What do Ewoks and Julie “Butterfly” Hill have in common? They have discovered the ethereal magic of living up in a tree.
Tom Chudleigh of Vancouver Island, Canada has discovered the same magic with his Free Spirit Spheres, handcrafted tree houses that bob among the trees like giant apples.
Chudleigh calls his design a bio-mimicry. Each sphere attaches to a web of rope. The web connects to whichever strong points are available. This replaces the foundation of a conventional building. A tree house sphere uses the forest for its foundation, so the occupants of a sphere then have a vested interest in the health of the trees. Each sphere has four attachments on top and another four anchor points on the boom. Each attachment is strong enough to carry the entire sphere and contents.
A suspended sphere is tethered by 3 nearly vertical ropes to each of 3 separate trees. This distributes the load evenly over the 3 trees and results in a stable hang. Like an inverted three-legged stool, there will be almost equal tension in each of the three suspension ropes. The sphere resides in the center of the triangle formed by the 3 trees. It can be slung from 5 to 100′ off the ground, depending on the size of the trees.
If something really big, like a tree, falls through the web then some strands will break and let it pass through. The sphere remains suspended by the remaining strands. A major disaster like that is not likely, but possible. Everything, including spiral stairways and suspension bridges, are hung from ropes. Trees are protected where the spiral stairways hug the trees and ropes pass around the trees. The spheres are well adapted to life in a large mature forest.
The sphere concept borrows heavily from sailboat construction and rigging practice. It’s a marriage of tree house and sailboat technology. The wooden spheres are built much like a cedar strip canoe or kayak and suspension points are similar to the chain plate attachments on a sailboat. Stairways hang from a tree much like a sailboat shroud hangs from the mast. The joinery is yacht style with much brass trim, varnished wood and cane doors. They have closets on either side of the door.
A sphere is accessed by a spiral stairway and short suspension bridge. The two lower back suspension points of the sphere are tied horizontally to the two back trees, to keep the suspension bridge from sagging when it is walked on. The door faces the “door tree” and the suspension bridge connects the two. A helical stairway spirals up or down from the suspension bridge to the ground or next level.
Two Spheres, named Eve and Eryn, are available for overnight rental year round. Eve rents for $125 a night or $199 for two nights while Eryn rents for $175 a night or $299 for two nights Eryn’s rate is based on 2 people. The motion in a sphere is a slow gentle rocking when the wind blows. The rope tethers are almost vertical which lets the treetops move considerably while hardly moving the sphere at all. When another body inside a sphere shifts his/her weight the motion is abrupt. This is because the mass of the sphere is low.
In the Eryn style, there is a double bed on the right centered under the 40″ window. A settee with table is placed in front of the 42″ window on the left. The back wall opposite the door provides a galley area with counter cupboards and a sink. A microwave and refrigerator are also installed. Above the galley area there is a loft bed with full sitting headroom at the center. Circular shelf segments connect the loft bed to the cupboards on either side of the door. An outhouse and washroom are located nearby on the ground.
Free Spirit Spheres can also be purchased as completed projects or as shells and component kits. Wood spheres are made of two laminations of wood strips over laminated wood frames. The outside is then finished and covered with clear fiberglass. The result is a beautiful and very tough skin. The cost of these are sold for about $125,000-$150,000.
Fiberglass shells are also sold at $39,000-$45,000. The skins are waterproof and strong enough to take the impacts that come with life in a dynamic environment such as the forest.
Both wooden and fiberglass spheres are insulated. Vinyl upholstery fabric is stapled to the frames (lines of longitude). Each fabric joint is then covered with a decorative wood strip. The wood strips come together at the top and give a nice cathedral ceiling effect.
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