A Tree Lounge To Connect with Nature, 40 Feet Up

The question is as obvious as the idea is strange. How do you put a boat in a tree?

Picture the tree house you built—or always wanted to build—as a kid. Then remove the walls and cover the floor with cushions and backrests and you have yourself the adult version. No longer a tree house, but an open air lounge that sets up prime viewing of sunsets and eye-level interactions with birds. Architect Nils Hammerbeck built it.

Nicknamed "das boot," the structure was designed to resemble a boat. Photo by Nils Hammerbeck

In a quiet and verdant Santa Barbara neighborhood, architect Hammerbeck showed me his stunning creation—a structure shaped like a boat that literally, and frighteningly, rocks and sways the way it would in the ocean. I wanted to understand Hammerbeck’s vision for putting a boat in a tree, and feel the trust of allowing thin branches (extremely thin ones, in some places) to support the weight of an elevated family. Climbing between ladders and thin bridges made of living wood, we mounted the tree’s summit, high enough to even see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

“It gets you back to enjoying a unique experience with nature,” Hammerbeck told me, sitting in the California oak that was supporting both of us. No one lives in the tree lounge, nicknamed “Das Boot,” meaning “the boat” in German, as it has no roof. But as a place to get some fresh air and escape, I felt like lingering in the tree to spend the night among owls.

Architecture is about how you feel when you walk into a space, Hammerbeck says.

Building the lounge wasn’t cheap, but Hammerbeck has a vision for assembling lower-cost kits to build more of them for homeowners who see the value of lounging high up. All you’d need are the materials and a stable tree that could support a ton or two. And for at least a few days, an architect willing to swing from branches.

Changing Planet