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.

Camp Tent
A Very Modest Cottage Giveaway

Have posts from The Lettered Cottage sent right to your INBOX!


  1. 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

  2. says

    I have no words — this is utterly amazing. One of the most beautiful, heartwarming things I’ve ever seen.

  3. 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!

  4. 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 :)

  5. 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!”

  6. aoife says

    omg i want to put that nere my house …….. put how did u do that like do u need lots of wood 😀

  7. 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!!! :)

  8. elaine says

    Who’s the “friend” in the blue shirt and gray hat……hacha hacha….;)

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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?

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.