Bobthe Handyman

The Press Democrat


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July 1, 2015, 1:05PM


Three years ago when the Zechowy family planned a move to a new home in northeast Santa Rosa, their oldest child, Mia, who was 10 at the time, wasn’t exactly thrilled. “I didn’t take well to moving,” said Mia. Though the move would only take her 3 miles away, her best friend lived across the street, so the situation was hardly ideal.

How do you get your 10-year-old on board with a move? Her parents, Jill and Stefan, made a deal with her: Embrace the move and they would build Mia and her brother, David, then 6, a treehouse.

A deal is a deal. Mia reminded them of their agreement after the move, and Mom and Dad kept their promise, but it wasn’t so difficult. (Neither parent had a treehouse while growing up and now was their chance.)


It was a win-win situation. Besides that, Jill liked the idea of Mia and David having a place of their own outdoors. “There are so many activities and structures in place for kids today,” Jill said. “I wanted them to be a part of nature, and have a place where they could have fun without electronics and WiFi.”

And that was the beginning of the Zechowy family treehouse project.


Stefan purchased how-to books to research the subject. What he discovered was that it was more complicated than nailing boards together. You had to consider leaving enough room for trees to grow, for example, and allowing the tree the house is built around room to sway during a windstorm. Then there was the matter of safety. Jill gave considerable thought to how her children and their friends might behave in a treehouse; wrestling, sleepwalking and general boisterous play came to mind.

Good grief. What’s a parent to do?


The Zechowys turned to a professional. They hired Bob Lieberman, who has 10 years of formal construction experience and has been the family’s trusted family handyman for the past 13 years.

Though Jill had originally envisioned a simple treehouse structure, now that Lieberman was involved, the project started to evolve. “Mia and I wanted something interesting,” Jill said. “We looked at the trees and waited for inspiration.” They considered various design possibilities, such as circular and figure-eight structures, but finally settled on an octagonal-shaped structure, built around two trees, with a rope-ladder entrance.


Once the design was in hand, Lieberman started building. He used Douglas fir to build the support structure, which is the same material used to build a house, and redwood to frame the treehouse and cedar shingles. Redwood is resistant to dry rot, he said. There’s a “bridge” that connects to another tree and is constructed with four-foot rails to prevent accidental falls, and thick acrylic panels offer a wooded view


Lieberman left a 3-inch clearance around the trees to allow for growth and movement. “When the trees really sway in the wind, it’s exciting,” Jill said.


The result is a 117-square-foot dream of a treehouse, nestled among a grove of trees on their property and looking as if it belongs there. There were some unplanned tweaks along the way, too, adding to its charm. “There’s an extra space at the entrance to scoot in,” said David, who demonstrates how this is done.

For Lieb

erman, the treehouse project was a first. “It’s the most beautiful and rewarding structure I’ve built,” he said.

As for the Zechowy family, it’s become a welcome haven for everyone. Mia and David hang out with friends there. David likes to bring oranges to the treehouse to snack on, and Mia once had a treehouse sleepover with friends. “The sleepover was fun,” she said. “But in the morning, squirrels attacked us. They were dropping stuff on us,” she said with a smile. Jill and David sometimes escape to the treehouse to spend time together, and Jill enjoys going there to read.


The Zechowys added two small tables and chairs in the treehouse this spring. A lantern roped around one tree near the tables offers light with a battery-operated candle. They’re planning to add a pulley from the backyard to send food to the treehouse in a basket, and possibly a desk for writing.


The treehouse was built to last a long time, and Lieberman stained the structure to preserve it. “It should last 20 years,” he said. And while Jill and Stefan are probably enjoying the treehouse as much as their kids, they hope their children’s outdoor adventures among the trees will last a lifetime. Meanwhile, the Zechowy family sometimes enjoys Sunday night dinners in their treehouse haven. Said Jill: “I enjoy being with my family away from responsibilities and electronics — there’s no TV, phone calls or texting in the treehouse. We’re just together. These are the memories I want to keep.”