There's no better job for a guy with his head in the clouds than days spent in the treetops. Though, if you spend more than five minutes with Pete Nelson, you'll realize he's not just a dreamer—even if his career started that way, with a wild idea he just couldn't shake. The man is always on the move, taking calls, sketching designs, planning out new projects. It's how his team builds a tiny house in the sky every two weeks—and manages to do so while filming his hit Animal Planet show, .
"I've got ADHD, so you've got that 'hyper' in there. I've gotta do something, or I'll get bored," he says, shifting from one foot to the other.
We're standing in the middle of a field in South Newfane, VT, where he's just wrapped filming season 11 of his show and putting the finishing touches on a special, A-frame treehouse for his cameraman, Steve Bowler. Pete's about to give us a tour—which you can see in the video above—right before he takes a few calls to check on his other projects in the works. (The team built 23 treehouses last year, and they're on track to do the same this year.) He's already changed into board shorts and flip flops, ready to sneak in a trip to a local watering hole—because hey, it's 94 degrees outside—before packing up and heading to visit a friend in Massachusetts that night.
At this point, one thing's for sure: With Pete around, there's never a dull moment. As we bound up the stairs to get a first look at the latest build, the Treehouse Master got candid about how he got his start, what it really takes to build his OTT homes, and the biggest thing he's learned about himself after 31 years in the business.
One Wild Dream Shaped Pete's Career.
"I decided this could be a career way early. It was 1987—I had an all-night brainer. This was one of those nights where I couldn't sleep, I was so excited," Pete says.
He had an economics degree and was a carpenter by trade, and he'd realized he needed to specialize his skills to really build a business. He'd loved treehouses since his father built one for him in their New Jersey backyard when he was five. Suddenly, he wondered, what if he made full-scale versions grownups could enjoy too? What if that was his thing?
Pete stayed up that night, furiously sketching out ideas. With his wife's support, he decided to see if there was a market for these treetop homes, and as thankful as he is that it all worked out, it wasn't until recently that he found the words to express why, he thinks, treehouses really took off.
"When you follow your bliss—this Joseph Campbell idea—go where you love, and I'm adjusting this a bit. Poor Anthony Bourdain, who's no longer with us, had some great words to add to this, which was not just go with your bliss, but go with your gift," he explains. "You really have to work at it. It's a gift, perhaps, but you really have to exploit that gift."
That meant pounding the pavement, hustling—and yes, building ground houses as he built up interest in treehouses.
Still, You're Probably Wondering, But Why Treehouses?!
"Treehouses are magic," he says. "They bring back that sort of time of innocence in most of our lives."
He wanted to capture that nostalgic feeling and that whimsy. It helped him stand out from other builders, sure, but it also helped people reconnect with their fun-loving side.
Eventually, Pete Opened His Own Treehouse Resort.
As his business grew, in 2006, Pete and his wife opened , an overnight retreat center in Fall City, WA. It was a place where people who may not have the budget—or acreage—for their own treehouse could get a taste of that life. (Since then, he's opened in Utopia, TX.)
It Took Some Convincing To Get Him To Do TV.
Pete's timing was perfect. Though treehouses have always been popular, his getaways started gaining notoriety right as the tiny house movement started to take off, and in 2011, his business garnered the interest of a Los Angeles-based production company. At first, he had zero interest in being on TV. He didn't want the drama.
"I've seen these reality shows, and you all fight, and it's fake, and I hate it," he says.
They promised Pete the show wouldn't be like that. After some back and forth, he agreed to film what would become Treehouse Masters. And 11 seasons in, he's been loving every second of it.
"We're building forts, for crying out loud. It's hard to fight—we might argue over little things, but how can you have that kind of drama?" Pete says. The show may be low drama, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining—a fact proven from the start, when it became Animal Planet's in its debut season.
He's A Rockstar In The Treehouse World.
Even in a secluded field in Vermont, where cell phone signal is spotty, it's not long before someone slowly approaches Pete. "My daughter's a huge fan of yours. Can I get a picture?" he asks.
Pete grins broadly. "What did I tell you?" he asks me. Moments earlier, he mentioned that he's always stunned when he gets asked for photos or autographs, though the funny thing is, it's never for the person asking. "It's usually for their kids, or their parents or someone," he'd mentioned. This time, he just laughs, gamely posing for photos and chatting the man up about his daughter's favorite episodes.
That's the thing about Treehouse Masters. Yes, it's a show about construction and renovation, but it draws in fans of all ages. Part of it, sure, is the whimsy of seeing a beyond-your-wildest-dreams treehouse come together. But a bigger part is Pete's passion for what he does. It's infectious, captivating audiences and his own coworkers, like Steve the cameraman.
Steve's parents were retiring, and they planned on opening a bed and breakfast in Vermont. After years filming Treehouse Masters, Steve floated the idea of building one on the property. His family was in, and it took zero convincing from Pete to get on board, too.
They got to work, and in just a few weeks, the '70s-inspired A-frame house was built, right over the family's pond. It's the first of what will be a few treehouse rentals on the property, aptly named the . Starting this month, you'll be able to book a night's stay in the very a-frame Pete designed.
Check out the video above to get a tour of the house, and tune in to Treehouse Masters on Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. EST to get an in-depth look at what it took to bring it to life.
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