Are you curious about what it would be like to sleep in a tiny house that is nestled in a treetop or hanging from the side of a cliff? Django Kroner, founder of The Canopy Crew, shares his insights on the challenges of building in unconventional locations and the special considerations required for these remarkable structures. Get ready to be inspired by the ingenious ideas behind these incredible tiny spaces.
In This Episode:
- An idyllic home up high
- Special considerations for building in and around trees
- The one cabin that might be too adventurous
- Modern amenities in hard-to-reach places
- Safety for building and living in a treehouse
Links and Resources:
- The Red River Gorge in Kentucky
- Episode 36 with Treehouse Master’s Darryl McDonald
- The Perfect Treehouse by Django Kroner
- The World Treehouse Conference
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The Cliff Dweller is suspended from a cliff
There is a downstairs bedroom if the altitude makes you nervous!
Grey Dreamer is certainly dreamy
Some have full amenities and some are still fairly simple
The Canopy Crew has learned how to keep pipes from freezing
One treehouse might be made of 3 different, connected structures
The Captain's Quarters is a ship-inspired cliffside tiny house
Because treehouses and pirate ships have some things in common
Django Kroner 0:00
If you do conventional construction methods with tree house building, ultimately, you really run a risk of damaging the tree because you can't just bring equipment in, you compact the roots and...
Ethan Waldman 0:16
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 262 With Django Kroner. Django Kronor is the owner of The Canopy Crew, a Kentucky-based company that builds one-of-a-kind rentals in the treetops and on the sides of cliffs. And when I say, in the treetops, and on the sides of cliffs, I really mean it. These homes, these tiny spaces are just stunning. And the locations that they've chosen for them are almost impossible, like you look at them, and you think that it wouldn't be possible to actually put a small cabin where they put them. So in this conversation, we talk about the business that Django has started renting out these small spaces, what it's like building these spaces and what special considerations you have to use when you're building on the sides of cliffs and in the tops of trees. And I definitely encourage you to head over to the shownotes episode for this page, thetinyhouse.net/262 to see some of my favorite photos of Django's various tiny spaces and rentals. So head over there, check it out and stick around for the interview with Django Kroner.
All right, I am here with Django Kroner. Django is the owner of The Canopy Crew, a Kentucky-based company that builds one-of-a-kind rentals in the treetops and on the sides of cliffs. Django, welcome to the show.
Django Kroner 1:47
Thanks for having me, Ethan. How you doing today?
Ethan Waldman 1:49
I'm doing great. And I've just been getting so inspired checking out these images of these tree houses, cliff houses that you guys build it like, they almost look like they shouldn't be able to work or exist where they are.
Django Kroner 2:06
Oh, thank you. That's a that's a big compliment to me.
Ethan Waldman 2:11
Yeah, yeah. Well, well deserved.
Django Kroner 2:13
Ethan Waldman 2:14
So I guess like to start, like, how did you? How did you get into building tree houses in the in the first place? It seems like a pretty like niche thing?
Django Kroner 2:25
Well, you know, when I was when I was a kid, I, I would climb trees a lot. And I ultimately kind of used it as a survival tactic to escape the wrath of my older brother. That was the only thing that I could do better than him. And the only place I could, could run away and he couldn't catch me. So I ended up really falling in love with climbing around trees. I ended up you know, I would spend hours a day in a tree trying to reach every limb and you kind of get good at the movement throughout it. I'd watch videos of orangutangs and try to mimic how they moved. And then you know that that led to a life in the woods and building forts and kind of erecting little structures that I spend the night in. And that passion has always been there for me.
And when I was 19, I moved to the Red River Gorge to pursue rock climbing, and was living in a tent, working as an apprentice for a timber frame cabin builder. And the Gorge is a very wet and humid summer kind of place. And after about six months, I kind of burnt out on the tent. I was I was laying on, you know on the forest floor looking up at the dry tops of the trees just kind of like gently swaying back and forth. And I was like, "Man, I want to I want to be up there." And from rigging skills from rock climbing and building skills. I was like, "I can build a tree house." So I asked the guy I was working for if I could build a tree house on his land and live in it. And he said, "Go for it." So I started collecting materials just kind of scrap and slowly I'd have friends over and they'd help me hoist stuff up by and I designed and built a very simple platform. There was a sycamore and a tulip that straddled a creek. And I went 45 feet up and built a platform and lived on that. For the first year it was just a platform.
