MOUNT DESERT — To build a treehouse, you don’t necessarily need a tree, just ask Bowen Swersey.
Over the last 15 years, Swersey has constructed four treehouses, including one on a property next to Little Echo Lake that stands on and is framed with posts of southern swamp cypress. For the owner, the space, with a loft for sleeping, has become a haven for visiting family members.
There is an art to constructing the treehouses, some of which are actually in trees. Swersey tends to find eclectic or unique pieces of wood, fixtures or accents and builds the structure around these.
“I’m a scrounger; I hate to buy things new,” he said, explaining that the small glass doors to the treehouse were found in a builder friend’s stash. “I like to start from things that I’ve found. I like letting things develop kind of organically.”
Although tucked away from the main house on the property, the treehouse could easily be a feature in a home and garden magazine. Railings along the stairs and front deck of the house are made with branches from winter berry bushes found around the property. Each is the proper distance apart to meet the town’s permit requirements for a structure.
“Because I had to have a permit, I had to follow the rules,” said Swersey. “I had to produce railings for it. I decided if I had to have railings for it, I was going to have branches. It’s fitting with the decor here.”
Unlike many treehouses built from salvaged materials, this one is finished with multi-colored shingles, most of which were found in boxes of odds and ends another builder had on hand. “I like to recycle and reuse,” said Swersey, pointing out a few western red pine shingles featured on the front of the treehouse. “A lot of my friends are builders.”
In addition to looking in the bargain bins at hardware stores and his friends’ forgotten stockpiles, Swersey is on a first-name basis with an employee of the transfer station in Southwest Harbor. Each time building materials or other usable construction items come to the Long Pond Road facility, Swersey gets a call for first dibs.
“My first treehouse was all dump materials,” he said. “One of the good things about doing that is the cost.”
Building treehouses is definitely a hobby for Swersey, who owns and operates Acadia Stone and Garden during the warmer months, installing stone patios, walls and walkways. In the winter he writes novels under the pen name Winter Fox, most recently releasing the Grace Coffin series based in Southwest Harbor.
In fact, one of the treehouses he built on his own property serves as his home office and features finished walls, electricity and WiFi.
“I built mine to be a wintertime office,” said Swersey, who records his audiobooks inside the treehouse where it is quiet.
Solitude and privacy are important features of a treehouse, including the one in Mount Desert. Anyone driving up to the home cannot spot the treehouse unless they are looking for it.
“Part of picking the right spot was having privacy,” said Swersey, adding that it also had to be a specific distance from Little Echo Lake. “I want it to feel like you’re in your own little space in the woods here.”
When building treehouses in trees, Swersey has reasons some wood bases are better than others.
“One of the reasons I don’t build treehouses on spruce trees is because they fall over,” he said, adding that pine and ash trees are good trees for houses. “I think oak is a very good tree to put a treehouse in because they’re long-lived and very stable.”
There is one other key point of building a treehouse, according to Swersey, whose keen artistic eye may render this advice difficult to meet. “You don’t want your treehouse to look new.”