Camp Treehouse

“Even the most modest of projects can become something beautiful.
There is no such thing as too far gone.
With hope and a hammer, I believe there is always a way.

– Tereasa Surratt

Boy do those words ring true in today’s Wandawega post. It’s about the latest addition to David and Tereasa’s magical campsite: a modern, pitched roof treehouse- designed and built by a wonderful bunch of friends.

(photo: Bob Coscarelli)

The project all started with a big, old elm tree located right in the center of camp. Shortly after David and Tereasa purchased Wandawega, Tereasa’s Dad, (Tom) christened the property by hanging a rope swing from one of its branches.

(Photo: David Hernandez)

Sadly, Tom passed away a year and a half later, and around that same time, the elm tree contracted Dutch Elm disease. Tereasa said she “could not cut it down”.

Further investigation into the elm’s condition revealed that even though its branches were dying, its trunk was still very strong. So instead of chopping it down, David and Tereasa’s friends teamed up to work on the once-in-a-lifetime dream project for them.

Tereasa and David’s carpenter/furniture-maker friends started by sketching out plans.

Tereasa said, “Everyone had a radically different idea, and everyone was thinking 100 times bigger and more elaborate than I wasI was imagining a little kid’s house.”

Ultimately the group settled on a three-level cottage in which the tree comes through a deck near ground level, then breaks through the floor in three spots on the first level of the house.

It’s 16 feet from the peak of the vaulted ceiling down to the floor, and there are two sleeping lofts in the treehouse- one at the front…

…and one at the back…

…which can both be reached by sturdy wooden ladders.

It’s not so much a tree house as a cottage on stilts“, Tereasa says. “It’s four telephone posts, set six feet into the ground into concrete pilings, surrounding a tree. We built it to be as sturdy as our city house.

The materials they used aren’t just run-of-the-mill two-by-fours, either. The windows are vintage, and most of the wood is reclaimed. Some from a dilapidated dairy barn near the property, the rest from a demolished Chicago bungalow, sourced from the ReBuilding Exchange.

Once the treehouse structure was built (It took about a years worth of sometimes 15-hour long weekend days to complete it), Tereasa and her friend, Angela, went to work on the interior- furnishing it minimalistically, but cozily, with found and vintage pieces.

The design is all about reuse and handmade. Every little detail—from the building materials, to the showstopping antler chandelier- made by Tereasa with antlers gathered from the Wandawega woods and from around her hometown in rural Illinois…

to the handmade furniture and pillows created from old fabric and feed sacks…

…to the stumps coming through the floor boards, that now act as side tables.

The result: an interior, like the tree itself, that reads like the ultimate ode to creative reinvention…

(photo: Bob Coscarelli)

(photo: Bob Coscarelli)

(photo: Bob Coscarelli)

But the ingenuity doesn’t stop there. Outside, and down below the main floor, David created pendant lights from old mason jars Tereasa found in the basement of one of the buildings on the property. He used some edison bulbs Tereasa picked up at Home Depot, along with some simple lamp kits (adapted with extension cords) to create them….


Tereasa and David named it “Tom’s Treehouse”

(Photo: Jacob Hand)

…and suspended from the very branch Tereasa’s Dad originally tied it to, the rope swing Tom so lovingly hung for her still blows in the breeze today…

(photo: Jacob Hand)


I hope you enjoyed the tale of the Wandawega treehouse today. Stay tuned for more Wandawega Week posts to come- and if you missed days 1 and 2, you can find them here: Camp Cottage and A Very Modest Cottage Giveaway.

You can find days three and four here: Camp Tent and Camp Wedding and Baby.

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    • Kelly C says

      Me too! I have tears in my eyes seeing that swing still there!! I want one, and yes that is the coolest thing ever!

  1. Rachael says

    Wow. That is spectacular!! I think I could live there my whole life and be happy :) What a beautiful labor of love!

  2. Bethany says

    Wow! Soooo amazing, I want to live there!!! I hardly show my husband the design blogs I follow, but it was the first thing I told him when I saw him and showed him this amazing place! So inspiring! thanks!

  3. Scargosun says

    I am completely blown away. I have dreamed of a tree house like this since I saw a Life Mag article about them years ago. Absolutely beautiful! Denise from The Painted Home sent me. :)

  4. says

    This couple is amazing.
    So inspiring! :)

  5. says

    Incredible. I love how they were able to save the tree and make it the center of attention. They are so talented and creative! I can’t wait to see more.