Ethan Waldman 4:39
Django Kroner 4:39
I had a hammock with a rain fly and a barrel that I kept my clothes in and a rope ladder to get up. And it was one of the like most fun times. It was like I was I was out in the woods. I was 19. I didn't have internet or really too much connection to the outside world. And all my other friends were going off to college and partying and I was having this like really kind of solo time. And I really enjoyed just just sitting there and, you know, kind of immersing myself in the canopy and seeing what kind of critters would visit me.
Ethan Waldman 5:19
Django Kroner 5:19
if I sat quietly for, you know, three hours and the next year, I put a roof on. And the third year I put a railing on. It was simple, but I didn't want to put walls on because then it would kind of shut the forest out for me. And I wouldn't be able to look out at the fireflies as I fell asleep.
Ethan Waldman 5:40
Django Kroner 5:42
That was my first one.
Ethan Waldman 5:44
That sounds super idyllic.
Django Kroner 5:46
Yeah, it was great. It was a much simpler time. And one of the most special places to me, and you know, when I'd have friends over, it was like, really obvious that they would just have this kind of this feeling of it was is inspiration, but also like, "Oh, yeah, like, why not just do something? Why do why am I doing what I'm doing right now when I could do anything?" And that felt really good to me. And that ultimately led me to want to share that experience with as many people as possible and kind of share the canopy experience and treehouses with public.
Nice. Yeah, they're... I don't have a sense from from the photos that that you sent, which are beautiful. And I'll put them on the show notes page for the episode. Like how many different tree houses do you? I guess I could ask how many tree houses have you built? But I know that that you you did do some building, you know, at times for other clients.
Yeah. So that desire to share ultimately led me to start the Canopy Crew. And I knew I wanted to build tree houses. But I had no experience. I was not an entrepreneur, I didn't know how to run a business. I didn't have any money. So I just thought, "Well, I gotta get somebody else to pay for it." And so we started building for for customers.
Ethan Waldman 7:17
Django Kroner 7:18
And in all like, it's tough to kind of count structures, the way that I kind of have like structures in a tree. So like, maybe even if it's one tree house might have three different tree houses connected by bridges. So yeah, we've gotten around like 50 to 60 structures in trees.
Ethan Waldman 7:37
Django Kroner 7:38
And we're currently building our 11th rental in the Gorge.
Ethan Waldman 7:43
Nice. Nice. Wow. And are you are you like kind of partnering with people who own land and have maybe an interesting spot and like building on other people's land? Or are you buying land that, you know, you're like, "Oh, wow, these trees look amazing!" Or like, "Oh, this cliff is awesome. Like, let me grab this parcel."
Django Kroner 8:07
Yeah, so we've done a little bit of everything. We've, we've purchased small plots with the intention of building on them. I've developed relationships with people who own land and kind of, you know, worked out a contract where, yeah, I will build on it and become an owner of the land as as a business partnership.
Ethan Waldman 8:29
Django Kroner 8:31
And then we do have some lease agreements, long term lease agreements.
Ethan Waldman 8:35
Django Kroner 8:36
But ultimately, my goal is to, you know, own land in built tree houses on it and share those with people.
Ethan Waldman 8:45
Yeah. So you know, I'm looking at at some of these, these houses that have, you know, incredibly long bridges to get to them. And I'm wondering, like, how do you how do you approach building something like that? Like, is it kind of like, you do as much building as you can on the ground? And then you're like, trying to like carry maybe wall panels up there? Or are you just like, getting the getting that platform built? And then like kind of going from there building on top of it?
Django Kroner 9:18
Yeah. Each each one is different. Yeah. At this point, we prefab in our shop as much as possible.
Ethan Waldman 9:27
Django Kroner 9:28
And we have a essentially it's like a highline. So a zip line that has a winch, like a capstan sailboat winch with a little little electric motor. So we'll like we'll run a line, you know, 80 feet in the air that's over the road, the nearest road and then we'll pull a trailer up with a wall on it, we'll lift the wall into the air 80 feet, and then zip it across the line up to the cliff or to the tree.
Ethan Waldman 9:57
Django Kroner 9:57
And then lower it into place. So it's A lot of lot of rigging. But like, for example, the bridges, we don't prefab at all. We we string a cable, and we string another cable. And we do drop cables, and it's just piece by piece assembling until there's something to walk on. And then it's fine tuning and adjusting.
Ethan Waldman 10:18
Django Kroner 10:19
Yeah, I mean, that's definitely the hardest part is just access. And if you do conventional construction methods with tree house building, ultimately, you really run a risk of damaging the tree. Because you can't just bring equipment in and, you know, compact the roots and, you know, mess up the entire forest in the process. You have to be pretty, pretty ginger with your approach.
