„Unbearably cozy!“ would probably the best description for our start in the new year. Christopher and I spent two frosty nights in January at cuddly TreeTopHuts in Norway for the travel report „The treetop of coziness“ for the DuMont Reiseverlag. Spent? “Celebrated” would be more accurate here. The winterly Hedmark province is covered with a thick and spotless white tablecloth made of snow. Below, nature is gathering all its strength for the reawakening next spring. Outside the thermometer reads bone-chilling -15° Celsius (5° Fahrenheit), inside we sense cozy 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit).
At our nocturnal arrival we are lead to the treehouse by a number of flickering lanterns, inside we’re welcomed by dim light, blazing fire in a wood stove, a bottle of red wine and chocolate cookies. Makes me think of little red riding hood immediately. Outside the wolf starts howling – in my head. The coziness almost makes me freak out. It nearly hurts. Snuggly sheepskins, stylish patterned woolen blankets, all the wood transmits a pleasant warmth. In that snuggly place we didn’t only create a nice article but also our first child, which will be born next month!
The wonderful congenial couple Frode Schei and Ann-Marie have built six of those treetophouses over the last 12 years, spread out over the woody Hedmark. We had a chat with the two over some Eplemost and cookies:
How did it all start?
It all started when I was a little boy in the sixties. The common thing to do here was playing in the forest. We played Cowboys and Indians and hid up in the trees. So I remember we built many treehouses. Of course not so high. The first time I felt in love was in a treehouse! We were only boys when we grew up in that street. On the other street there were a few girls. So we built a treehouse and invited the girls there. It was the first time for everything.
And how did Tretophytter start out?
I’m a forest engineer and I’m working here since 1985. At the time the idea to build treehouses for guests emerged I lived so close to and far away from Oslo at the same time. It’s really pitch black in the night, it’s quiet … and the beautiful landscape and trees. So I wanted to show people this area. It was not so common to visit this forest. To build treehouses is an idea to show people this nature. And at the same time I had two boys myself. They were only looking at television games on computers. So I remember when I was young it was so interesting building in the forest and see birds, studying birds, see animals and come that close to the nature. I would love to give other young people that possibility to become interested in nature. And when you give young people the possibility to fall in love with the nature, it will be for the next generations. It will be a better world. If they see how the nature works. And a good way to explore that is to watch nature from a treehouse. You see birds flying under the treehouse, you can feed the birds. You can see mice. In some other treehouses we have owls and squirrels.
What kind of other animals live here in the forest?
We have many elks here, foxes, wolves, birds like sparrows, finks, dompfaffen, woodpecker, topmice. I guess between seven and thirteen different birds. Reindeer, but its rather seldom.
Where are your guests coming from?
Until now 97% of the guests are coming from Norway and about 40% are about from the local area here. The last three percent are coming from many countries: Australia, Japan, Germany, UK, … The treetophuts are also popular and its not easy to find available dates for foreign people. I think in a year or two from now its different, because we have other companies in Norway that start building treehouses. We are selling drawings to some others as well.
And what are the guests looking for in your treehouse?
They are looking for a quiet hideaway in the forest. They want to relax and be together with their family or spouse, friends, …
What makes more trouble, a group of girls or boys?
Who are you asking? Me or Ann-Marie? Laughs … No we didn’t have any troubles so far. People coming to the forest don’t look for trouble, they might rather go to the city. Sometimes they don’t know how to clean 😉
I think people are looking for a place without any noise. It can be that silent here that you can hear your own breathing, heart and blood flushing through your veins. Except from some birds, wind hushing through the trees. They’re looking for black nights and often they just like to experience something new. For most of them its a brand new thing to do. Maybe they’ve tried to build a treehosue when they were young, so they have good memories from it.
Are there guests who come more often?
Yes, some people want to experience the treehouse in different times of the year, or different treehouses.
We have some guests that tried all five treehouses, some come to the same huts every year. Other guests bring their grandchildren and tell their little kids „When I was a little boy/girl I built something like this“.