  6. Venita says

    The cozy spot in the loft bed by the book shelf with the open window is mine!! I can just picture myself there, in the tree tops reading an old favorite. heaven

  7. says

    Layla, Layla, Layla…I feel like I hit the Lottery this week. Getting to read these beautiful post have been truly uplifting. Tom’s cabin is amazing and the fact that the swing remains brought me to tears…yet again. I love the table and chairs/trunks on the deck. Oh and does anyone else think Teresa’s Hubby is/looks like Adam Levine from Maroon 5?

  8. says

    I am blown away that they designed and built such an amazing structure themselves. It’s incredibly beautiful and I want to live there – please!!

  9. Bethe says

    ohmygoodness!!! each post just gets BETTER! I love this couple!!!

    @ wendy – yes. i agree with you. ;)

  10. Meredith Smith says

    Thank you Layla! This series has been so inspiring to me. One year ago we began a transformation of our family beach house that sat neglected for 15 years after my Father passed away. None of us had the strength to to go back without him. When we finally did we found the renter had left it in ruins and we’ve have been working on it’s restoration since. It is becoming a treasure to our family once again. It is amazing how property/home/furniture restorations can restore your spirit as well. Now we can look forward to many new memories there.

  11. says

    I’ve always been fasinated by treahouses and this one is so special! What an amazing story and journey! I love that all the building materials and decor are repurposed materials as well. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Tina from AL says

    I am so incredibly jealous! I could just live in that. The treehouse itself is amazing, but tie in the story and it’s just heartwarming. I think I could go back and look at this over and over again. How I wished I lived close to Camp Wandawega so I could visit. Thanks for sharing this awesome find with us Layla!

  13. kelly in georgia says

    Earlier this week, when I saw the treehouse on the Wandawega website (try saying THAT three times fast!) I was crossing my fingers hoping it would make it to your Wandawego Week. Hooray! Thanks for sharing yet another sweet story and gorgeous eye candy. The swing and its ongoing story are lump-in-the-throat precious.

  14. Melinda Ke says

    This is awesome! I always dreamed of having a tree house when I was a child, this place would have been magical.

  15. Gail E says

    That is utterly amazing…the story…the tree house. Thank you again, Layla. This is truly an inspiring series!

  16. Kim says

    What a wonderful place! I love the reuse of vintage materials and lumber. Can’t wait to read more!

  17. says

    I have enjoyed every post about this place, but the treehouse…….oh my. What talented people these are and their philosophy about decorating is inspiring. Reading her tribute to her dad was lovely….I was lucky enough to have a dad like that, too, and there are many things in my home that are in honor of him. Sincere thanks for these posts. They are a deep sigh.

  18. Becky says

    This series of posts has been my favorite of anything you’ve ever done. If I could live in any of the places you’ve featured, this would be it. What a blessed and happy life they must have.

  19. Sandra says

    What a cool place to hang out for young and old alike. I would love to have something like that in my backyard for my boys to hang out in. I am loving Wandawega week! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Beverly Palmer says

    WOW! Talk about inspiration! I would pay to watch this couple at work. Hmm, come to think of it, I would pay to watch you and Kevin and work to! Absolutely a-m-a-z-i-n-g!

  21. Patti says

    Who are these people?! Wow! I wanna be there. And is that Kevin’s band playing in front of the treehouse?

  22. says

    Love this but I can’t stop thinking about bugs. Does it get buggie and spider webbie? The mattresses and sofa, do they get mold or mildew, or pollen? I love the tree house. It is beautiful.

  23. Cheryl F says

    I want an elm tree, a treehouse, and I want Teresa and David to be my new best friends. Seriously, I think I could love these people.

  24. Traci Fuqua says

    I’ve always wanted a tree house. This is beautiful. I just moved from Tulsa, OK to Rice Lake, WI this month. I would love to visit the camp! Thank you for sharing.

  25. Kim in Iowa says

    What an amazing property they have – I’ve so enjoyed reading the posts and seeing the pictures. I can’t believe these kind of places exist!

  26. Mary Slimp says

    That is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, and a beautiful memorial to her father. Thank you for sharing this!

