Our Great Treehouse

June 28, 2014   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses


It’s been a really long time since we were able to get down on the type of DIY projects I enjoy most: Construction. It just doesn’t happen enough anymore. Eager to make our house a family house and make it feel like ours in a permanent way, we set out in sketching playhouses and making lists of our dream treehouse features right away when we moved in last summer. Our big goal has been to raise one this springtime, and if you followed along patiently as we cleared brush and vines and branches from one 50′x50′ section of our yard, you’re about to see more of our progress.


When it came down to inspiration, I’ve been side-eying all of the tree houses in our ‘hood – you know, scoping them out during walks without trying to look like a creepster with a dog. And of course, thanks to there being more online tutorials than I know what to do with and a great selection of manufacturer images available in a simple Google Images search, bazinga, I devoured all of the inspiration I could. Here’s where we landed:

Inspiration for our modern treehouse.

  • Upper left: That’s a photo I found on Pinterest. We’re skeptical if it actually exists or not, because that ladder is totally insufficient and… did they finish the inside walls to hide the studs? Or, photoshop. In any case, the big round window, the height, very idillic. If you photographed this treehouse or built it, please let me know so I can give you credit.
  • Upper right: That’s a building that we took a picture of at Caldeira Velha on Sao Miguel. When we saw its stained vertical boards, I actually said, “that’s the perfect inspiration for the exterior of our playhouse.”
  • Lower left: Let there be swings. You can’t really see the a-frame support for these swings because of the angle of this photo that I found on Retro Renovation, but we’ll take a similar approach. Also, the front porch is adorable.
  • Lower Right: I like a lot about this design – the staircase(s), the clean look of those railings, and like the other photos, I dig the slanted roof.

It took us a long time to decide upon the right inspiration, and longer to get a jump start on the actual build. Scale and the overall design were something that we played with for a few weeks, taking what’s admittedly a very informal approach to the whole thing, poking gardening fence posts to mark off where we wanted walls and posts implanted.

Somewhere in the planning process, we increased the size of the platform from 4′x6′ to 4′x8′ to 8′x12. Bigger’s better? Go big or go home? There are probably at least 5 other cliches that describe what happened here. I know what you’re looking for is some drawing or sketch that we’re using for reference during the big build of 2014, but we don’t have that, of course not, because it’s mostly in the brain we (fortunately) share. No, really, we have a single piece of printer paper with about 8 different ideas on it (somewhere, I don’t actually know where it is at the moment), all slight derivations of each other, and a shared notebook, used for materials lists and keeping track of measurements. Side note: A gel mani is the only type of mani to have if you’re doing heavy projects. This sweet one held up through two days of construction and still looked perfectionistic at a meeting the following Tuesday.

Planning the construction of walls for our playset.

I hadn’t even been blogging back when we built my deck on the old house, but I did gloss over the process we went through to construct it. What we did there was rent a gas-powered auger to create the deep post holes to meet the mandates of local code, a code that requires us to sink posts below the frost line. The auger, I still remember very vividly, was one of the most trying tools I’ve ever worked with and I never hope to encounter one again, but fortunately the soil in our current yard is much different than the clay/rock of our old house. This soil here, it’s as close to sand as you can imagine, and all 6 post holes were cleared using a manual hole digger in less than 15 minutes. And with that said, we officially own a manual post hole digger, a mid-quality model for about $30.

Easy post hole digging.

There’s something wonderful about being able to carry mass amounts of lumber home in your own vehicle, and utility is probably the only reason we’ve kept the Jeep; it gets a good workout when we do projects like this. And in this yard, we can pull the Jeep right into the backyard to deposit all materials right at the build site… a nice perk that we haven’t had before.

For the posts, we could have gotten away with 4x4s, but I upgraded us to 4×6 beams because I liked the chunkier look; the structure atop the posts would eventually be substantial, and I didn’t want it to look like it had toothpicks for legs in scale. We sunk all of the posts as a family on Father’s Day.

Fmily time setting posts for the treehouse.

Four of the posts are 4x6x8′ boards, but two that sit on the southern end of the playhouse are 12′ in height, and will eventually support the beams for our swing set, which we expect will cantilever over to the side and will be supported by an A-frame setup for stability; again, no architectural drawings or glamourous plan for you to download here, we’re kind of making it up as we go, keeping in mind that while it’s structurally sound, it’s still just a playhouse, and there will probably never be 30 adults jumping up and down on it at the same time, or the resulting Youtube sensation of it crumbling down underfoot.

Framing out the treehouse.

We expect to be able to chip away at this project a little bit every weekend. Last weekend, we were able to build the whole floor platform in just one morning. This weekend is a little slower.