Could you ever imagine to live in a treehouse – permanently?
We live in a small house now but not that small! Its about 50 sqm. But I actually lived in a treehouse before I met Ann-Marie. I’d love to. You can do that, but you have to bring in some water and do some support.
How about you Ann-Marie?
I like the treehouses very much. But I’m not sure if I could live in one. We see this every day, its our work and you get a bit blind when you’re doing it all the time, so I’m not sure if I would live in one.
Frode: Maybe when the time comes that we can slow down, where… we have an active life when we have 8.000 guests per year. The business is going very well now. But when we retire some day, relaxing a little, I could imagine living in a treehouse for a few months. Maybe it will become a opportunity to do that. The life living in a treehouse … of course you’d need a mobile phone, computer and everything to work … so now we couldn’t relax enough in a treehouse to enjoy the treehouse. Now we would sit here doing work.
What is the forest to you, Frode?
Freedom. And nice views. To see the seasons is important to me. Winter, beautiful, cold, stable, then in march the sun is melting the snow, in spring you can hear the frogs from the balcony, the birds coming home from their little trip to Africa, telling all the stories they experienced, wonderful colours when the leaves are leaving in autumn.
What status has the forest in the norwegian society?
The most norwegian people go hiking in the forest. Its very very common. Not so common with snowshoes. In summertime on tracks or wild in the forest. And in wintertime you can go crosscountry skiing and kicksledding.
How do foresters take care of the forest?
The main reason is that the norwegian forest belong to many many owners. There are no square borders between every farm. The borders are going naturally by a lake or a small river or something. And if you have big companies the forest will be treated differently I think. Many of the norwegian farmers think of the forest more like a bank. So the trees are getting very old. In an economic way too old. But the farmers save it for the next generation. If they only would think of trees in an economic way, they will just cut down trees. Many of the trees here are 130 years old. Our norwegian farmers are proud of having an old forest.
What do you you think the animals think of the treehouses?
I did not ask them actually, but we’re feeding the small animals and the birds. You can also see owls and squirrels here. And we have some elks. We are not allowed to feed them anymore. We feeded some eagles as well a few years ago. King eagle and sea eagle. We don`t scare off animals with the treehouses. It’s more important that young people are coming here and observe the animals, get in love with the forest and the animals and the nature.
Do birds and squirrels build their nests around your treehouses?
Yes they do. We help them with small boxes as well. Eight squirrels here every morning in the larch hut was our record. Natural predator eats squirrels (marder).
What don’t you wanna miss in a treehouse?
The oven and wood! It’s also important to have a nice place to wake up with a nice view where you can see the birds (loft).
What’s the best read for a stay in a treehouse?
Books about birds. Other than that maybe poetry from famous ancient norwegian writer about his experience in the forest from a hundred years ago. Hans Børli. He is from eastern part from Norway.
How can you experience silence here?
You need time to listen to the silence. You can’t get out of the car and have a stressful mind in your brain and hear the silence. You have to breathe out, ground yourself and really turn off the phone. You need time. You have to sit for at least fifteen minutes to really hear the silence. You can’t experience silence in ten seconds. You have to experience silence over some time. No instant silence. You have to get calm and then listen to the silence for some time. Some of the treetophuts are perfect for that. This one is the closest to the city. Ann-Marie: many of the guests are coming for just one night and they say next time we’ll stay for two or three days. 70 Percent of the guests are booking one night and all the guests who are coming back, 70% are booking two or more days.
What’s your perfect treehouse dish?
Rakfisk. Trout fished in early summer and stored in salt for a few months at up to 10 degrees. It is then eaten with potatoes and butter in the wintertime.
And your obligatory treehouse drink?
What would be the best band to play in your treehouse?
Bruce Springsteen. Lars Vinebek.
What do treehouses mean to you?
Experience of nature and hideaway where you can free from stress and free from what people want from you and where you can look at the nature and your own life.
Any funny stories?
One time a young girl brought her boyfriend from town. He was wearing pants so tight that he couldn’t get up the stairs to the treehouse!