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Northern Minnesota couple builds treehouse for grown-ups

“My husband said it was for our daughters, I think it was really for him,” Shari Hendren said.

Couple in front of two-story building.
Dave and Shari Hendren talk with visitors outside their ReTreet House on June 27. Dave began building the two-room treehouse for adults after losing his job. When the Hendrens aren’t renting it out on Airbnb, the family uses it to recharge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — When Dave Hendren lost his job, he needed something to occupy his time. So, he started building a treehouse, for grown-ups, on his family’s 30 acres outside Two Harbors.

“My husband said it was for our daughters. I think it was really for him,” Shari Hendren said.

She said this project was therapeutic for him.

Stairway wrapping around trees.
The ReTreet House’s outdoor stairway going around two cedar trees.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Today, The ReTreet House is an off-grid, two-story elevated dwelling, with a first-floor bedroom facing the woods and a second-level view of treetops and Lake Superior.

The family uses it to recharge when they’re not renting it on Airbnb, which is pretty often. “Why this is so successful is it’s a little bit more of an experience than a room,” said Dave Hendren.

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Sign for the ReTreet House.
A sign on the side of the Hendren’s ReTreet House.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

When the News Tribune visited, green leaves bowed from their branches in a sea of green and clusters of white cedars, which they refer to as “cedar swamp.”

The fire pit area is tucked away behind ferns and bushes.

Wide, exterior stairs wrap around a tree and take you to the first floor: a room big enough to hold a queen-sized bed, two night stands and a mounted TV.

Quartered red cedar, harvested from the property, lines the four corners, and the walls of solid ash create an immersive experience.

Bedroom overlooking a forest.
The ReTreet House’s lower, but still elevated, room is furnished with a queen-size bed and overlooks the surrounding forest.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The Hendrens considered a stairway going through the dwelling, but to save on space, they chose the exterior swirling staircase wrapping around a cedar. This first floor helps stabilize the elevated dwelling and helps them conserve indoor space, Dave Hendren said.

On the top floor is a sleeper sofa, a table, a kitchenette area with a fridge, microwave, toaster oven, coffee pot and teapot. It was a challenge getting the right amount of items in without overcrowding the space, but it’s safe to say they succeeded.

Bare walls hug the large windows overlooking the vast greenery ahead — more than a treehouse, but a house among the trees.

Treehouse kitchenette area.
The ReTreet House’s upper room comes with a sleeper sofa, kitchenette area and tree-top views of the surrounding cedar forest with a couple distant views of Lake Superior.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

This was raw land when the Hendrens moved here. They hired an excavator to clear some of the trees to build their home in 2006 with the help of Shari Hendren’s father, who runs a construction company.

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The treehouse is located down a 90-foot drop on the lower part of their 30 acres. “I don’t mind walking down, but walking up — the last 50-25 feet are the killer,” said Shari Hendren.

There’s no running water, which means no shower and no toilet — but there’s a hot/cold water dispenser on the second floor, and the Hendrens stock a sponge area with a large bowl, basin, wash cloths and body wipes.

Couple sitting at a table.
Dave and Shari Hendren talk with visitors in the ReTreet House’s top room.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

There’s an insulated outhouse with electricity — and a heated toilet seat, which is a talker among guests. “We tried really hard to make it a place that isn’t yucky,” she said.

An outhouse in a woods.
The ReTreet House lacks indoor plumbing, but has a heated outhouse nearby.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

For free, visitors can use the showers and sauna at a facility located 3 miles away, but only about 15% of folks use it.

No running water weeds out a large number of renters, and the biggest shock is how booked they are during winter, said Dave Hendren.

They’ve hosted travelers from New York, South America, California and Georgia. “People that come to stay, they seem to have a sense of adventure,” he added.

Firepit area.
The ReTreet House’s fire pit sits at the forest’s edge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

He lost his job and started fleetingly on the treehouse in 2015. When Shari Hendren’s father got involved, they finished and soon started renting it out in 2019.

The Hendren daughters, Sidni and Olivia, helped put in the floors and paint, and they hosted sleepovers when there was still spray foam on the walls.

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Outhouse interior.
The ReTreet House’s outhouse is a cut above the average outhouse.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Shari Hendren enjoys thinking through the details and personal touches of the space. She’s really good at it, along with communicating with guests, said her husband: “Her amygdala doesn’t get hijacked as quickly as mine.”

And, this venture has fed Dave Hendren’s longtime entrepreneurial spirit with the added bonus of a place of seclusion, which came in handy during the last two years of COVID.

He often worked from the treehouse, which allowed the rest of the family free reign of their open-floor plan home. “Everybody had an out,” Shari Hendren recalled.

The Hendrens have been encouraged to build two or three more rentals on their property. If they did, it wouldn’t be another treehouse. It’s difficult working up high, he said. And, right now, they’re more than happy with the status quo.

It saved them more than anything, Dave Hendren said. “It’s been a godsend. The kids love it, and it’s great to come when it’s not rented, veg out, watch a movie, fall asleep. You can’t beat it.”

read more from melinda lavine
The three-bedroom, three-bathroom Duluth home features vaulted ceilings, an indoor pool, natural woodwork, a fireplace and oodles of built-ins, shag carpeting with carpets and vanities to match.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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