Creekside Treehouse

Nestled in a forest of towering redwood trees, there lived a family of four in an iconic, mid-century modern residence. The home, designed by the notable, Bay Area firm of Campbell & Wong, sat right at the edge of bubbling Mill Creek, with an old, two-car garage, badly in need of imagination.


The family was rapidly outgrowing their residence, a modest 1200 square foot space. They invited three architects from across the land to propose initial concepts and set forth a challenge – create a space with many uses without disturbing any of the redwoods so dear to the family all while protecting the “helechos”, or large ferns, the original namesake of the property.  The challenge was great, and the site to build and imagine was very restricted – a mere 365 sqft footprint.


Seated together with the family around the kitchen table, the architects listened to the stories the family told about their childhood memories of a tree-house, and the vision for the design sprung to life. Upon hearing of the wishes of the family, the elders of the hamlet noted in their laws that it was perfectly plausible to have only one covered spot for a vehicle.  All rejoiced, as the old, two-car garage was reimagined, and the Creekside Treehouse was born.


The new design would have ground level elements that directly connected to the main house, while the rest of the spaces could soar upwards with the redwoods.  Horizontal 1×3 tongue and groove cedar siding, in both clear and painted finishes, reflect the home’s original siding; black aluminum windows reference the black, vertical sunshades, and the single hung window is inspired by the large plate glass windows of the residence.


Outside, were clustered spaces for handwork, clothes washing, storage, and most importantly, music making.  An expressive, exterior stair connects the roots into the trees, with a private deck, to an open, light-filled space used for working, sleeping, eating, bathing, and children playing.  It is filled with windows that frame views of the surrounding redwoods and bring the forest in.  From the loft, one can gaze up into the canopy through a large 4×8 skylight.  The custom, floor to ceiling, single-hung window opens to the front yard, while safely acting as a guardrail when fully open.


As the vision came to life, the family delighted. The colors and textures outside reminded them just enough of their house; but, when they arrived upstairs, they all whooped with delight. The space connected them to the soaring trees.  It was clear to all that a grand party was required to celebrate the new treehouse, and the additional 565 sqft of living space added to their lives.  People came from far and wide to rejoice, and the revelry went long into the night and all celebrated the imagining of the Creekside Treehouse.

Design Challenge

The big, overarching challenge of the project was to fit a vast array of program requirements within a very small site footprint – a mere 365 square feet. The list of desires from the clients included: - Remodeling of an existing two-car garage - Direct access from the main residence at ground level for laundry, storage, and a music studio - Flexible second story space with a his/hers office, playroom, kitchen, full bathroom, sleeping space, and outdoor living area   Close research into the zoning guidelines found that one covered parking space was acceptable. This allowed the ground floor program to work in and around the garage, which created a side volume clad in corrugated corten steel, to play off the main two-story building. And above this was the perfect place for an entry deck/outdoor living area.   All the second story requirements were accommodated through an open plan that had an office nook, flexible space, and a sleeping loft above the full bathroom.

Physical Context

The solution for a modern treehouse was developed for the project as it responded to the surrounding physical context in many ways: - Celebrated and protected heritage, redwood trees - Captured framed views of the redwood trees both through the variety of windows as well as a large skylight above the sleeping loft - Respected the integrity of the original Campbell & Wong mid-century residence by building on the adjacent part of the site - Created certain material, color, and design connections with the residence, including: o Black aluminum windows referencing the black, vertical sunshades o The custom, single-hung window inspired by the large, plate glass windows of the residence o Tongue and groove cedar siding, in both clear and painted finishes, reflecting the original siding - Colors and materials either matched the main house – black and gray – or were of a more natural palette – cedar siding, corten steel siding, concrete pavers, ipe guardrails.