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Treetop adventures
Designer blends creative talent, ingenuity to create one-of-a-kind tree houses

By MARK CONCANNON
Photos courtesy of Dustin Fieder

May 2013

Dustin Feider is building a business based on a simple question: Who doesnít love tree houses? "It immediately draws people back to their childhoods," says Feider, owner of O2 Treehouse. "People love to tell their tree house stories."

Feider is producing a whole new generation of stories by building custom-made tree houses. His treetop perches dot landscapes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Oregon, California and Mexico as well as overseas in Portugal, Thailand and South Korea.

Feider is based in Oakland, Calif., but he grew up in Menomonee Falls in a neighborhood quite conducive for childhood construction projects. "The next street over had some serious building going on," Feider recalls. "There were endless scrap heaps to pick from. We would bring wagons of the stuff back to our street and build forts."

Feider collaborated with his dad and sister to build his first tree house at the age of 10. "It was pretty cool, about 15 feet up."

In 2005, during his junior year at the Minnesota College of Art and Design, Feider built his first serious tree house for his fatherís new home in Pewaukee. "My dad was reminiscing about the old tree house. He had some nice big trees in his backyard. It was a fun, challenging design."


The Leaf House is located in Pewaukee at Dustin Feiderís fatherís home. 


Feider then took his idea for a business to the World Treehouse Convention in Oregon. "One of the key people at the conference gave Popular Mechanics my name and the magazine published a story on me. After that I built up a bigger vision and started serious work on my website (o2treehouse.com)."

Feider worked with a product design firm in Minnesota to pay the bills while he continued to develop his business by networking, also searching for the next client. An article in modern-focused Dwell magazine gave him his first break. "Somebody in San Diego saw the article and hired me to build a tree house. It was my first opportunity to build something with an appropriate budget. It was 25 feet up in an oak tree."

Feider then moved to southern California before relocating to Oakland where he has been based the past four years. "Los Angeles is a desert. Oaklandís got all the big trees."

Feider is part of the construction team on every project, which usually includes two additional contract workers. His least expensive models cost between $10,000 and $12,000; his most common tree houses run between $30,000 and $40,000. His most expensive project in Beverly Hills cost $70,000. "That one was called Honeysphere. It was a geodesic design, quite complex with 220 openings, made out of Redwoods."

"These people are kids at heart," Feider says of his clients. "They always wanted a tree house and now theyíre fulfilling that dream for themselves and their kids."


Honey Sphere was constructed for The Doors guitarist Robby Kriegerís home in California.


Feiderís projects can take one to four months from start to finish depending on the complexity of the design. The average tree house is 14 feet in diameter, which Feider says creates lots of social opportunities off the ground. "This allows for about eight people sitting cross-legged knee-to-knee in a circle for the geodesic structures, about 100 square feet," Feider says. "It will sleep two comfortably as well as a dinner party of four to six. It will also accommodate a little oneís entire birthday party."

Most 02 clients have children but some do not. "Thatís always great to see: Adults who wonít suppress those childhood dreams," Feider says.

Feiderís company has also found a niche in eco-tourism, appealing to the adventure travelers. "Itís like having a group of cabins, but at night, people retire to a tree house instead of a cabin."

02 also aims at the do-it-yourself market supplying tree house kits that customers can construct.

But Feider, who has "always had a passion for climbing trees," says he needs to take his business to new heights. "Itís not entirely working. Itís a bit of a roller coaster. Iím working with a marketing company in Los Angeles for the next six months. They could become a partner if we can attract more consistent work. If I can get in front of the right people, it should keep the work interesting."

Feider is involved in side projects with a bamboo company that installs large-scale pieces for music festivals all over the world. He also designs and builds furniture. "There are lots of ideas on my sketch pad that I havenít gotten to yet."

But Feiderís passion remains about 15 feet up. "Building tree houses is a blast, totally a blast. I know thereís a market out there for it."

 







 


This story ran in the May 2013 issue of: