INTO THE WOODS
RECYCLED MATERIALS BRING A UNIQUE RETREAT TO LIFE.
Recycled materials bring a unique retreat to life.
go and meditate,” recalls California artist and
faux painter Donna Morgan of the rudimentary
structure that was soon to become a one-of-a-kind
tree house in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of
When the opportunity arose for Donna to live
there for a while, she embraced the chance “to
work her magic,” in Francisco’s words, and take the
simple home to a whole other level.
First off, the tiny house footprint needed to be
expanded to have a bedroom niche built into the
studio as well as a bathroom and dressing area. But,
there was a live tree blocking the intended addition.
“Instead of cutting the tree down, we decided to let it
stay and build out around it,” Donna says excitedly.
The pair began to add on to the small space in
the same vein as the original, which was constructed
architectural salvage and found
materials. They ended up piecing together a fully
functional 600-square-foot living space with a tree
growing right through
it. Although the house is
mostly glass, it is watertight.
When decorating the home, Donna recycled and
repurposed old furnishings, whether bought at a
thrift store or snatched up roadside. “I pick things
up on the side of the road. I go to garage sales and
thrift stores. I find things in nature. I accumulate
everything I love and use them outside the book,”
Donna explains. “Everything is handmade. I use
things I find and repurpose them. My headboard, for
example, is made of driftwood and a piece of iron.”
Donna kept everything white—or in its natural
state of wood, metal or glass—so as not to distract
from the greenery outside.
“The experience changed my whole life,” she
says. “It was a dream you’d never expect to happen:
to build and live in a tree house as a grown-up, rather
than as a little girl. Like a fairy tale come true.”
“MY FRIEND FRANCISCO DELGADO, WHO’S ALSO AN ARTIST, HAD BUILT A CABANA-LIKE HIDEAWAY IN HIS BACKYARD AS A PLACE TO
1. Gather the Goods
Find a local salvage store, and start amassing architectural odds and ends: French doors, old mantels, windowpanes and sashes, discarded shutters, floorboards and more. Keep the pieces in a shed or garage for when you draft up your plans.
2. Plan the Layout
Once you find a suitable location in your yard, develop a layout based on the natural topography and garden plantings. Plan for the spaces you’ll need, whether it be a writer’s retreat with simply a desk, or a guesthouse, which would require a bathroom. PRAIRIE sty e
3. Build It
Use a professional for building and weatherproofing, but you can have a lot of fun tackling some projects on your own. Consult DIY sources for tips and information. Lay down floorboards, put up walls, install a ceiling. Just make sure the structure is stable, safe and secure.
4. Find Furniture
Go to yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores. Buy pieces that interest you at the right price. Refinishing and repainting is always an option. Play with colors. Experiment with finishes by distressing with sandpaper, creating a layer of whitewash or adding sheen with beeswax.
5. Add Accents
Hang sheets or curtains, or prop up vintage screens to separate private areas, such as a bathroom or dressing room, from the more public spaces. Furnish your tree house with unique accessories as you would your home. Use natural elements to add further character.
BUILDING A TREE- HOUSE RETREAT IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD CAN BE A FUN PROJECT FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY. YOU CAN MAKE IT AS BIG OR SMALL AS YOU WISH.
“IT’S SO AIRY AND BEAUTIFUL AND LIGHT; I’M SURROUNDED BY ALL THESE TREES.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHY, BUT I ALWAYS END UP ADDING TURQUOISE TO EVERYTHING.”
OPPOSITE PAGE, LEFT: Among Donna Morgan’s many talents is making jewelry with vintage beads. Here, she is fashioning a necklace. OPPOSITE, RIGHT: A carved-wood Guadalupe statue made it back from Mexico with Donna on one of her trips south of the border. THIS PAGE: Salvaged windows, shutters and doors are just a few of the materials used to build the tree house. There are also two entrances to the retreat. The steps on the right side (the later addition) were fashioned from old railway trestles.
OPPOSITE: The wall behind the sofa is actually a pair of salvaged barn doors, which were faux-finished. The gold wrought-iron-based table was a flea-market find made functional once again with the addition of a glass top. The light fixture is a real one, though it looks like candles. THIS PAGE, TOP LEFT: A louvered shutter (a roadside find) holds hats and one of Donna’s handmade purses. TOP RIGHT: Donna collects vintage and antique crosses, which she displays throughout the retreat. These two are nailed on the barn door above a container holding fresh flowers. BOTTOM LEFT: Vintage sheets dress up the view from the living room. An old tool table holds the wood frame of a church’s stainedglass window, adding height, while a cozy chair is freshened up with an old tablecloth slipcover. The skylight brings more of the outside in. BELOW: A guide to collecting crosses sits beneath a vintage Ball jar doubling as a drinking glass.
OPPOSITE: A crown hook adorned with tiny crosses made its way into Donna’s collection. Tacked on the tree trunk, it functions as a towel holder. TOP LEFT: A vintage cherub does double duty as a decorative statue and planter. MIDDLE: A sunken bathtub serves as a tub for a soak or as a place to take a shower. Bath sundries rest casually within reach on a built-in wood ledge. Potted and hanging plants add to the greenhouse effect. BOTTOM: Donna customized a pretty hanging candleholder she found by dangling a starfish off the end. ABOVE: By adding a basin, a slab of marble and new plumbing, an antique Chinese chest is transformed into a handsome vanity in the bathroom area. The suspended wood shelf holds seashells and rosary beads.
OPPOSITE: Antique wroughtiron corbels, along with a pair of draped vintage sheets, define the entry to the bedroom area. Donna painted the bedside chair white for a fresh look and added the lace tablecloth beneath the bed for textural contrast. The planter was purchased in Mexico and made into a bedside table with the addition of a tiled top. Colorful hanging Moroccan candleholders provide ambient lighting at night. THIS PAGE, ABOVE LEFT: A large armoire holds Donna’s clothes, and a standing mirror reflects back the area, creating an illusion of spaciousness. ABOVE RIGHT: Everything is handmade in the tree house, from pillows that were sewn from vintage floral fabrics to the headboard fashioned from bleached wood and a gate piece. RIGHT: A table made of miscellaneous parts, including an old barrel, rests in the crook of the tree. The wrought-iron chandelier overhead was brought back from Mexico, one of Donna’s favorite places to visit.
OPPOSITE: Backed by a single glass French door, Donna’s workspace consists of a vintage tool table and a curvy, weathered wroughtiron chair. The latter was originally intended as a plant stand but with the addition of a soft pillow, Donna now uses it as her work seat when making small items, such as jewelry or purses. Some of the necklaces she has designed are draped on the glass door like a curtain. THIS PAGE, LEFT: A blue frame holds pictures of Donna’s beloved grandchildren, while a vintage glass box displays some of her jewelry. ABOVE MIDDLE: Donna’s handmade bags are created from pieces of vintage clothing reassembled into new shapes with a new purpose. ABOVE RIGHT: Examples of Donna’s bejeweled creations, including necklaces and rosaries, lie on a tabletop. All are made from recycled materials and vintage beads. BELOW RIGHT: This folk-art cross, made of bleached wood, appealed to Donna as a textural stand for her pieces. BELOW MIDDLE: A vintage etched mirror mounted on the side of the armoire serves as a jewelry holder and a place to preen. BELOW LEFT: Donna collects vintage belts, which she uses for her fanny-pack-style purses, again made of old clothing.