When you’re a kid, there’s nothing more exciting than owning a treehouse. It’s your one true sanctuary to let imagination run wild with toys, books, games and friends.
But, as a parent looking to build your kids their own backyard treehouse, where do you even begin? Between figuring out the location, making plans, and actually building the thing, there’s a lot to learn.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through a variety of garden treehouse ideas, from house plans to interior design ideas. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll know exactly what you need to start building the ultimate dream treehouse!
5 Tips for Building a Treehouse at Home
Unfortunately, there’s not a cookie-cutter set of instructions when it comes to building a treehouse, as every project ends up being kind of unique. However, there are some handy tips to keep during the planning stage that can help your DIY treehouse build go a lot more smoothly.
Work with the trees, not against them
A study tree is the foundation of any good (and safe) treehouse. In the UK, you might want to look for oak, beech or Douglas-fir – all of which are strong enough to carry a substantial amount of weight. Maps, ash and cedar are good too. Whether you choose an evergreen or deciduous tree is down to what you have available and how leafy you want your treehouse to be!
Your base tree should be mature and healthy, and have a thick trunk of at least 40cm in diameter (that’s the width across the trunk). The strongest branches to support your treehouse will need to be at least eight inches thick. Remember that both the trunk and the branches will widen over time, so plan to leave a two or three inch gap between the tree itself and any platforms or walls that will go around it.
For your kids, a treehouse design should be about having maximum fun. Of course, as a parent, safety is going to secretly be the priority.
The first treehouse safety feature to consider is how high you’re going to build it, especially in comparison to the height of your kids. Pre-teens can handle something a couple of metres off the ground, but it’s safer to keep younger kids at around a metre. It might actually be easier to build a DIY wendy house and raise it up on a platform that you can adjust and increase the height as your children get older.
As a rule, don’t build a platform higher than 2.5 metres off the ground, and make sure it’s got railings that are at least 75cm tall (depending on where you live, this is actually a building regulation). Whatever steps or ladder you build will need rails of some kind too, and it’s not a bad idea to make sure there’s a soft landing beneath your treehouse. Lush grass is fine, a sand pit or rubber mat may also be a good shout – don’t build it above your paved patio or gravel!
Get your kids involved
Yes, we know that the majority of treehouses are built to satisfy the dreams of the parents, not the kids (you can deny it all you want). However, you can turn treehouse-building into a fun family activity, and win yourself some little helpers when it comes to design ideas and decor.
Ask your kids if they want their tree house to be in a specific theme, like if they want it to be a pirate ship or a secret lair. Involve them in every phase of production, from planning to sourcing materials to painting and decorating. After all, on paper, it’s their treehouse.
Don’t just wing it – seriously
It doesn’t matter how creative you are – the fastest route to disappointed kids is to try and wing something as technical as a treehouse. Really, the planning stage will take some level of construction or carpentry skills, so if you really have no idea what you’re doing, it’s time to buy your architect friend a drink or look for other outside help. You can find a lot of inspiration online (with floor plans and build instructions included), but there’s no shame in digging out your wallet and commissioning a professional job
Check your local building regs
Your average treehouse should fall under permitted development, but it never hurts to double check. If you’re going for something more elaborate (or have neighbours that might kick up a fuss) it’s worth contacting the local planning department to make sure you don’t accidentally cross a height or size limit that puts you in planning-permission-required territory.
11 Exciting Garden Treehouse Ideas
Need some inspiration to get started? We’ve put together a shortlist of fun, cosy garden treehouse ideas to help you start thinking up what your own garden treehouse will look like. We’ve divided these into simple ideas and more complicated projects so you can work to your existing level of skill – plus some fun, themed treehouse ideas to get the creativity flowing!
Simple DIY Treehouse Ideas
Let’s start with some attractive garden treehouse ideas that don’t actually require a lot of expertise to build. Yes, you’ll need some DIY savvy, but these relatively straightforward designs won’t require any architectural wizardy to put together. Once you’ve got the basic shape, they can be easily personalised and decorated as a fun family activity.
The classic, boxy treehouse
This is your basic treehouse, modelled after cosy forest cabins. It’s got four walls, a roof, a little porch with railings, and a ladder. If you want to add some fun elements to this classic number, you can add a swing set, a pulley system, or even a slide.
The tree-top lookout platform
Not every treehouse needs walls and a roof, sometimes a high-up platform is enough to give your kids their own little private play-space to exercise their creativity. Plus, the openness makes it easier to keep an eye on whatever mischief your kids are getting up to.
If you’re going to build a kind of open fort like this, it’s super important to have railings around the outside. The rustic fencing shown in the picture is pretty, but I might also suggest giving it a solid skirting board to prevent toys rolling off the edge.
