Treehouse Hero – Joel “I guess I just wanted to build something cool” Allen

What drives a man to abandon his career to learn carpentry, spend months of his life building an enigmatic wooden orb, only to live in it for a week and then relinquish any pretence of ownership to it? We’re not sure, but we’re glad he did it.


The Man:

Today’s treehouse hero is Joel Allen, the software developer turned carpenter whose passion to just “build something cool” turned into the Hemloft, one of the strangest treehouses we’ve seen to date.

First Joel was a software developer. Then, Joel was unemployed and hoping to come up with a crowdfunded stunt that would allow him to retire at 26. Then, Joel was the padawan of a self-taught hippie carpenter whose alternative lifestyle made him realise that the life of a software developer was not for him.

So Joel moved to Whistler and became a professional carpenter. It was during this time that the idea for the Hemloft started to emerge. Competing with an adventurous friend he’d made known as ‘Free Range Ryan’, Joel would often sleep in the most unorthodox place he could think of in an activity he had dubbed ‘sport sleeping’.

A master sport sleeper.

The many weeks of sport sleeping led Joel to realise that he wanted a “little loft in the woods”, but that he disliked the inelegant structure of most treehouses.

So, what form was Joel’s treehouse to be?

The Orb:

After bouncing ideas off some designer friends, Joel settled on a squashed egg shape. This strange design avoided the clunky understructure that he disliked, but demanded quite a feat of carpentry to accomplish, for a number of reasons:

Firstly, the tree that Joel chose for the Hemloft was not on flat land. The spot that Joel picked was on a tree that grew out of the middle of a 45-degree slope, which meant that the treehouse could be accessible from a walkway at the top of the slope. This presented a unique set of problems, as Joel describes in his account: “You don’t really realize how often you drop things until you’re on a 45 degree slope. Sometimes a tool left on the ground would just spontaneously take off”.

Joel on the slope next to the Hemloft

Secondly, the spot in the forest that Joel was building his treehouse was not directly accessible by vehicle, meaning that everything Joel needed to build with had to be carried through the forest and up the slope.

No mean feat when that includes 17 foot long wooden ribs.

That’s right, the inner cage of the treehouse structure consists of several huge wooden ribs which form the skeleton of the egg shape, and because of their complexity these had to be crafted off-site.

Installing one of the giant wooden ribs

This meant that unlike the other parts of the treehouse, Joel couldn’t carry these up piece by piece and assemble them at the top of the slope. Instead, he had to carry the 17 foot ribs in their entirety from his car to the treehouse without anyone to help him.

Thirdly, the project that Joel had set out on was not, in the strictest sense, a legal endeavour.

Since he was building on common land, Joel couldn’t be open about his construction. Any transportation of materials had to be done secretly. This mostly involved Joel stopping on the side of the road pretending to be checking his tire or something similar, and then throwing all his materials into a ditch when the coast was clear.

Joel overcame all these hurdles though, and created one of the most elegant treehouses we’ve seen.

The Legacy:

There’s another element to Joel’s story though; one that really makes him a treehouse hero. The motivation behind Joel’s Hemloft wasn’t profit, wasn’t practical, wasn’t a political statement, and it wasn’t even really a high-minded artistic expression. In his own words, Joel Allen “just wanted to build something cool” when he devoted months of his life to crafting an elaborate wooden orb high in the trees of a Canadian forest.

Perhaps even more than the craftsmanship and obvious talent, it’s Joel’s free spirit and willingness to take on a challenge that we most admire. Not at all daunted by the difficulties his project presented him with, and not in the slightest motivated by anything other than passion, Joel (nearly) single-handedly created one of the most interesting treehouses we’ve ever seen.

Joel doesn’t even jealously guard his creation from others. From the start, he knew that he wouldn’t own the Hemloft because he was building it on common land. So having created the treehouse, Joel had a choice. As Joel puts it:

“I had two options: I could rent a pit bull and a shotgun and neurotically circle the premises for the next ten years of my life, OR … I could just not care, and welcome whatever curious prospectors wander in my direction. I chose plan B.”

Joel’s lack of attachment to his treehouse might seem strange at first, but it’s actually another thing to admire about him. It proves that Hemloft really was built just because Joel wanted to build something cool, and that the challenge of building it was its own reward.

It seems that for Joel, the journey was more important than the destination. This week’s treehouse hero was chosen because he was an innovative creator and a real free spirit, but most of all because “just building something cool” is a motive we can’t help but respect.

Image credit goes to Joel Allen. For more information of the Hemloft, visit his site at