Social Climbing

When you’re small, the world looks big, especially when seen from a tree house. Down-to-earth adults (especially those making payments on a real house) are thought to be immune to the charms of a cabin in the sky. But Lisa and Stephan Keyser, who built a tiki bar tree house in their Mahwah backyard, can attest to the ongoing magic.

“I never thought I would enjoy it so much,” says Lisa. “All of a sudden it became my special place.”

Four years ago, daughter Julie (then eleven) asked for a tree house. No problem, said Mom and Dad; with an acre of property and lots of trees, they’d surely find a sturdy candidate. But the only suitable trees were just fifteen yards behind the house. If the thing was going to be that close, the grownups decided, it better be aesthetically pleasing.

Thus the idea for a tiki hut theme. “I couldn’t think of any other way to make a tree house look good,” Lisa says. Today you climb a ladder to a thatched-roof structure that is six feet above the ground and just under eight feet in diameter. In summer, party guests take a break from the Keysers’ pool, patio, and barbecue pit to refresh their cocktails aloft. “Everyone fights over being able to sit at one of the five chairs in the tiki hut,” Lisa says.

Tree houses have become popular, but they aren’t cheap. Daniels Wood Land (, a California company that ships around the world, builds kiddie-themed tree houses atop excavated tree stumps at prices from $5,500 to $17,000. Lisa, a custom tile designer, and Stephan, who owns a real estate appraisal firm, were fortunate to have a handyman who built theirs for less than $1,000. Other builders who specialize in tree houses include Tree Top Builders in Pennsylvania and Northeast Treehouse in New England. Lisa Keyser bought all the materials online, and work was completed in less than a month. The hut is fairly low-maintenance, although after a Jersey winter, the thatched roof needs repair. The Keysers plan to replace it every four years.

The Keysers do allow their children (Julie, now sixteen, and Andrew, thirteen), to use the tree house. But only when the adults don’t want in. Julie sometimes gets annoyed at that rule. After all, she reminds her mother, she was the one with the original idea.

“That’s great, honey,” says Lisa. “But it’s Mommy’s place now.”

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