Tereasa & David’s Grown-Up Tree House

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: David Hernandez, Jacob Hand)

Name: Tereasa Surratt & David Hernandez
Location: Camp Wandawega — Elkhorn, Wisconsin
Year built: 2011

There are two kinds of people in the world; those who had a treehouse growing up, and those who wish they had. At the center of the Wandawega Lake Resort, aka ‘Camp Wandawega’, proprietor Teresasa Surratt and some very loyal, talented friends have built a beautiful, adult-sized treehouse that appeals to the kid in all of us.

(Image credit: David Hernandez, Jacob Hand)

The story of the treehouse began when David and Tereasa purchased the Camp Wandawega property. Tereasa’s father, Tom, christened the property by hanging a tree swing on the limb of a big old elm right in the middle of the camp.

Sadly, a year later, Tom passed away, and about the same time the old elm tree contracted Dutch Elm disease. “I was devastated,” Tereasa remembers. “I couldn’t cut that tree down.”Further investigation revealed that even though the branches of the tree were dying, its trunk was still strong. When’s Tereasa’s brother came to cut down the dying tree, she had him trim off the branches instead, leaving the trunk and the lower limbs. Tereasa and David had a dream of someday building a treehouse. Fast-forward a few years, and Tereasa’s friend Angela had an idea – why not build a treehouse at Camp Wandawega? It was serendipitous.

Angela introduced a group of designer/builder friends to sketch up some plans for the treehouse. “I was thinking the ‘american girl’ sort. Maybe a platform. A rope bucket?” Tereasa says. But the team had other ideas.

What followed was a massive group effort and labor of love – the group built the treehouse themselves, contributing thousands of man-hours over a year’s worth of weekends. The finished treehouse has three levels – a deck, a main living area, and an upper level with two sleeping lofts. “It’s not so much a tree house as a cottage on stilts”, Tereasa says. “It’s four telephone posts, set four feet into the ground into concrete pilings, surrounding a tree. It was built to be as sturdy as our city house.”

Tereasa and David named it “Tom’s Treehouse”, in memory of her father. His swing still hangs from one of the branches of the old tree, swaying gently in the breeze.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Cabin chic.

Inspiration: The spirit of creative collaboration. It was an ‘art camp’ project with my friend Angela Finney Hoffman.

Favorite Element: The swing that my late father hung on the limb that still extends out the window.

Biggest Challenge: Working around a tree that had died, saving as much of it as possible, and incorporating it into the design. (I attribute all of the vision to my friends and builders, Shaun Owens Agase, Tyler Peterson, Bladon Conner and Steven Teichelman plus friends.)

What Friends Say: It is everyone’s favorite sport at Camp Wandawega.

Proudest DIY: Making the antler chandelier from sheds found at the camp.

Biggest Indulgence: Reupholstering the sofa. The sofa itself – 1940’s with original barkcloth – was only $100. I had it reupholstered in natural duckcloth at Covers Unlimited.

Dream Sources: Rebuilding Exchange was a significant source of the materials that Stone Blitzer tapped. It’s a treasure trove of recycled lumber and building materials.

Additional questions for Tereasa:

Any advice you would give people who want to build similar projects?: Hire stoneblitzer.com. Don’t attempt it yourself. 🙂 It takes an army. Or at minimum, a colossally talented team of designers / builders.

You used a lot of recycled materials in the making of the treehouse. Were there any unique problems that arose from this?: (From Shaun): When we started developing the basic structure of the treehouse, we had some estimates of the ideal quantities we were hoping to track down. Surprisingly, we were able to find almost exactly what we wanted and then went from there. The siding and windows were being removed from a Cape Cod style house outside of Chicago, the joists are from an old dairy barn in Salem, WI, the cedar decking and a large part of the framing materials were sourced from Rebuilding Exchange, also in Chicago. We essentially built a little stock pile and then picked from it as we went along. Things fell into place pretty well, despite the fact that the plans were rather loose and flexible. Everyone involved was pretty conscious of the fact the material efficiency was an important part of the process.

Were there unique challenges or advantages that were presented by doing a building project this involved with close friends?: Aaalll advantages. It was the most successful, most fulfilling collaborative process imaginable. These folks were so incredibly generous with their time and talents. There are simply no words to express our gratitude to them.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Tereasa’s Team:



Resources of Note:



    • Antler Chandelier: DIY (from sheds found at the camp!)
    • Mason Jar Lamps: DIY, with lamp kits found at Home Depot
    • Vintage Wall Sconce: Ebay
    • Sconces in sleeping lofts: Re-purposed from lamps found at the camp.


    • Rattan Couch: Ark Thrift, Chicago
    • Antique Books: Local Thrift store
    • Custom Dining Table (outside on deck): Steven Teichelman
    • Artwork: Chad Kouri of the PostFamily
    • Coffee Table: Vintage Danish shipping trunk from Elkhorn thrift store
    • Retro ottomans and tapestry bed throw: Post 27 Store
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Want to find out more? Check out the website for Camp Wandawega, and the sites for Tereasa’s two books, A Very Modest Cottage and Found Free and Flea (featuring the tree house).

Learn more about the treehouse at Chicago Home and Garden and the Camp Wandawega Blog.

Thanks, Tereasa and David!

Images: David Hernandez, Jacob Hand

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Re-edited from a post originally published 10.13.11 – AB