Learn how to make your own DIY tree fort via Instructables‘ deck-style tree house plans. If you’re looking for a smaller tree fort for little tots, you can check out how this Florida couple built theirs, complete with a rope ladder, rock climbing grips, and a water balloon launcher.
The roof-top terrace
Similar to the tree-top lookout, this kind of outdoor play space is more of a platform than a full-on house… and, to be fair, it’s not even in the trees. However, if you’re a DIY novice with an existing flat roof, you might just be able to convince your kids this is an acceptable alternative.
Worst case scenario, this looks like a pretty cool spot to hang out and have a beer with your buddies!
A mini stilt-house
Here’s another design with smaller children in mind. Again, technically it’s a little playhouse on stilts that’s next to trees, but building it closer to the ground makes it much safer for energetic little ones while still giving them a “treehouse” to play in.
Integrating other outdoor play equipment – like a slide, swing or sandbox also makes the treehouse a more exciting garden addition for your kids. A little hideaway like this can also double up as outdoor toy storage. Take a look at similar plans with The Handmade Home.
4 Advanced Treehouse Ideas
For more adventurous households, here are four fun tree houses you can try to build as a family.
The playground treehouse
This fun-filled tree house is more than just a hideaway, it’s a full playground, complete with slides, a swing set, and even monkey bars. If you’re looking for ways to tire out little ones, this kind of treehouse could be the centrepiece to a crazy, obstacle-course area of your garden.
The camp-out treehouse
Something your children are definitely going to learn from TV and movies is that the treehouse is the perfect place for a sleepover. And it is… but only if you’ve built it to be warm and weatherproof. This tiny cabin looks totally snug – from the cosy blankets to the coloured fairy lights.
When it comes to garden camping in the treehouse, a solid roof is essential. Clear plastic is a good choice though – as you can see, it lets plenty of light in and makes the interior feel much closer to nature than your average bedroom. Windows are also going to take some skill to install, but will make a huge difference in keeping the heat in.
The combination treehouse
Feeling handy with that hammer? Incorporating several of these ideas into one design – like this treehouse with real windows and a gorgeous look-out deck – is really the secret to treehouse longevity. Even if it begins it’s life filled with kids’ toys, can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be itching to claim it as your man-cave or she-shed when the kids grow out of it?
The double-decker treehouse
Another challenging ideas: try your hand at connecting two, multi-level houses. This is especially effective if you live on a hill and could snag a good view of your surroundings (but do be sensitive to neighbours that might value their privacy)! Connecting two treehouses could be done with a ladder, rope-bridge, slide or sturdy net.
Check out Be A Fun Mum’s house plans for this awesome two-tiered DIY tree house.
3 Themed Garden Treehouse Ideas
At a certain age, children tend to obsess over their favourite things, whether it’s pirates, outer space or fairy-tale castles. Getting creative with your garden treehouse ideas is a playful way to bring their little fantasy world to life.
The pirate ship treehouse
You could go one of two routes here. The simplest option is to build a fairly regular treehouse, but give it some fun nautical elements – porthole windows, a flag pole, a big ship wheel, etc. Alternatively… If you’re feeling really bold, you could go all out and build an actual pirate ship among the trees, complete with an anchor on a pulley, a crow’s nest lookout, sails, and net ladders.
If you’re building a pirate-inspired hideout, you can learn to build one with these tree house plans on Instructables. If you’re looking to build something a lot more ship-like, check out this tutorial for a super realistic pirate ship treehouse. The link in the image caption also has some ideas!
The Spaceship Treehouse
If your kid is obsessed with all things space, you can also build a spaceship treehouse. While you can always paint a wooden treehouse a metallic grey, you could also repurpose old (but not rusted) water tanks or grain silos. Their shape and metallic material make for much more realistic ships.
For design elements, don’t forget to add thrusters, a control panel, and fins. For space-themed decor and activities, fill the treehouse with a telescope, a “moon rock” examination station (magnifying glass, microscope, brushes), and a “communication station” (walkie-talkies).
The castle treehouse
Whether your kid wants to run around on a hobby horse, battling over the land, or would prefer to play in their finery while lording it up on their throne, a castle treehouse can help their dream come true.
Extra activities can include creating their very own coat of arms to hang up the castle doors, and upcycling an old wooden chairs into a throne! While you’re at it, keep an eye out at car boot sales for rustic furniture and tableware that would look medieval to a role-playing little one.
As long as there’s the outdoor space and, ideally, a couple of solid trees, you’ve already got the perfect foundations for a treehouse. For children, having a treehouse gives them a magical hideaway where they can let their imagination run free and a special place to make great memories with their siblings and friends. Plus, if you build it right, you can move in when they move out!