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Living green: Where imaginations grow
By using re-claimed materials and scraps, a Gainesville lawyer has created a green treehouse
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John Bush, left, and Jeffrey Summer play in a treehouse made of recycled goods. - photo by Michael Phillips

Whimsical iron dragonflies and a spider, along with a collection of old birdhouses, adorn the "green" treehouse at the Summer home.

Copper flashing and a tin roof make the tree sparkle - but the special thing is that most of the materials used for the structure are recycled.

"Treehouses are the best," said Dan Summer, a Gainesville lawyer. "They are great for kids and big kids; you can kind of escape here. Read a book, have a beer, and there are a ton of deer that come out and they have no idea you are up here. And you can look down on the birds feeding ... It was a fun job."

The inspiration for the treehouse came from son Jeffrey, one of the five Summer children.

"When we moved here there was this rickety platform and this railing and the kids would climb up on it ... and I thought they were going to fall off," Summer said. "Jeffrey always wanted to go up in the treehouse but he can't climb up. So one day I was looking at it and I thought I could build this at grade level so he could roll in ... and he could feel like he was in the treehouse."

The treehouse evokes childhood memories for Summer, he said, and he's happy to give that pleasure to his own children. John Bush, Jeffrey's best friend, loves to come over and visit his friend and play in the treehouse.

"I like the treehouse because me and Jeffrey can go up here and hang out ... we just hang out and talk," said Bush, who will be a second-grader at Centennial Arts Academy in the fall.

The three-story treehouse, built by Summer and carpenter Tim Carter, was built off the existing platform in the tree about two years ago. The platform had been on the tree for so long the tree had grown around parts of the platform.

"They are slowly digesting it," Summer said. "You can see where the bark is starting to wrap around the tree ... the tree is now actually part of the treehouse and is actually supporting it."

Attached to the platform is wood, heavy-gauge wire, copper flashing, stairs leading to the other levels, a tin roof, birdhouses and metal artwork.

The recycled tire swing attached to the treehouse is a popular past time for Georgia Summer's friends, she said.

"Everything is (recycled); there are bits and pieces of metal that I had laying around from other jobs downtown," Summer said. "I had to buy some new wood ... Anyone can get this kind of stuff from the dump."

Summer also runs Summer Historic Acquisitions, a labor of love that has purchased and restored several older properties in the area.

He added that he used some of the ideas of architects Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright when designing the treehouse to give it an organic, grown-out-of-the-ground look.

On the first level there sits an old metal rocker once owned by Ronnie Green, the namesake for the Ronnie Green Heart Center at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. "We didn't do anything to it, just set it out here," Summer said.

The top level features a wind-up LED lantern for late night or early morning play time. And the second level has an enclosed room with a window; old chairs provide seating.

But the treehouse is really only a small part of the larger green project going on at the Summer home.

"Actually this house and the whole yard is sort of a green project," Dan said. "We have, sort of, been re-claiming the property from the forest over the years and we don't use any pesticides as a fertilizer."

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