Interview with Dustin Feider – Founder of O2 Treehouses
By Kenneth Kiesnoski for Global Treehouses.
Global Treehouses: How did you get interested in treehouses?
Dustin Feider: For my senior thesis, I focused on how man has become separated from nature in a visceral, experiential way throughout the ages. Through my investigations, I discovered what led to this disconnect. My works sought interpretations of these dynamics through various mediums.
I was graduating the Furniture Design program from MCAD [Minneapolis College of Art and Design] at the time but much of my work was based upon the function of experience through installation art rather than more utilitarian concerns.
I began thinking about how we connect to nature on a day-to-day basis and what most of these experiences are like. Our contact with nature exists on a limited basis, spending most of our time in man-made environments and when we are exposed, most of the time it ends up being surface level. So often my best thinking and moments of clarity come with a deeper sense of connectedness to the natural world. It was only after a brief conversation with a friend, when we were reflecting on old treehouse memories growing up, that it clicked that designing a treehouse would be an incredible design challenge, as well as address a lot of the things I was thinking about.
The concept grew organically from here, deciding on specific attributes the structure would have; these limitations revealed the geodesic as the best form to start with. After the first structure was completed, my vision grew further to start O2 Treehouses. I saw these things being built DIY by fathers across the US, as well as tailoring some of our custom work for ecotourism.
Global Treehouses: What is it about treehouses that appeals to you?
Feider: Treehouses, and O2 Treehouses specifically, offer one a fully nature-immersed experience from a new perspective. It is this I feel is missing from most people’s lives. It takes a bit of effort to get up into the treehouse; it’s this effort that makes being in a treehouse special. There is intention in the act of the entry and once your there it is a bit like being in a temple. Whether you’re working on your laptop or doing yoga, the experience is, literally and figuratively, heightened.
Global Treehouses: How much time do you spend in treehouses?
Feider: Not enough. When I am not on an install or traveling, I spend a lot of my time in my home office and exist between here and the shop. At some point I will have my own treehouse office in the Red Woods.
Global Treehouses: Do you find inspiration in other, older types of treehouses or other kinds of architecture?
Feider: I am greatly inspired by Chuck Hobberman’s work and transformable architecture. I am also inspired by the work of artist designers like Mitchell Joachim, Marc Newsom, and furniture design of Vitra. Of course Bucky Fuller and holistic thinking.
Global Treehouses: How and when did O2 Treehouse get started?
Feider: I started the company in 2005. It was a very slow process at first. The company is bootstrapped, so I worked on designs, marketing, etc., when I had the time. I got my first actual client build [at the] end of 2005 in California.
Global Treehouses: Who’s your typical client? Is there a typical client?
Feider: There is no typical client. Sometimes it’s a youth organization and sometimes it’s an extravagant client in Hollywood. Many want a treehouse for different reasons. Most of the builds are intended for kids but I feel my structures are most suited to “adults,” but all of the clients are kids at heart.
Global Treehouses: What are some of the uses treehouses are most suited to?
Feider: Well, just like architecture it depends on the building. The most general statement I could make is anything you can pull off in a single room. It’s a lot like the cabin of a boat. You can live, work,or play there. Treehouses are most suited for any activity you are currently doing in your house that you want to make way better.
Global Treehouses: How much does one of your typical treehouses cost? Is this a pursuit solely of the well-off, or is treehouse ownership, or access, available to a broader swathe of the community?
Feider: I try and provide for both; some of our predesigned models are modular and can be switched out for material options. This allows for a lot of flexibility in the budget. If you want something luxury, then we can do a custom design as well. Structures start [at] around $5,000 for a full kit but we do custom treehouse plans for much less than this for the DIY-er.
Global Treehouses: Building or owning a treehouse might to render someone a “treehugger” in the eyes of the average person. But is it possible to build a house or space in a treetop, intruding on nature in a way, and still be a conservationist? What steps do you take to ensure, or work toward, eco-sensitivity?
Feider: We collaborate with professional arborists to make sure that we are well informed of each new species that we build in. For instance, we couldn’t build in a certain type of pine in California because, should the bark or branch be punctured and the sap revealed, a certain type of invasive beetle would infest the tree. I’ts these type of concerns that we must watch out for. All of my installations to date use a cabling system that does not puncture the surface of the tree, staying the cable away from the branch via small wooden blocks. The cables can be shifted throughout the life of the treehouse to ensure zero impact for the most principled conservationist or can be left to eventually be encompassed via the growth of the branch. You can read more about this technique on our website. I am also experimenting with a new type connection hardware facilitating cabling techniques.
Global Treehouses: Have you seen a lot of growth in interest in treehouses in the U.S. and abroad?
Feider: Yeah, it’s been exciting to be a part of this growing world interest. Of course, treehouses have been around for ever; now, every time I search the web I find a new company or treehouse structure. I’m not sure if there are more out there or if more people [are] sharing their creations via easy online sharing platforms. Probably a bit of both.