In general, what we have done to date happened fast because we tag teamed planning and cutting wood, and are making much use out of our framing nailer fit with special hot-dipped galvanized nails, versus opting for super heavy-duty lag and carriage bolts (again, it’s a playhouse, there are appropriate places to “cut corners”).

Using hot dipped galvanized nails to construct our treehouse.

You guys know my love of nail guns, right? Wa-pow.

Using hot dipped galvanized nails and the framing nailer to construct our treehouse.

We maximized our working efforts during nap time, and fortunately for us there are still 2 (occasionally 3) of those each day. Other times we figured out how to get things done single-handedly, hence Pete’s self-made tool that pries the floorboards into place. Some people like to leave gaps in the floorboards, but the boards are going to shrink up a little bit over the next few months, so there will be natural spacing at that time. If you leave a 1/8″ gap and then the boards shrink, you might find yourself with gaps of 1/2″+, and your kids will be forever losing their colored pencils down the spaces.

One man's job: attaching deck boards.

We tag teamed the wall construction and had all four installed in one day. I planned all of the measurements and cut the boards, and then organized them on the platform for Pete to nail together. So no, we didn’t have to perform some superhuman feat and hoist them assembled 5-feet into the air.

The walls, I should note, are intentionally tall enough so that both me and Pete can at least walk through the entryway without crouching. These things are important for family play time. And also, though we thought we pruned enough back on the trees overhead, we’ll still have to take a little more off to clear space for what ended up being a tall structure. Dude, very tall.

Pete standing in the treehouse to show how tall the walls are.

I haven’t checked to see if the wi-fi reaches out there from the house, but if it does, you’re looking at our new office. I’ve been totally holding back on my Instagram and Facebook feeds until I got this post published–it took so long, y’all–so follow me on those places for more regular updates!

Walls and floor of our new treehouse.

Customizing IKEA: Our SVEIO Changing Table

June 19, 2014   //  Posted in: Bedrooms, Being Thrifty, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  2 responses

Hey, update alert! I’ve seen lots of other new parents following this same “informal” trend of using IKEA furniture as the base for a changing table. High-five for deciding to save a few $$/using what you have/avoiding getting a formal changing table and instead getting something that’ll transition into a longer term piece; I’m all for that, and for us, this setup been working out really well, but, like with many things, our little dresser needed some customizin’.

Updating our IKEA SVEIO as a baby changing table.

What worked for the first few months–having the changing pad sitting unsecured, directly on the top of the IKEA SVEIO dresser–started to become less and less ideal as our now 7-month old Hattie began to move around more. Never was there an instance where we thought she’d fall off (I’ve never left her side while she’s been on the table, because I’m generally horrified about things like that), nor did I think that the changing pad itself would magically slide away, but as she shifted around on the surface I definitely noted that we needed to figure out a way to secure the changing pad, assuming we would be using it for several years; I’m not holding my breath in thinking that she’ll be potty-trained by 18-months, but  that’s not to say that I haven’t planted the idea in her head.

That’s where this construct came into play: a simple frame using 1×2 and a 1×3 board that I cut and assembled to match the exact size as the top of the changing table. $5 in wood from Home Depot worked wonders.

Hacking my IKEA furniture to make a changing table surface.

I used our brad nailer and air compressor to assemble it in all of 2 minutes, also adding a dollop of wood glue between each lap joint for a bit of added connectivity. You’ll note in the photo above that one of those sides is not like the others, and that’s because I designed the backside of the frame to overlap the back of the changing table unit so that it could attach securely out of sight, without visibly damaging the IKEA finish on the unit at all, like so:

Hacking my IKEA furniture to make a changing table surface.

I lazily thought that it would look great with a transparent stain to seal the natural wood, but really, painted white looked way better and helped it to look as though it were always a part of this IKEA piece. The 30″ changing pad that we have fits perfectly in this frame, even pretty tight from end to end, so now it doesn’t move around at all, which is really all we needed, a little security for the bean sprout.

Updating our IKEA SVEIO as a baby changing table.

What worked for us may not work for you depending on whatever type of furniture you’ve decided to use as a makeshift changing table, so I can share a few other reccomendations: 1.) giant velcro strips to connect it to the surface; 2.) adhering a piece of non-slip rug underlay to the bottom of the pad to add friction; 3.) ehhhh, snaps? I thought I had more ideas, maybe you do.

