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Bough House

The traditional treehouse branches out into a modern flight of fancy

August 20, 2000|DEBRA J. HOTALING

Ou're grown up--mutual funds, regular oil changes, an umbrella just in case--until you see this: a treehouse that might best be described as Swiss Family Robinson meets Christo, built of galvanized pipe, redwood, stainless steel cables and polycarbonite panels. This structure is hardly your basic old-fruit-crates-hauled-up-a-tree design.

"We wanted it to complement the house while maintaining larger connections to nature," explains Greg Crawford of CMg Design Inc. in Pasadena, who designed the treehouse and the client's remodeled Mandeville Canyon house.

While the treehouse is anchored sturdily to three silk oak trees that shoot through the structure's redwood floor, its canvas "sails" and canted exterior skin add a feeling of lightness. Another kid-friendly bonus is a zip line that whisks young riders from the treehouse 100 feet to the other side of the lawn.

The treehouse is a kind of childhood fantasy come to life for Crawford, who admits this is his first, commissioned or otherwise. "I grew up north of Toronto," he says. "We had lots of trees but none with the kind of branches that are good to build in." Fortunately, this client did. And when Crawford discovered that they had a pallet of leftover building materials, he started thinking seriously about, well, trees.

But not too seriously. "We talked with the client's boys, asking them what kinds of things they'd like to do," he says. "Then we designed it from a child's viewpoint--open but private." A sailmaker created the canvases, which murmur softly in the breeze as if on a ship.

And that's what's fun about Crawford's design. While wittily avant-garde (it was awarded a much-coveted citation from the American Institute of Architects), the outdoor structure is not an adult statement posing as children's play space. This is a refuge for kids.

Crawford says he's not surprised by all the attention paid to his treehouse. "It touches a nerve," he says. "Treehouses are part of our memory, our own ideas of childhood when we would play under the table, hidden under the tablecloth."

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