A Visit to the Free Spirit Spheres

A Visit to the Free Spirit Spheres

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Faith Durand
Aug 4, 2009

This summer my husband and I took a trip to the Pacific Northwest, with stops in Seattle and Vancouver. But our final stop was the most anticipated and, in the end, by far the most restorative. We stayed in a Free Spirit treehouse for two nights. It was a peaceful, hushed experience, surrounded by the forest and nestled into a perfectly designed space. Here's a peek inside these tiny, handcrafted nests.

Tom Chudleigh and Rosey Cowan live just outside Qualicum Beach, BC — a hamlet on the upper east coast of Vancouver Island. To get there you take a ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo or Victoria, and drive up the coast for an hour or two. It's a rainwashed island, with magenta spikes of foxglove lining the highways and mountains that loom up before the road. Just the drive up to Qualicum Beach was peaceful and refreshing after the hustle bustle of Vancouver and Seattle.

Tom started building the spheres because he had always dreamed of treehouses and spaces where man could live in nature without taking down the trees first. He says that he was inspired to "live in and among the trees and to use them for a foundation." He wanted to find a way of living that meant cooperating with trees and helping keep them healthy in a good ecosystem.

So he and Rosey moved to this land on Vancouver Island where he has a workshop (seen above, with a new sphere in process) and where they've set up a cozy, welcoming little camp for visitors who want to experience the treehouses for themselves. We were met on our arrival by Tom, who welcomed us with a big basket of goodies from Rosey. (They say they don't provide breakfast but this lavish basket was more than enough for two mornings of good breakfast!)

We stayed in the smaller, and oldest, of the two spheres on the property: Eve. Tom laughs when he talks about Eve; "I did everything wrong at first!" he said. He had to learn, slowly, about crafting a spherical space and how to make everything work together. But now you can clearly see the warmth and thoughtful details that years of work left in this little cabin.

We loved the handmade details, like the homemade bedding, and the Free Spirit symbol carved into the door and the table.

Everything is thought through: There is a cover on the bed so it can become a couch by day, and there is space underneath to put muddy shoes. (You get really muddy in this part of the world!) There are nooks and cubbies everywhere. Here's a look at just a few of the photos we took:

TOP ROW
1 Suspended in the trees.
2 Eve and Eryn.
3 The door has a heavy copper latch and feels like something from a boat.
4 A first look inside.
5 A drawer or a cubby for everything.

SECOND ROW
6 A delicious and hospitable snack basket!
7 One of Eve's two large windows.
8 Reading by the window.
9 Morning coffee. The Spheres are wired for power and sound, so we could prepare coffee with the kettle and press, and eat breakfast all without leaving in the morning. So tranquil!
10 A favorite detail (and great small space reminder): a surprisingly roomy shelf that went around the top of the ceiling. This was a good spot for books and bags.

THIRD ROW
11 Eryn, the larger and newer of the two spheres.
12 We peeked inside Eryn; it has a small extra loft bed and would be more comfortable for two people.
13 A look at the Spheres' support systems. They're securely lashed to several trees around them, and neither Sphere swayed nearly as much as we expected.
14 There is a composting outhouse at the foot of the Spheres. The very tall vent pipe means there is absolutely no odor; it's the nicest outhouse we've ever seen!
15 There are regular bathrooms around the pond, with two bathrooms, a deck, a small kitchen, and a grill.

BOTTOM ROW
16 A lovely pond at the center of the property.
17 Eve's guestbook.
18 Tom's workshop, with a bigger, better sphere in progress.
19 A peek inside the newest sphere.
20 We'll be back next year!

My husband and I had been looking forward to this short stay in a Sphere as a novelty, and a getaway from the city. But it turned out to be so much more than that. The strongest impression we got from the weekend was hospitality -- we didn't feel like customers; we felt like guests in Tom and Rosey's small sanctuary of peace in the woods. Every detail was simple yet thoughtful, and the Spheres themselves were beautifully designed yet plain and more geared to comfort than to showiness. They inspired us to live listening a little more closely to nature in our own spaces back home, and to think of ways to use our own small spaces better.

We really can't think of a better place to relax, unwind, get back in touch with slow, sun-filled days and the sounds of the trees. If that sounds a little romanticized, well yes, it is. We all need a getaway like that from time to time, wouldn't you agree? If you're within a reasonable distance of Free Spirit Spheres (or even if you're not) I can't recommend it enough.

Free Spirit Spheres

Related: Escape to the Woods: 5 Fantastic Treehouses

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