For curious minds and other parents, a few notes about how we use our changing table setup, and musings on diapering:

  • Our cloth diaper stash, cloth wipes, wet wipes, diaper cream, and some disposable diapers are organized and stored in the top drawer of our SVEIO dresser. As this is our changing table, these are the items we need most handy.
  • Cloth is still my preferred method of diapering, since I’m home with the baby many days and have no problem handing used diapers or doing several extra loads of laundry each week; daycare also allows us to bring in cloth, which is convenient from a savings standpoint. To date, the ~$100 I have spent on our small stash of ~20 diapers has easily been recouped (meaning, I would have spent more than that already on disposables), so every time I can use a cloth vs. a disposable is basically a freebie in my eyes. You know my feelings on free. Plus, good for the earth too, blah blah.
  • Our stash is a mix of BumGenius, which was gifted to us mostly via our baby registry, and Alvas, which I ordered through a coop group for about $3/each. I honestly see no difference in brand after months of using both, and prefer Alvas if I happen to be changing Hattie on the go — they roll up and snap together securely like little poopy burritos, and I don’t even need to bother with a wet bag.
  • We still use disposables every night, because no matter how I stuffed the pockets, the baby and crib were still soaked and stinky every morning; we don’t use a heavy-duty overnight diaper yet, a regular daytime one is still serving us quite well for a 10-12 hour sleep run.
  • We also use disposables we are going to be out and about for a long day, when she is being babysat, and if we are on vacation. And also, Pete uses them exclusively when I’m out of town because he’s a rebel, so no, we’re not uber-motivated cloth diapering parents or hippies when it comes to this new-old-fangled way of diapering thing, we do it as it’s convenient for us.
  • We switched almost exclusively to using cloth wipes after almost killing our doggie, who loved devouring classic baby wipes on the regular. I like using cloth wipes considerably less now that Hattie is eating solid foods, but that’s not appropriate fodder for this blog. Since I’m already washing loads of dirty diapers each week, throwing a few extra dirty cloth wipes in the wash doesn’t really make a difference to me.
  • The lower drawer of the cabinet is used to store almost all of our baby clothes; all of the onesies and all of the shorts and stretch pants are located right there at our fingertips. Anything hanging, like footie jam-jams and ridiculously cute t-shirts are in the closet, but it’s not that often that she isn’t wearing a plain ol’ onesie.
  • If you leave both full drawers open when full, the unit will tip forward. Fortunately, I learned that before there was ever a baby on top of it (in fact, it happened when I assembled it and the drawers were empty, so maybe IKEA has some troubleshooting to do with this model). And they probably would never endorse using this as a changing table; consider yourself warned to be cautious, always, even if you’re not using the SVEIO like we are.


June 08, 2014   //  Posted in: Casual Celebrations   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

The month of May flew through without thought to two “celebrations” I’ve grown fond of appreciating: Buying my first house (this year was the 5 anniversary of closing! Read up on year 2year 3, and year 4 here! I don’t even live there anymore!); and quitting my job to go freelance, which was already 3 quick years ago. Moving on and settling in to the extent that you can is so happy. It feels good to be at a completely different point in my life than I was 5, 6, 7 years ago, and for that, I should probably celebrate (with cake, campfires, and maybe a splurge at CB2).

Anyways, moving on happened, but I’m actually still at the old house more than you’d expect. If you missed it back when we left, we decided to continue to maintain it as a rental property; it’s not so much as a way to make some extra dough (it just helps to cover the mortgage and taxes), but maybe in ~15 years when it’s paid off, it’ll be a nice little asset in my retirement arsenal. I have a note in my ever-shifting editorial calendar to give you an update on how that’s been going, because in reality, it’s not the same as what you see on Income Property. Oh, Scott McGillivray, you are one crazy tease.

Planting in the window boxes at the rental house.

And I’m still a freelancer, doing contract work for DIY Network and its blog Made + Remade (speaking of things I’ve been meaning to write about for documentation’s sake, I actually met my team for the first time in early May after 30 months of working together!!!).

The Made + Remade video shoot, May 2014.

In addition to nomming down s’mores and browsing the new selections of outdoor furniture (which I’m still not convinced is practical in a backyard that showers leaves and caterpillars), I made a modest list of things I’d like to try and accomplish this summer–not for the sake of publishing here because doing that will create way too much unnecessary pressure (bloggers, stop making to-do lists), but list things I want to get done as time permits–things like power washing the garage door and painting the window trim in the kitchen. And repairing the upper level of the barn, while reinventing the lower level as a radical play area. And buying rugs. And dining chairs. And a bed frame. And the beat goes on.

My weekly photo series continues strong. Honestly, it’s probably my favorite project ever-ever-ever, and I love it so much that I might just continue it as long as possible, even after we hit the 1-year mark. I think Hattie will appreciate it someday.

Our baby photo series, weekly photos with mama.

Thursday marks our 1-year since closing on this cool, new house, and it’s hard to believe the time has passed so quickly. If you never saw the “before” video of our house, watch it here; it will always be radically special to us. Here’s to many more.