May-June 2013 | Home & Garden

Pied-à-Air

Forget the rickety little structures of our childhoods: Today's tree houses are decidedly upscale

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Left: The McManuses' grandchildren enjoy their tree house in Potomac. Right: One of the kids tries out the zip line that runs from the structure. Photos by Erick Gibson

Bamboo Heaven

Most people downsize later in life, but not Mike and Harriet McManus, whose home sits on a 3-acre parcel in Potomac. “We keep adding elements onto our house,” says Harriet, 72. “A lot of them are for the grandchildren.”

To provide entertainment for the couple’s eight grandkids—ages 1 to 12—the McManuses added a rec room with an air hockey table, a pair of ponds in front of the house that are stocked with fish and frogs, and a swimming pool in the back.

But the pièce de résistance is the $8,500 tree house. Built four years ago by Dan Wright of Tree Top Builders, it’s set at the edge of a large stand of golden bamboo and sits 15 feet off the ground at the juncture of four tree trunks, which grow through holes in its floor.

There are two ways to get to this platform-style tree house: a cargo climbing net on the side or wooden stairs that lead up through a trapdoor. A small, cedar-shingled roof partially covers the center of the roughly 10-foot-square platform. Wright used bamboo from the yard to make the railings that run around the edge of the platform, which inspired the grandkids to dub the tree house “Bamboo Heaven.”

A pair of swings hangs from the retreat, and a zip line connected at its base runs 150 feet down a slope toward the far edge of the couple’s property. “Our 5-year-old grandchild is still frightened by it,” Harriet says. “It’s so high and so fast that he won’t go on it.”

Even the couple has grown fond of spending time in the tree house, listening to the wind rustle through the bamboo and the occasional hooting of a pair of owls living in the trees above.

“We’ll go up there to have our gin and tonics and hors d’oeuvres before dinner,” Harriet says.

Nevin Martell frequently writes about food and culture in Washington, D.C. A new father, he hopes one day to build a tree house for his son.