Ethan Waldman 10:46
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. I'm guessing, like, guessing the tree itself can carry quite a bit of weight in terms of like the building, it's more like damaging the forest floor and like, messing up the environment that you want to preserve and allow people to experience. You don't want to mess that up in the process of building the tree house.
Django Kroner 11:10
Right. And trees are really quite resilient above ground, but they're pretty fragile underground. And we also have a when I, when I wanted to be a tree house builder, I realized that I had to get, I had to learn about how to take care of trees. And that led me to start a tree service. So I also do that. And I know now that one of the ways that trees do get killed, and especially in urban environments is from root impaction. So that's one thing that we really try to avoid, and we try to really take care of our host trees.
Ethan Waldman 11:46
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. So some of the homes there's there's one and I don't know the name of it, that's literally like, looks like it's just hanging from a cliff. Like, I can see that there are some like metal turnbuckles. Like, it's literally anchored into the rock. And you talk about like, I guess I feel like I would never even think to be like, "Yeah, I could, I could hang a house under that overhang up there." Like, can you tell the story of that one?
Django Kroner 12:17
Yeah, so that one's called Cliff Dweller.
Ethan Waldman 12:19
Okay, aptly named.
Django Kroner 12:21
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, from a builder's perspective, you know, a lot of people are you might see their work and you're like, "Wow, what craftsmanship!"
Ethan Waldman 12:32
Django Kroner 12:33
"How did you do that? It's so beautiful." For me, it's like, "How'd you get that up there?" That's, that's, you know, my thing and yeah, if I'm in a tree house, all I can think about is additions and I like, I like going higher and I like, I like being in places that gives you a unique perspective and it's made a little sweeter when no one else can get there. You know, if you can access a vantage point that other people can't, then it I don't know, it just it feels good. It's kind of like when you see a cat up on a little ledge looking down at you and you're like, "Oh that looks fun." Yeah, but moving from trees to the cliff was a pretty natural evolution for us. The Gorge is known for its Corbin Sandstone cliffs and you know, I I'm always looking at the cliffs like, "Man, it'd be awesome to live there." And you know, especially when it's got a natural roof and South facing and natural solar gain. And, you know, there's all these kind of cool advantages and the cliff is a really strong part of the landscape. So you know, there's like a structural kind of stability feeling to it. And with Cliff Dweller, I wanted to create a space that was kind of really delivered on the exposure something that created the illusion of danger in a way something that made you feel like you were on on edge, but that was you know, totally safe and hanging it from the roof of the cliff delivered that and it's an awesome spot I mean, going up and being on the roof deck up there is definitely like it's a one of a kind spot that it's just really fun.
Ethan Waldman 14:26
Yeah, it seems it seems a little a little death defying, like, you know, if you didn't, if you if you don't have a fear of heights, you might find out that you do when you go into that one.
Django Kroner 14:38
It was funny because that was our first build. We put we posted online when it was complete, and it got a ton of hate. And it wasn't...
Ethan Waldman 14:48
Django Kroner 14:49
Yeah, it was the first one that had that it wasn't for any reason other than people's fear response people were just seeing and they were commenting like "nope", like "no way I'm going up there". And I just that made me laugh. And obviously there's a lot of people who are like, "Sign me up; looks awesome!"
Ethan Waldman 15:09
Django Kroner 15:10
But you're absolutely right. It's, it's not for everybody and some people think it's way too adventurous.
Ethan Waldman 15:17
Django Kroner 15:18
Ethan Waldman 15:20
Well, it's it's each their own of course. Yeah. So have you have you ever had a guest? Like, think they could do it and just arrive and be like, "I can't. I can't go up there."
Django Kroner 15:32
Yes, that does happen sometimes. Not often. We are very explicit in our description online about
Ethan Waldman 15:39
Django Kroner 15:39
what is involved and we, you know, have a lot of photos and tell people, "Don't bring suitcases, don't bring coolers." Like, it's, everything's in a backpack. We have like the number of steps involved in most of the time. It's, it's not a height thing. It's more of a a number of steps thing.
Ethan Waldman 15:57
Django Kroner 15:58
But one thing we do is like, in Cliff Dweller, there's also a bed in the lower structure. So that if people are just totally freaked out, they can, they can have the option to sleep down a little bit closer to the ground. Yeah, you're still in a treehouse, but you're much lower.
Ethan Waldman 16:16
Many of them I see in the images have, you know, rudimentary kitchens, you know, little like propane stoves. And, and kind of thinks like, it looks like a lot of gravity-fed sinks. How do you, you know, how do you handle the plumbing and the toilet and all that kind of stuff? I know that that it might be different in different structures.
