The sea of trees is hard to picture now. Where there once stood a line of trees countless years old, there now stands one, the rest wiped out in a 2012 storm that many lake-area residents remember vividly.
Luckily, for Jeff Wock, LeeAnn Heidt and their three young daughters (Riviera, Harmony and Kittson), the tree that still stands tall is home to their family treasure: a treehouse.
In early 2008, Wock and Heidt were looking out at their property. Self-described farm kids from North Dakota, the pair saw a spacious backyard with large trees and plenty of space for little girls to play. With a then 4-year-old (Riviera) already running around and another daughter on the way in the spring (Harmony), a treehouse seemed like the perfect place for their girls to grow up.
“I always felt that this tree was just saying, ‘Do something with me,’ ” Heidt says. “It’s been here for probably hundreds of years and it looked like the perfect place to put a structure.”
Wock, a chiropractor, has a background in construction. He worked various construction jobs to put himself through school, and growing up on a farm helped him learn more about working with his hands than any city kid could ever dream of.
He set out in 2008 to construct an elevated playhouse, and by the time baby Harmony was born, Wock had most of the framing of the treehouse in place. Over the next 10 months or so, the house began to take shape, and by the following year, the home-in-a-tree was mostly complete, save for some tinkering here and there.
(left) Kittson can bring friends and toys into the treehouse in all seasons
(right) Harmony makes her way into the loft area, which is big enough to host a few girlfriends for a sleepover
A trip into the treehouse begins at the base of a tree that looks like it was put on this earth to hold up a miniature house. A winding set of stairs with a handmade railing leads to a front door with a vintage knob. Inside, there’s a little desk for studying, a couch for lounging and a loft just big enough for games, slumber parties and whatever else giggling girls dream up.
Wock estimates the room at around just under 200 square feet of floor space, including the loft. “Where is the treehouse going?” he says, laughing. “I have a few ideas.”
From the day he finished, few changes have been made. An air conditioner has been added. Decorations have come and gone. Toys have been played with and played out.
What hasn’t changed, and what never will change, is what the treehouse means to the family. “The inspiration was just our family,” Wock says. “We just really wanted to be able to hang out and create a fun spot for the kids.”
That’s as true now as it’s ever been. The treehouse is far more than just a play place for the kids. Yes, it hosts slumber parties and play dates, but it also serves as a guesthouse—a gathering spot that’s the backdrop for holiday parties in the winter, barbecues in the summer and Oktoberfest in the fall.
If you were to stumble across the home on a Saturday—any Saturday, really—you’d find the family outside. Time of year doesn’t matter. The kids will be running and playing in the sun, snow or leaves, while Mom and Dad watch. Guests arrive and join the fun. The sun sets and the whole family climbs into the treehouse for one big slumber party.
There are so many stories to tell that Heidt and Wock can’t even pick their favorites. There are the stories that could have ended in tragedy, like Wock almost losing his eye while building the stairs, or the storm that nearly wiped out the whole backyard. Even though disaster might’ve seemed imminent, all stories culminated in happy endings, as if the treehouse and anything in its vicinity have been deemed untouchable by a higher power.
It all sounds too perfect—something that looks like it should be a staged advertisement in this magazine instead of a real family’s life. And somehow, endearingly, the scene lives up to that perfection.
Someday, when the kids get older and move out, it may seem like the house will go unused. That it may begin to decay and crumble. With the way Wock and Heidt talk about the treehouse, it’s hard to see that ever happening. The house was built as much for the parents as it was for the kids. And so it will never go vacant, continuing to bring joy, build relationships and create a safe harbor from the rest of the world.
(top left) Harmony, left, Riviera, middle, and Kittson count the treehouse as their home away from home
(bottom left) Riviera treats the treehouse like a second bedroom, bringing books and games to while away the time