The Climb

Photographs by Thomas Loof

Roderick Wolgamott Romero, owner of Romero Studios, makes the kind of tree houses that the Swiss Family Robinson would have lived in had they washed up on the shores of the Hamptons instead of the East Indies.

Take, for instance, the two eye-popping tree houses he recently completed in Southampton for a family of five. It all started with the Nest, a double-decker structure with levels perched 23 and 32 feet high that resembles two massive birds’ aeries overlooking Lake Agawam. It was designed, says Romero, “so that no one would understand what kind of bird built it. You’d wonder if a pterodactyl made it.”

Soon after the Nest was completed (for around $75,000), the family wanted another custom outdoor dwelling. This time, they commissioned a tree house they could enjoy year-round. The result is JEM House, a 250-square-foot cabin with two decks nestled between four cryptomeria, or Japanese cedar trees. It’s where the family has movie night every Friday, whether it’s December or July. “It’s got heat, electricity, and a flat-screen television,” says Romero. There’s also a hidden door that leads to a back deck and a trap door on the front deck, so the kids (or Mom and Dad) can drop into a 220-square-foot hammock made with reclaimed marine net. “That was the client’s idea,” he says. “Sometimes you build these, and clients don’t use them as much as they should. This family is in them all the time.”

Tree House 1: JEM House Tree-house builder Roderick Wolgamott Romero only works with reclaimed lumber, sourcing primarily from Pioneer Millworks in Farmington, New York, and Antique and Vintage Woods of America in Pine Plains, New York. He recently completed a tree house in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden using trees damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The reclaimed teak chairs are from Thailand. Romero fabricated the sliding doors for JEM House from mushroom wood, which is not wood made from mushrooms, but the moist boards that were used to grow the fungi in the late 1800s. The door handle was pruned from oak. The roof consists of more than 2,000 handcut shingles. “It’s all reclaimed cedar,” says Romero. “It’s made to look like a tortoise shell. It’s really cool, even though you can never see it.” Photo: Thomas Loof

The spiral staircase is broken down into three sections, curling around four trees. It’s lit for night climbs. Photo: Thomas Loof

Four Japanese cedar trees set 35 and 21 feet apart support the diamond-shaped cabin. “All my structures fit in with nature,” says Romero. “You have to look closely to see them.” Romero scouted the property for a prime spot. “I walked it for a day and watched how the wind moved through the trees,” he says. “The trees tell me where to build, and the design comes out of that.” Photo: Thomas Loof

Tree House 2: The Nest The Nest sits on Lake Agawam, and the ocean is visible from the higher structure. It’s made entirely from pruned branches provided by SavATree, a Long Island-based arboreal company, and driftwood that Romero collected by hand when he paddled into Shinnecock Bay on a surfboard. Photo: Thomas Loof

Each level can fit up to twenty people. Photo: Thomas Loof

The Climb