Django Kroner 16:40
Yeah. So when we started, we were going like, basically just off-grid, rustic. We would do, you know, rainwater catchment, gravity waterers, kind of working with springs that were nearby, uphill, little solar cell systems. And as we've gone, we've kind of pushed in the direction of more modern amenities. So now, like all the all of the newer ones that we've built, have pretty much everything. They've got flush toilets. You know, pressurized water, hot and cold showers. mini splits with air conditioning and heat. So you know, they're, they're pretty much decked out. Plumbing is a challenge being applied, because you have to, you know, insulate that line. But ultimately, part of the reason that we've been doing these kind of really exciting master bedrooms is that you don't need water in your bedroom. So, you know, the bedroom could be in a really awesome location, and then the kitchen in the bathroom can be a little bit closer to the ground where you can realistically keep a waterline from freezing in the winter.
Ethan Waldman 17:45
Yeah, yeah. Because I saw on the photos that there's definitely like some with snow. So you experience a winter there that would be hostile to pipes.
Django Kroner 17:50
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, just like anybody else. There's some learning curve there. And we're, we've had to develop our techniques to make that work.
Ethan Waldman 18:05
Yeah, yeah. Well, I am sure that, that we're gonna have some people listening who are like, gonna go and look at these photos and be like, "Okay, my dream is to build a tree house and and potentially live in one." Let's talk like safety of when you're working high up above the ground, like what kinds of things you need to do to make sure that you're keeping yourself safe, and also keeping whatever's under you safe.
Django Kroner 18:35
Yeah. I mean, our, our staff is pretty much all pulled from a rock climbing community.
Ethan Waldman 18:45
Django Kroner 18:46
And if they're not, then they've been, you know, they've been learned and in terms of rope access, and yeah, how to be safe.
Ethan Waldman 18:53
Django Kroner 18:54
So the main thing is just get an education and how to work on a rope. And, you know, a lot of that is not hard to learn. There are, you know, there are certainly classes, you can take, books you can read.
Ethan Waldman 19:11
Django Kroner 19:12
But, you know, on one hand, I'm like, you know, do some do some trial runs some small projects.
Ethan Waldman 19:21
Django Kroner 19:22
And then on the other hand, I just tell people, like, "Go for it, you know. Why not just go for it?"
Ethan Waldman 19:26
Django Kroner 19:27
There's enough timidness like, you know, the world like, sometimes you just got to take a bite and see if you choke.
Ethan Waldman 19:35
Yeah. Yeah. So So everyone's wearing a climbing harness. And you mentioned running kind of an overhead line. Would somebody essentially be like, slipped into that overhead line so that if they were to like, take a tumble that they're actually going to just be suspended from that?
Django Kroner 19:54
Right, so we have independent systems for rigging and safety. So okay, the the highline will be the one system and then everybody's got a climbing line that's anchored above as well. So, okay, yeah, I mean, you slip and you're just hanging on a rope.
Ethan Waldman 20:08
Django Kroner 20:09
You know, we use, we have like, center communication systems and our helmets so that we can talk from one end of the rigging to the next. And yeah, there's little things like that to make life a little safer and, and easier.
Ethan Waldman 20:24
Yeah, that's, that's, that's all important stuff to kind of keep in mind when you start to think about building a tree house.
Django Kroner 20:33
The safety part, you know, building, it is only part of it. Then you gotta live in. And right. So really, you know, a big part of the safety part is like, build it well, and do your homework, because there's a lot of things that are not intuitive about Treehouse building, you kind of have to know the how a tree works. And thankfully, there's been now 30 years of tree house building happening pretty intensively, intensively in that country. So there's a guidebook you know, there's, there's, there's hardware that we use, there's techniques to use, and it's it's online, it's in books, and you can, you can very you can learn from the mistakes of our forefathers.
Ethan Waldman 21:12
Yeah, yeah. I actually had somebody from the the Nelson Tree House Crew, like on the show a couple years ago at this point, and I know that they, I believe they had developed their own kind of line of tree anchors and hardware. Are you guys, you know, kind of having your own stuff fabricated? Are you? Are you are you? Are you at that point yet?
Django Kroner 21:37
So we, we fabricate a lot of our bracketry and kind of frame members, but we get a lot of stuff from Nelson. I mean, we're friends with them. Like we buy our TABs or treehouse attachment bolts from them.
Ethan Waldman 21:53
Django Kroner 21:53
And we see them every year at the World Treehouse Conference. So that's, you know, we are totally grateful for all the work that they do in making that stuff and also doing the testing. Yeah, they take it to the lab and see what it actually can hold up. And that helps us build.
Ethan Waldman 22:15
I love that there's a World Tree House Conference.
Django Kroner 22:18
Yeah, it's gonna be fun. It is great time.
