“When I was 6 years old, I was like every kid. I had a treehouse,” says Atlantan Peter Bahouth. “It was your territory. You set the rules. Nobody told you what to do. Mine was just a board and branch. But I would sit up there and think, ‘If I could make my own treehouse, it would be great.’” It’s a precocious pipe dream that most of us outgrow and forget about in the flurry of forming our families and careers, but Bahouth remembered, and he made it reality. As the current Executive Director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, Bahouth spends his time shuttling between the D.C. headquarters and home office of his mostly glass home. Yes, Bahouth lives in a glass house. But once you get outside of it, if you do throw a stone, it will likely land on one of his three whimsical treehouses.
Shortly after moving in in 1996, the former Director of Greenpeace realized he needed a little more privacy than his transparent home could offer. So he purchased the wooded lot next door as a makeshift privacy hedge, and the rest is history. Having helped preserve forests from British Columbia, to the Alaskan tundra, to the great sequoias of the Northwest, environmental concerns underly Bahouth’s every move. But when he bought the lot, all he knew for sure was that he didn’t want to cut down any trees. He can’t quite remember why the realization came to him, but in 2000, he decided to build a few treehouses on that spot. After much imagining and many creative contributions from friends, he found the perfect match in local builder Nick Hobbs, who was able to bring his lofty visions to life.
He and Hobbs were lucky. The lot contained a trio of nearly equidistant trees perfect for an arboreal retreat. The rustic structures, which took six months to design and six weeks to build, exist in stark contrast to Bahouth’s modern house next door. Foundations of strong floor slabs and self-adjusting brackets were topped with heaps of discarded materials—side-of-the-road castoffs, salvaged restaurant doors, even 80-year-old windows gathered from a Masonic temple in South Carolina. Bahouth visited his neighborhood salvage shop almost daily, picking out ancient panes for the walls. Letting the site—and happenstance—dictate how the houses would evolve has made them beautiful, with butterfly windows routinely cracked open like Bahama shutters.
“Mind,” “Body,” and “Spirit,” as he christened the houses, have personalities all their own. The first you enter, Mind, indeed stimulates the intellect as a place to gather and discuss ideas. A corner shelf is stacked with meaningful objects, while a leather chair, wicker love seat and rustic coffee table hold court beneath a leaf-motif light fixture. They’re flea market finds, Bahouth explains—as a child, his mother took him antiquing in upstate New York, so he’s always had an eye. From here, you step out onto the mini veranda to take in the scenery (there’s a bubbling creek), breathe deeply, and realize you could be anywhere—not just Georgia.
“I love it when people come up here. They’re unrestrained,” Bahouth explains. “People say things they wouldn’t say on the ground. They tell jokes they wouldn’t normally tell. It’s like international law, as if you’re out at sea, and it’s a free-for-all.”
The second treehouse, Body, is an enchanting bedroom filled with original art (Bahouth is active in the Atlanta art community and an artist himself), mirrored-glass furniture, and a platform bed that rolls out under the tree canopy. “Spending the night out here is amazing,” he assures. “You get the best sleep, and you wake up in the morning to the birds going crazy.” His mother has also spent a night here among the trees.
The third house, Spirit, is a round platform high above the forest floor, surrounding an imposing short leaf pine tree Bahouth says has been here since the Civil War. Stalwart and perfectly straight, it’s the tallest thing in view, and when the sun goes down, it’s the last thing the light touches: “Like a beacon. It’s gorgeous,” he enthuses.
Strapped with a hammock for lazy afternoons and a bull’s eye for blow darts, it’s easy to imagine Bahouth and his wife, Katie, corralling around the gathering spot with friends, clinking bottles of beer and telling stories late into the night. Oh, and if you ask Bahouth, nighttime is the best part. Strung with miniature white lights and linked by ship-rope bridges, the treehouses sit like train cars against the thickly vegetated backdrop. Magical.
It’s like going on a vacation 50 feet from your house, Bahouth explains, adding that it’s one of the best benefits of living in Atlanta. “I love being out in nature without having to go too far. I mean, I love the trees.”