Novice Carpenter Builds a Secret, Illegal Tree House on Crown Land in Canada

© Joel Allen

Joel Allen didn't expect to end up building a secret cabin on land he didn't own in British Columbia. First he thought he would work in software (that didn't work out), then he retired at the age of 26 (didn't work out either). After befriending a self-taught carpenter, Allen was inspired to go into the field himself. He headed to Whistler, north of Vancouver, lived out of his car and looked for work.

Allen spent a lot of time in the woods, and realized he wanted his own hideaway. Working with architect friends, he designed an egg-shaped tree house. After a two month search for the perfect tree, he found his spot, on publicly owned Crown land- not quite legal, but who would know?

© Joel Allen

Construction began in the fall of 2008, accompanied by bear sightings and lots of lost tools. Allen learned as he went. After spending $6,500 of his own money, he discovered he could find free building materials on Craigslist - he estimates that what he claimed was worth $10,000.

In July 2010, Allen finally finished the project, dubbing it the HemLoft. He and his girlfriend Heidi added furniture and made it their idyllic summer home- away from it all, but close enough to town for an occasional shopping trip and espresso.

Pushed by a friend to explain why he spent years and a small fortune building a secret tree house, Allen got to the bottom of it:

It seemed too simple, but it was true. The driving force behind the whole thing was a simple, yet inexorable desire to build something cool. There were no practical motives or profound meanings.

© Joel Allen

Allen first revealed the HemLoft to the public in a piece for Dwell magazine, and it wasn't long before word spread. That, however, brings a new problem: Allen doesn't have the right to build on Crown land. The HemLoft's best protection is secrecy- and if it's found, it could all end. He's considering trying to buy the land the tree sits on, making it a public camp site, or even using it as a geo-caching location.

It's unclear what the forest home's fate will be, but it's a terrific story, for now at least.

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© Joel Allen

© Joel Allen

© Joel Allen

Tags: Architects | Architecture | Canada

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