Living on a tree

Living on a tree

for the adventurous

Tree for company Meyn’s treehouse is anchored to an old mulberry tree.(TREVOR TONDRO/nyt)

“I think everyone has this special place in their brain – a primal nostalgia – for a treehouse,” said Alexandra Meyn, bundled up in a sweater on a recent afternoon inside the airy perch she built behind her garden apartment in Brooklyn. “People’s eyes light up when you tell them you have a treehouse.” Secured to a solid old mulberry, Meyn’s treehouse conjures up childhood only if you were a really cool kid.

The interior is covered in a collage made from the pages of fashion magazines; an electrical cord that stretches from her bedroom powers a string of lights and a record player. There also are pink bats on the wall, and glass windows that dangle on the ground-floor level like earrings. When she completed the house six weeks ago, Meyn invited friends over for a masquerade party. “It’s fun to have people up here and talk, talk, talk,” she said. But its construction also reflects adult realities – like her desire for a retreat from the hardscrabble surroundings of her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood.

And the reason she poured her creative energy into such a quixotic structure in the first place: Since graduating from Pratt Institute in May 2011 with a degree in interior design, she has been unable to find an internship or a job. “I decided to create my own,” said Meyn, 33, who seems determined to remain upbeat even as she continues to send resumes into the ether.

By building the treehouse, Meyn thought she could teach herself some practical design skills, and indeed she has. Working with a $400 budget, she learned to source materials on the cheap, finding doors and windows in the trash and buying the floorboards, paint and other items at Build It Green, a nonprofit organisation in Queens that sells inexpensive reclaimed supplies.

Mix of many styles

Meyn also learned to balance an ambitious blueprint with reality, which meant building the 17-foot-tall treehouse on a sturdy, raised platform instead of suspending it from the tree’s trunk, as she had initially planned. “Since it’s my first one, it’s a little blocky for me, aesthetically,” she said of the conventional, boxlike dimensions.

“But I put safety first.” There were other lessons, too – trickier things like how to get around the city building-permit requirement (make the treehouse just small enough so that it qualifies as recreation space) and how to create sightlines that ensure her privacy when she sleeps in the house on summer nights. “I’m not an exhibitionist,” she said. “I don’t have that voyeuristic thing, either.”

As for enlisting a construction crew, Meyn discovered another truth: “It’s hard for people to say no when you say, ‘I’m building a treehouse, man.” The idea of building a treehouse was suggested to her a year ago last summer as a way to brighten her spirits, when she was hanging out with friends, fretting about job prospects.

Soon after, Meyn, who calls New Orleans home and displays that city’s offbeat spiritualism and love of festivity, held what she described as a tree-blessing party. “There was this really special hand-sewn ribbon that had been given to me,” she said, “and I wrapped it around the tree with sunflowers, and we all gave a toast to the tree.” She checked out a few treehouse websites, read a book outlining the basics and had the frame up and a roof on by October 2010.

This past summer Meyn completed the detail work: creating the wall collages; building a recessed light box for a small shrine; fixing the hinge of a French door so it swings out instead of in. The cobbled-together structure is a mix of wood and tin, sleek and rough-hewn surfaces, refined and bohemian elements.

It’s a style that reflects Meyn’s personality, said Jason Holmes, a friend who is a carpenter and helped with the construction. He called it “Southern funkiness.” “There’s an aesthetic in New Orleans that’s rustic and funky and weathered in a way that you only see in a warmer climate,” Holmes said.

“It’s the same aesthetic I see in Alexandra’s work and her treehouse.”Meyn’s treehouse may be funky, but it’s proven to be sturdy, too, standing up to a tornado and last December’s blizzard.

In recent weeks, she has made the 40-square-foot space waterproof and airtight, and plans to use it as a painting studio this winter. “It’s a pride issue,” she said.

“It’s one thing to say I have a treehouse; it’s another to say I have a space that’s protected from the elements.” Meanwhile, Meyn continues to look for a job that will allow her to design larger projects. But while she waits, she said, “having the treehouse helps a lot.”