A treehouse for grown-up daydreams

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. — What grown-up wouldn’t want their own treehouse? It can be a private place to escape to with the birds, a special spot to relax and daydream.

All you need is the right tree — and the imagination to build that little elevated space.

In the backyard of their El Dorado Hills home, Steve and Shelly Lange have no shortage of trees or imagination, along with first-rate carpentry and construction skills. Their fantasy treehouse rests in a massive heritage oak — 75 square feet of heaven nestled above a backyard to match.

“I’ve always wanted a treehouse,” said Shelly on a deck 25 feet above the ground.

For the second time, the Langes’ home was recently featured on the popular Gardens of the Hills tour that showcases private gardens in El Dorado Hills. With its tropical look and inventive fountains, their backyard was an immediate fan favorite, say the tour organizers.

The treehouse is one of several additions since the Gardens of the Hills tour debuted in 2013.

“Right after the tour, Steve was standing out here on the deck, looking at that oak,” Shelly recalled. “I asked him what he was up to, and he said he was thinking about adding a treehouse. That’s how it started.”

The couple already had a thatched tiki bar worthy of a Hawaiian hotel and a series of trickling water features that dazzle the eye while soothing the soul.

Inspired by designs seen on the Animal Planet series “Treehouse Masters,” Steve got to work. A retired firefighter, he turns used wine barrels into a wide range of whimsical and creative furnishings. The treehouse gave him more opportunity to use his saws and skills.

“I watched that show and I thought, ‘I think I can do this,’” he said. “I had it all worked out in my head. Then we put it together, one piece at a time.”

As with almost all their projects, the couple did the work themselves. For the treehouse, Steve curved beams into an enchanting cottage roof. A fallen pine branch became deck railings. Salvaged windows and glass doors set sideways fill the tiny house’s walls and interior with light. Just below the roofline, a row of vintage stained-glass panes creates a nonstop rainbow. A rope suspension bridge ties the treehouse to a redwood deck.

“Two cables rated 1,500 pounds each are under the bridge,” Steve explained. “I know it won’t break.”

The treehouse deck is big enough for three or four people to sit and sip; a pulley delivers beers in a bucket from the bar. Inside, a day bed invites naps. A sound system provides just the perfect background music for sweet dreams.

“We have full electrical out here,” said Shelly, a hair stylist and photographer. “You can bring your laptop out here if you want to. This is where I have my coffee every morning.”

Where some home owners may see only problems, the Langes find opportunity. Two decades ago, they started with a small deck and plain slab patio in a severely sloped weed-filled backyard. They turned that suburban challenge into this fantasy oasis.

Heritage oaks — including the tree with the mini-house — form the canopy of their private tropical retreat.

Need time for reflection? That’s where Shelly’s “wall of mirrors” comes in handy. One fence is filled with garage-sale framed mirrors, creating a glittery mosaic of light in the shadows.

The inspiration? Shelly wanted to brighten up a spot in heavy shade. The mirrors proved a fun solution.

After a retaining wall recently fell down, the Langes replaced it with a “wall of windows,” another visual pun. More than a dozen vintage windows now stand in for the former fence. The windows lead to a claw-foot bathtub turned into a recirculating fountain. In another corner, an old cabinet became a fun fountain with water trickling down from drawer to drawer.

When the weather gets hot, the Langes take a dip in their spa-size “people pond,” another kind of watering hole.

A series of decks stair-steps down the hillside with fern-lined niches and flowering shrubs. Hummingbirds create a constant buzz around six bird feeders.

“We go through 25 pounds of sugar a week,” Steve said. “We get as many as 50 hummers at a time.”

One deck holds a queen-size wrought-iron bed, perched with a view of the hillsides. For the Langes, the backyard has become so comfortable, it’s where they spend much of their time together now.

“Seven months a year, that’s where we sleep,” Shelly said. “I just love sleeping outside.”