Peter Nelson carved out quite the niche for himself when he became an expert on building grand treehouses for children and adults alike. Indeed, Animal Planet clearly felt so confident that its viewers would want to see these dreamy creations that it commissioned two separate treehouse-themed programs helmed by Nelson: Treehouse Masters and Ultimate Treehouses.
In Treehouse Masters, Nelson helps clients dream up, design, and build their own treehouses. In Ultimate Treehouses, he visits impressive treehouses around the world. As the owner of Seattle-based TreeHouse Workshop and the author of numerous books about building the sky-high spaces, Nelson is certainly the right man for the job. His credentials are unimpeachable. But viewers are left with an entirely different question: How much treehouse is too much treehouse?
For someone not actively looking to invest in a treehouse, an hour-long special devoted to branch-clinging abodes is a bit... much. When Nelson delivers clunky lines like "There's something irresistible about trees. People want to be in them, living high in their branches, and I truly believe the trees want that too"... well, it's hard to share the show's passion.
That's not to say there aren't several utterly eye-popping treehouses that are incredible feats of imagination and physics. The standout treehouses Nelson showcases include a multi-structure hotel in India that makes use of noodling Banyan trees and views of elephants roaming below. Almost more incredible than the beautiful, wood-paneled interiors that make up the rooms is the fact that they are outfitted with plumbing and electricity. There's also the Bird's Nest in Sweden — one of several supermodern treehouses located in that country — which has a traditional structure covered in debris and twigs to make it look like an oversized nest. In reality, the fake nest is a fully functioning home with three bedrooms and an electric fireplace.
In Costa Rica there's a treehouse "community" known as Finca Bellavista that claims to be the only collection of treehouses in the world with space for visitors and full-time residents. More importantly, the houses are connected via zip lines that zig zag between the nine-story structures like tiny cable highways. The Mirrorcube in Sweden is a clean-lined little box outfitted with mirrored panels on its exterior that creates an optical illusion looking in. Instead of seeing the walls of the treehouse, one only sees reflections of more trees, snow, and a continuation of the idyllic nature surrounding the building. And impressively, the panels have been outfitted with an infrared film that only birds can see so that they aren't continually flying into the the structure.
As the program drifts on, we see Nelson visit treehouses that test the very definition of the word. There's the rust-colored steampunk treehouse built onto a fake, metal tree; the Honey Sphere in Beverly Hills that's made entirely of gorgeous, diamond-shaped wood cutouts so it creates a honeycomb-like dome to look out at the treetops from. There's even a treehouse that doubles as a 6,000-square-foot restaurant with an open fireplace at its center.
As you might expect, the takeaway is that treehouses come in a myriad of designs with all different kinds of purposes. They're more than just rudimentary play spaces for kids to hide away from their parents. They serve as fantastical marvels of architecture capable of integrating the utilitarian need for shelter and a love of the great outdoors. Given that, it would have been fun to have heard more from the brains behind the numerous treehouses visited in Ultimate Treehouses, instead of relying on Nelson to describe them over and over again. We only meet a handful of the architects/owners and are left wondering about the backstories on the more elaborate and interesting ones. While it's certainly unique to build a state-of-the-art home/hotel/restaurant and/or retreat into the treetops, the show needs more than just an eager host and an endless parade of boxy homes clinging to branches.
More reality show drive-bys...