By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Joyce LaVoie first became fascinated with treehouses after reading an article by treehouse designer and builder Peter Nelson that was in Smithsonian magazine in 1997.
“That was my first spark of interest,” she said. “From that moment on, I read and saved everything I read about treehouses. I found books written by Peter Nelson.”
Nelson is the star of a reality TV show, “Treehouse Masters.” He has written how to build treehouses safely. Since trees move in different directions at the same time, it’s important to make allowances for the house to shift. It’s also important to keep the trees alive.
“On a windy night, the treehouse squeaks (as it adjusts),” LaVoie said.
Large metal brackets support the treehouse from underneath and attach it to three trees.
Once LaVoie and her husband, Richard, moved from Clarissa to their 16 1/2 acres just west of Long Prairie, a treehouse looked like it would be more than a dream.
Even though all three of their daughters were away at college, they wanted a bit more space for future visits.
“I had lots of different spots picked out,” said LaVoie. “It wasn’t until we moved here that I knew I wanted to have it be here.”
Not long after Sept. 11, 2011, LaVoie’s husband let her know that he was going to tear out some trees, bring in dirt and build a new shed.
She replied, “that’s fine with me — right after the treehouse gets built.”
Soon after, the LaVoies were visiting with neighbors Ron and Nancy Leasman. The Leasmans were intrigued by the idea of the treehouse and volunteered to help.
“Ron designed it,” said LaVoie. “I told him the only thing I really cared about was a little deck outside.”
The design was ready within a few weeks. Leasman, a retired state patrolman who did construction and remodeling in his spare time, was looking for a project.
LaVoie showed him the trees she was thinking about, oaks that were surrounded by maples.
“He and Erv May did most of the work,” LaVoie said. “My husband traded backhoe work for wood. Some of the younger guys (sons-in-law and visitors) went up with harnesses on to put the roof together.”
Not a single tree was removed in the construction of the treehouse.
Construction was started in October 2011. It was finished enough to host the first sleeping guests in December of that year.
LaVoie had been collecting items to furnish and decorate the treehouse for years already.
“I had bought a small wood-burning stove, which sat near me when I was a hairdresser in Clarissa,” she said. “I collected bears and had a red and white Amish quilt made.”
A red and black lumberjack plaid ties the outdoor theme together, along with trees set up in some of the corners. Small birch saplings were split to become quarter round moulding between the wall panels and the floorboards.
An outhouse was built just behind the treehouse, with flashlights provided for guests. For nippy nights, there is a modern reincarnation of the old-fashioned chamber pot.
LaVoie serves a warm breakfast to guests in the morning.
In addition to the treehouse, the LaVoies are finishing a second-floor guest room above their new shed. It has an exterior entrance, with a full bathroom and gorgeous view of the valley in front.
The accommodations are offered through Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), a website matching travellers with lodging worldwide.
LaVoie continues to receive publicity from an episode of “On the Road with Jason Davis” which was done about five years ago. It is replayed every spring.
“For many years I kept dreaming of having a treehouse,” LaVoie said. “I tell kids visiting to never give up on their dreams.”
For more information, call (320) 732-0959 or (320) 639-2970. Email [email protected]
Investigate sites further afield at www.vrbo.com.