  27. Kathy Raykes says

    I love the tree house project! What a cool place it turned out to be; so comfortable and earthy. Thanks for sharing.

  28. anemone says

    The fact that her Dad’s swing is still there really choked me up. What a tribute! He must have been a great dad. Thanks for the post, Layla!

  29. mary gallant says

    T and C—is there a treehouse in your future? if so, I want to be the first guest. What a dreamtreehouse! Thanks for sharing Teresa… Gram Mary

  30. Jane Crawford says

    What a touching way to honor Theresa’s father. I can’t wait to purchase both of her books!

  31. Katherine says

    Wow! I love the tree house – it looks great. I would love to stay in something like that. The antler light looks fantastic. Your blog is so inspiring! Love it,

    Katherine , Aust.

  32. says

    I have to say this to date this has to be the most coolest thing I have seen. That tree house is amazing! The story behind it and the work and sweat to bring it to life just amazing. As a kid tree houses were cool but this is beyond cool…I kid would leave home for this tree house…lol

  33. says

    This is absolutely awesome! I remember when I was a child, and all the kids from the neighborhood pitching in and building a treehouse in the woods near our homes. The whole article was nostalgic and wonderful for me, I can only imagine how much fun it is for anyone who is fortunate enough to enter. It’s gotta be a kids DREAM!… and honestly mine as well.

    Great Post!

  34. says

    well I could cry itsn’t it just devine, I so love Tom’s tree house what great skilled people to create such a stunning place I want one :( I am just going to have to put Wandawega on my list of places to visit :)

  35. says

    I love this! It is just so cool. I feel like a kid again just looking at this :-) Can you say excited- showed my 3 year old, to which he exclaimed “Woah! That’s cool!”

  36. says

    Wow!!!! I am soooo inspired by this!! We have to tear down a tree house that came with our house, it is rotten beyond repair!! but I think we are going to build a mini one of these!!! :)

  37. says

    you know what would be awesome, is if that elm tree started sprouting new leaves from all the love! Okay just on the limbs that are outside, not inside! lol!

  38. Danielle C says

    WOW. There are really no words to express how in LOVE I am with this! If i were catholic, i would have to go to confession for all of the envy i am feeling.
    great work, y’all!

  39. Lisa S says

    I am very curious about the green trunk being used as a coffee table in the treehouse. I have an almost identical one in my basement. It’s the trunk that my Latvian grandparents used for their belongings when the emigrated to the U.S. How can I find out about the treehouse trunk?

  40. Jess says

    This is the most gorgeous and delightful place I’ve seen in a long time!! I would love to have a house like this!

  41. says

    This is just AWESOME!! We recovered a bunch of materials from an old shed and playground equipment that was being torn down and we have wanted to build an AWESOME club house for our kids in our backyard, but have had a hard time finding a vision for what we want to do and how we can pull it all together. We were thinking it would be cool to build a club house that was patterned after a Fire Lookout tower, but after seeing camp-tree house this is what we want to build, .This post has given us SO much vision and excitement for our new project. Thanks for having such an AWESOME blog and for sharing such wonderful things with all of us!! We will definitely be back for more inspiration. Have a great day!

  42. Jen Dipzinski says

    WOW! Found your website from Pinterest and this treehouse is AMAZING! I have to say your swing that was originally hung by Tom brought tears to my eyes and the fact that you named it Tom’s Treehouse. What a wonderful piece of art! Thank you for sharing!

  43. Mindy & Alex says

    My daughter and I are looking at your pictures in awe, this is the most spectacular treehouse I have ever seen. I want one! :)
    -Mindy & Alex

  44. Cheryl says

    That is so awesome! Love the story behind the “tree house” It reminds me of the story “the giving tree”. May you have many happy times enjoying the cottage.

  45. says

    What an amazing tree house! It is truly beautiful and I wish I could pack myself a suitcase, hop on a plane and come and see it in real life! Great work and a lovely story too.

  46. says

    WOW, after using a jack to lift my jaw off the floor all I could think was wow this is so amazing. The only thing you need now is a nothing! It is spectacular through and through. I must admit my favorite thing is the branch through the window. It looks so unique and its such a great idea to use the tree instead of getting rid of something that is still strong and sturdy. Great article.

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