When is a tree house not a tree house? When it’s a play tower, says Rose Martin, who went to the village of Glanworth to see what you can do when you don’t have a tree to hang a house on top.
It’s the ultimate childhood fantasy, isn’t it? The one thing you know that would create memories for life — a warm glow in your children’s mind long after you had shuffled off the old mortal coil.
And let’s be honest, having a tree house is a bit like paying it backwards, too isn’t it? Like buying that train set or doll’s house you always wanted but doing it for your kids instead. Giving them all the stuff you never had. There are plenty of reasons not to do this (the analysts would charge you months of fees to tease that one out), but a tree house is a major exception.
They’re high, they’re a house, they’re away from everything — they’re amazing! But what to do when you haven’t got one — a tree, that is? Simple, as architect Neil Kane discovered — you build a tower instead.
And here is where the daddy overruled the designer, who in turn was overruled by his inner child: While safety features were recognised, and the brief fulfilled, the Kane family tree house somehow morphed into a series of Heath Robinsonian contraptions that must have kept Daddy Neil quite busy and quite happy for some time.
Honestly, there’s a wind-up drawbridge, (which is almost too simplistic a description), a pop-up and pop-down table using selfie-stick arms for support, and benches that can be stowed away using pulleys and dropped back down again for a teddy bears’ picnic.
The interior first-floor level, which in auctioneer-speak is spacious with wide, country views and a south-facing aspect, has a floor carpet of fallen autumn leaves — an effect which is, well, quite trippy.
The style is the architect’s but the brief came from his daughter: “The client was our three-year-old daughter, Ailbhe, and she requested the treehouse for her fourth birthday,” says Neil. “There were no suitable trees for a traditional tree house in our small garden in Glanworth, so instead I designed a play tower.”
And because Neil’s wife wanted full visibility at all times (well done), he used a double-skinned, perspex frame, but, in a lovely parental touch, had Ailbhe pick out her treasures to be museumed between the corrugated sheets — very cute.
The client specified yellow, not pink, as her signature tone and so Daddy-Architect complied, topping the roof with a sailcloth of marigold yellow. And the 4.2m tower, with boxed access stairs strong enough to accommodate a well-grown woman or man, is drawn up to the side for safety and to repel all invaders. The more detailed brief from the his other client, his wife (also an architect), was that it be “visible from the outside with access controlled externally, for safety reasons.
“Steel cables are fixed to both gables to stabilise the frame,” says Neil, “while an awning is stretched between the perspex skin walls to form the roof that is drained by a rain-chain — a Japanese traditional detail for run-off for rainwater from a gutter.”
Yes, well, what both girls got is a stunning, safe perspex two storey tower — the elevated main floor level provides enough weather-proof space underneath for a swing and a post box (a must-have accessory for play towers). And it looks really well lit up by night. The base, meanwhile, is concrete, using scaffolding shoes to hold the larch main frame, and the rest is perspex, canvas, and steel tensioning.
Neil likes to work in wood and used larch as the principal element because it’s durable and naturally waterproof, (and much cheaper than cedar). More importantly, it doesn’t need to be loaded with preservatives, something the Kanes weren’t keen on for the tower. “This is a lifetime treehouse that is going to be enjoyed and relevant for Ailbhe at any age — we’ll probably be wondering what on earth is going on up there in another 10 or 12 years’ time.”
Neil has had over 100k hits on his Linkedin page over the last few weeks. It’s the season for tree houses. So, if you don’t have a tree, them take a tip from Neil Kane and set about building that play tower. Your children will love you — but you’ll love it more.
Kane Architects Limited, 27 Wellington Road, Cork. 021 4551988 / firstname.lastname@example.org/kanearchitects.ie
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