Urban Living - Tree houses for 'Mind,' 'Body' and 'Spirit'

People in glass houses don't throw stones. They buy the 3/4-acre lot next door and build tree houses – at least that's what Peter Bahouth did.

Bahouth, the former director of environmental organization Greenpeace, built his retreat from society with three connected tree houses behind his Buckhead home. Spending time in the ruggedly built yet cozily decorated interiors, with a view that overlooks a stream and the woods, Bahouth and his girlfriend have been able to relax and forget they're anywhere near busy Howell Mill Road less than a mile away.

But soon Bahouth will be more than 600 miles from Atlanta and his beloved tree houses because he's moving to Washington, D.C., to become the director of the U.S. Climate Action Network. His home is now for sale, and the tree houses are included.

Why did you build these tree houses?

Well, as you can see, we live in a glass house. I bought the available plot of land next to ours for peace of mind and privacy so people couldn't just come up to the house and see inside. But I'm an environmentalist, so I didn't want to cut any of the trees down on the new land. I loved being out here and just hanging around, so I thought of doing something fun that would use the space but also keep the trees as they are.

How long did it take you to build the tree houses?

It took about six months of planning and designing, and then another six weeks to actually build all of them.

Did you build them yourself?

Yeah, me and a crew of guys. Well, actually, I didn't really build them; that was more the crew. I just say I built them because I designed them and paid for it all.

And did you know exactly what you wanted to build or did plans change as the process evolved?

I saw that we had seven big trees right here, so I figured with that we could get three different tree houses and connect them with bridges. We started collecting old windows and doors and wood that we'd find around town and then adjusted them to fit around the trees. The trees actually have a lot more to say about what you can do than you do.

Does each tree house have its own theme, or are they all just for hanging out?

I actually call them "Mind," "Body" and "Spirit." Mind has the desk and candles and chairs, and we use that as a study of sorts. Body has a bed and is kind of used as a guest bedroom. My 85-year-old mother came out to visit last summer and she actually spent the night in the tree house. Then Spirit is just fun to hang out in. It was built on a 135-year-old Southern shortleaf pine and there's a dartboard and a hammock. Occasionally, a hawk or an eagle will even come down while we're sitting here, so that's cool.

How old are the tree houses, and have they ever been damaged?

Let's see, we've been in the house for 10 years, so the tree houses are about eight years old. They've never been damaged at all, but I do replace the rope on the bridges from time to time.

Do you ever entertain out here?

Oh, sure. We've thrown parties and hosted fundraisers out here. We love to do that. It really is a great in-city retreat. We'll have friends over and come out here, and at night surrounded by the trees, it seems like you could be anywhere.

Are you going to leave everything as is when you sell the house?

Yeah, the tree houses come with the house. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about D.C., but I'm definitely going to miss Atlanta and it's going to be really tough to leave all of this behind.


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