“The treehouse just grew up,” says host Pete Nelson at the start of Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” — and he means it.
Just as comic book superheroes and video games have been absorbed into the adult world, “Treehouse Masters” allows grownups to enjoy an enduring symbol of American childhood.
The entertaining and informative show, which has aired over 70 episodes since 2013 and was just renewed for a new season, follows the treehouse-building exploits of Nelson, who is owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply in Fall City, Washington, where he’s surrounded by some of the world’s most gorgeous forests. Picture an outdoorsy Mr. Rogers after a few cups of coffee —that’s Nelson. He brings a kid-like enthusiasm to a kid-like endeavor, but with distinctly mature twists.
Nelson grew up in northern New Jersey and earned a degree in economics from Colorado College, and from there moved into carpentry and homebuilding. He’s written a number of books about the art of treehouse building. Today, working with his crew, which includes his three grown sons, Nelson assesses a build site, considers the requests and budgets of clients, and gets to work crafting treehouses that push the limits of what one would think possible.
Nelson builds the sort of treehouses people dream of as kids. It’s just that now, they’re tailored to the sensibilities of the adults writing the substantial checks required to build them.
Celebrities such as country music star Zac Brown and rapper and record producer Cee Lo Green have commissioned Nelson to build special treehouses for them. For Zach Brown, Nelson and his team built a 1,300-square-foot treehouse at Brown’s Camp Southern Ground, a non-profit designed to serve children with neuro-developmental disorders as well as children from military families struggling with PTSD.
Professional treehouse contractors aren’t easy to come by, a fact that has allowed Nelson’s business to easily fill a niche with an affluent client base. His business website lists $275,000 as the price for an “average” 250-square-foot treehouse.
If that sounds like a lot for a wooden house wrapped around a tree, just wait until you get a look at some of Nelson’s work. One episode found him building a treehouse designed to be enjoyed by kids with special needs; another featured a recording studio. A “hippie hideaway” featured a compost toilet, while a “man cave” was equipped with a humidor and flat-screen TV. The common element (besides the trees) is that they’re each not just a structure but a work of art.
It’s easy to see that Nelson loves this work, from the beautiful trees to the neat quirks and perks of his elaborate creations.
“I feel so fortunate because I have this fantasy job where I build forts,” Nelson said in an interview with Urbasm.com — and it’s clear he means it. While eager to display his handiwork, he also dotes on the trees themselves. On display in the series is an adoration of nature that’s infectious. Nelson speaks of the trees with the same excitement and respect that the late Steve Irwin would discuss a crocodile or venomous snake. Nelson’s tone and charm make him seem like a friendly neighbor who’s sharing something special with you. Which he is.
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“Rainy Sunday and me without a #Treehousemasters marathon,” tweeted series fan @davethecritic.
“#TreehouseMasters: great tv. Kept me ‘rooted’ to my seat! So refreshing to have nice tv with no shouting or competition or angst,” said @tomconrad1980 chimed on Twitter.
Along with every tour of a treehouse, Nelson takes a moment to gush over the trees around which the houses are built. He opines that the treehouses are a way to “connect people with nature” — and as Nelson fawns over an ancient oak or a sturdy maple tree, it’s hard not to appreciate some of nature’s most beautiful plant specimens.
It makes for amusing television and family-friendly programming. Skilled labor and imaginative thinking coalesce into wondrous creations brimming with perks, giving clients something to cherish for a lifetime.
The narrative is often spruced up with side excursions for Nelson, such as when he leaves the main site to help another client. But spirits are high and drama is low as you watch talented people do what they love, provide a valuable service to others, and make big money doing it.
The show might even make people yearn for their childhood — or at least a bigger backyard and six figures to spare.