Nice. Nice. So like, we don't have to get to well, actually, what I was going to say regarding the safety is that I was also kind of looking and appreciating the railings and the I don't know what you call them. It's almost like a hoop covering over the ladders. Yeah, just thinking about, okay, if somebody falls while they're climbing this ladder, or climbing these stairs, how do we make sure that they don't fall? All the way? You know, if they're just, they're just falling back down to the bottom of the ladder? Not like down to the ground?
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we don't want anybody to get hurt. And I think that, you know, the world has been nerfed to a degree and yeah, I always like, remember fondly of the playground that I had when I was a kid because it was epic. It was made out of telephone poles and tires. And you could you could climb up super high and Yep, yeah. Then you out now the one that's replaced it, like is only six feet tall. And so I to me, for me, there's a there's a piratical element to treehouses. It's, it's a little bit of an open rebellion to you know, just kind of the the padded corner world and, and just the gravity, you know, it's just like, let's go up there. Let's, let's see what the views like. And there is some inherent risk. You know, if you're, if you're spending the night up in a tree, I mean, a tree is a plant, it's alive, and it's good. It's cradling you, it's, it's holding you up, it's protecting you, but at the same time, you know, when a wind blows hard enough tree comes down, and it can be, there's something poetic there, when you live in one and it becomes like a, you know, you develop a bond with about all that.
Ethan Waldman 24:20
And so like how much I guess like, you probably can't prevent these structures from moving and swaying with the tree. So you probably just have to work with that.
Django Kroner 24:30
Totally. Yeah. That's the main thing about reehouse construction. Kind of like boats.
Ethan Waldman 24:35
Django Kroner 24:36
You build them in a way where they can move. They're supposed to move.
Ethan Waldman 24:39
Django Kroner 24:41
We do a lot of dynamic attachments. A lot of suspension using aircraft cable. This way is all part of it. I mean, you get a nice, nice gentle sway and even you. For me, I love it. It's like yeah, you're just you're part of the landscape and a new way where you're like, uh, it's kind of windy out today and right.
Ethan Waldman 25:05
You get like rocked, rocked to sleep.
Django Kroner 25:07
Right? Yeah. I mean, when I was living in my first house it was it was really high up. The windstorm would come in overnight and they'd be swaying all night long. And you'd get on the ground and that sway you'd feel that sway for like the first two hours of your day, just while you're walking around.
Ethan Waldman 25:22
Yeah, it's like you got your sea legs.
Django Kroner 25:24
Ethan Waldman 25:26
Nice, nice. Well, you know, I really appreciate you taking the time to kind of share your your Treehouse building insights with us. I was curious. You know, are there any, like resources that you recommend any favorite books on Treehouse building or design that you like to kind of recommend to people who are like, "I want to do this? How do I do it?"
Django Kroner 25:49
Yeah, I wrote a book called The Perfect Treehouse with Popular Woodworking.
Ethan Waldman 25:55
Django Kroner 25:56
So that's, you know, that would be the first one just, it's pretty comprehensive. It goes over.
Ethan Waldman 26:03
Django Kroner 26:05
It goes over the basics without, you know, getting into the weeds to a point where you your eyes start to glaze over.
Ethan Waldman 26:12
Django Kroner 26:14
Beyond that, YouTube, I mean, you know, I'm a YouTube learner. And Nelson's put out a bunch of videos on like, "here's how you install a TAB correctly." So that's, that's super valuable. And, you know, people who, who are real serious and want to learn, I recommend that they'd go out to the World Treehouse Conference and see it, see it firsthand.
Ethan Waldman 26:40
The World Treehouse Conference. I love it. I think I want to come. I hope it's not inside of a giant, like, conference room.
Django Kroner 26:51
I hope it's at a treehouse village.
Ethan Waldman 26:53
Okay, that's, I'm glad to hear that. I'm glad. Yeah. Nice. Well, Django Kroner, thank you so much for taking the time. This was great.
Django Kroner 27:03
Yeah, no, thank you. It was good talking to you. And hopefully, hopefully the world of tiny houses and tree houses will only continue to grow.
Ethan Waldman 27:12
Yeah, right. Amen to that.
Django Kroner 27:14
Yeah. Thanks, Ethan.
Ethan Waldman 27:18
Thank you so much to Django Kroner for being a guest on the show today. Don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode over at thetinyhouse.net/262. There you'll find some photos of my favorite tree houses and cliff dwellings that Django has built. If you enjoyed this show, I would love for you to buy me a coffee. You can do that over at thetinyhouse.net/coffee. Anything you can chip in helps to create the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast every week. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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