similar structure in Vermont. At that point, he was already making forts and envisioning treehouses. Later, he studied economics but ended up in construction. He said he has made treehouses for his family members and members of his Nelson Treehouse and Supply company, but Bowler is the first from the show's production team to have one built.

As of the interview, Nelson had more than 350 treehouses credited to his name. He said each one is different.

The show began in 2011 after Animal Planet had ordered a pilot.

"All of a sudden, it was every day," Nelson said, adding that his crew only gets Thanksgiving and Christmas off.

He has six treehouses that guests can stay at in Fall City, Wash.

About six members of Nelson Treehouse and Supply worked with about a dozen local subcontractors, including I Heart Construction of Bellows Falls, Brown's Excavating in South Newfane, J&J Electric of Whitingham and carpenter Kevin Keppler of Newfane.

Ethereal experience

Christina Salway, who has handled interior design for the show for about 48 projects, showed the inside of the treehouse which included a bedroom, a mudroom, a living room, a bathroom with a standing shower and a full kitchenette.

"Obviously, there's a lot of tourism here during the summer, but I think there's also a real appeal to this place during the fall for leaf peepers and then all winter for the skiers," she said, adding that her goal had been to connect outdoor features of the property to a "cozy" interior. "This took about three-and-a-half weeks to construct, which is really wild considering how complicated all the sort of mechanisms to hold it in place are. The engineering is pretty complex."

A pond directly outside the treehouse has a fountain and waterfall, which Salway said acts as a biofilter. Bowler hopes to build "hobbit homes" on a nearby hillside and offer ice skating and sledding.

Because Bowler had worked on the show, he could recall elements of prior projects that he wanted to incorporate.

"He was truly the easiest client I had because he knew exactly what he wanted because he had seen so many treehouses and it was very easy for us to talk about it," Salway said. "I think there's something really ethereal to being up in a tree. It's really a very different vantage point ... and waking up in a treehouse is unbelievable, you know, it gets sort of a gentle rocking with the wind. You look out the windows and all you see are leaves. It's pretty spectacular."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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