When we lived in a tree house


"The places in which we have experienced day-dreaming reconstitute themselves in a new day dream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are re-lived as day dreams that these dwelling places of the past remain with us for all time "

Gaston Bachelard from his book The Poetics of Space 1958

The Avalon House - a creative space in the trees

Our treehouse had such a creative and nourishing impact on our lives from May 1998 -Jan 2015. When we sold the house we had so many inquiries about the design of the house and requests from many people who stayed with us over the years for the floor plans. So I thought it fitting to write a little piece about what it meant to live there and how some of its unique design details created such a special sense of space.

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The treehouse is located on a double block of native bush in the hills above Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The land drops down into the valley with sweeping 180 degree views of Pittwater and Lion Island, Avoca way off in the distance and out beyond Avalon beach. The spotted gums are a feature of this native bush and one in particular, outside my bedroom window, is the oldest and has been home to a passing parade of bird species over the years.

The vaulted ceilings on the top level were covered in special rattan panels which gave the house a wonderful a Japanese feel.

Was it really a Tree-house?

The house, newly built when we moved in, was designed around an enormous spotted gum which was located literally in the middle of the house and seen on every level. This was possible because the house was actually two pavilions joined with walkaways and balconies which wrapped around the gum tree and enclosed it. The tree was so high that the branches hung over the top level and shaded the house.

The treehouse now. You can see the bamboo which replaced the spotted gum on the right draping over the deck. For gatherings we would tie it to the balcony and create a little covered Moroccan style seating space.

The treehouse when it was newly built with the spotted gum in the middle. It is hard to get a sense of scale but the level is three floors up. The canopy of the gum tree was huge and reached over the roof of the house.

An Evolving Design

Originally Designed and Built by Matthew Macpherson. Renovations by Architect James Stockwell. Woven Wooden Screens designed Jonathan Temple. Renovations built by Jeffrey Broadfield, Jonathan Temple and David Horsebrau

After a few years in the house we commissioned James Stockwell, then a young architect with a newly established firm, to take the house to the next level. Creating beautiful screens for the walkways between the two buildings renovating the bathroom (seen above) and laundry downstairs and converted the little room on the lower level to a studio.

The bathroom on the second level.

The house was north east facing with wonderful cross ventilation that captured the cool sea breezes on a hot afternoon and conversely warmed up the house with winter sun in the cooler months.

It was a steel construction clad by a special treated structural ply from New Zealand called Texture 2000 (now called SHADOWclad (Shadowclad Product Brochure) which was developed to withstand extremes of weather and offer some resistance to termites. The panels were painted colour to match a piece of spotted gum bark.

The master bedroom.

Sweeping views of native bush with the ocean and pittwater beyond. The birds would play on the air currents as they swept down into the valley.

Growing up in the treehouse.

The house inspired our creativity in more ways than we cold have ever imagined. Its separate spaces enabled everyone to have space from each other while still connecting us as a family. It was like a mini community. . The spaces were able to organically adapt as my children grew into teenagers and sought even more independence.

The large guest room (pictured below) was firstly a communal studio/ office with all of us working together in the afternoons. The children never had computers in their rooms because we had this amazing communal creative space to play in. The studio downstairs become Ben's bedroom and then Sophie's when he moved out.


Sophie’s reflection on growing up in a treehouse:

One of the owls that used to come to Sophie's bedroom. They are now an important symbol in her life which brings back the memory of living amongst the trees and seeing them out her window.

“I grew up in the Avalon Treehouse from 6 to 18 years old. The house is a place of absolute wonder and magic. It inspired my creativity immensely and gave our family so many happy memories. I truly feel that the house helped me grow into a better person. The bush room down the bottom of the house was where I spent a lot of time reading, writing, having fun with friends and finding peace during exams or other busy periods of my life.

When you’re in the house you feel so close to the beach, yet far enough away to feel the peace of the bushland. Imagine waking up in the morning to find rainbow lorakeets lining the verandah, or owls outside the bedroom window at night, or bamboo growing in the middle of the house getting taller as you did … This was our reality for so many years.”


Ben’s reflection on growing up in a treehouse:

“I grew up in the tree house from age 10 – 18. I sailed down in Pittwater and surfed every morning before school. Every afternoon after school felt like coming back to a holiday house. The community is small, the neighbours are always friendly and it is relaxed and easy going.

I loved my separate room from the main house, it gave me privacy and freedom to come as I pleased, but when I wanted a nice home cooked meal and family time, it was never far away. There are not many places that you can have the beach 2 minutes away and the aspect across the ocean in a peaceful bush hideaway. The sun keeps it warm and trees keep it shady. It has hosted many large family dinners, some great parties and special moments for us all.”

The Studio: Design Details

The studio (we called this the bush house because it was on the lower level) was designed by James Stockwell and it featured an amazing boxed window which framed the tree ferns and a cute pivoting window which let the side breeze through.

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The little pivoting window

A little sketch James drew for me to explain how the window box would work.


Looking back into the studio showing the large sliding glass doors.

The Treehouse Swing

Jonathan Temple designed a beautiful bent plywood swing for me which hung from one of the lowest branches of the spotted gum in the  middle of the house. It slipped into two plaited sailing rope eyelets (he is a sailor and an architect!) which meant you could take the swing inside when you weren't using it.  Can you imagine how it felt to swing in the trees, three levels above the ground ... it was bliss. (In the picture at the beginning of the post  you can see ropes from the swing hanging from the branch).

We later packaged the swing design for sale. If you are interested please email me and I'll send you the information.