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Chapter 3: The Idea: An Egg in a Tree

 

So there I was, a bourgeoning carpenter, living out of my car and heading off in an exciting new direction. One day a young fellow named Ryan walked onto the job site to start as a laborer. He shook my hand with a big charismatic smile and said he’d heard some stories about me. From that brief introduction I knew I had met someone special … but I never would have guessed the extent.

 

Ryan was an inveterate ski addict and an adventurer of legendary stature. If he decided he was going to do something, there was very little the world could do to stop him. When he was 17 years old, he decided that he couldn’t wait any longer to start his solo through-hike of the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail. He left a month before final exams and missed graduating from high school. His life was full of zany details, yet he rarely talked about himself. He was a man of mystery and his friends seemed to piece together the story of his past by trading tales.

 

Every Spring he spent a couple months working until he had enough money to head up to Alaska. I called him Free Range Ryan because he spent most of his time after work exploring the backcountry. I went out with him on a number of occasions to check out interesting sites and old squats, one of which Ryan had lived in for a ski season. We seemed to share the same sense of adventure, and for better or worse, we positively reinforced each other’s lifestyles.

 

We shared secrets on the best places to shower, the most coveted hot tubs to poach, and the best sites to camp. It wasn’t long before Ryan and I had accidentally invented a new pastime. I called it sport sleeping. Instead of sleeping in our cars as normal car-dwellers do, we’d try to outdo each other by finding the funniest or most outrageous places to sleep. Every morning we’d compare notes and laugh at each other’s feats and misfortunes. I spent the next few months of my life sleeping in almost anything but a bed. The actual sleeping part was never that good but the exhilaration was hard to beat. I slept on tractor buckets, scaffolding, water towers, and genie lifts.

 

Sport sleeping was just an experimental kick, but it got me thinking about some long term sleeping solutions. My favorite sleeping places were usually perches of some sort, so the idea of sleeping in a tree was a natural extension. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a little loft in the woods. After doing some preliminary research I decided that I didn’t love most tree houses, because of their clunky under-structures, which were usually a focal point when looking up from below. I wanted something that looked a little more elegant.

 

I began bouncing ideas off of everyone I knew, but especially a couple friends named Mark and Jayne who were recent graduates from architecture school. They had fresh ideas and although they lived a more orthodox lifestyle, they could relate to the thought of an offbeat treehouse. Over the next couple of weeks some interesting designs were tossed around but nothing stuck. Then one day Mark, Jayne, and I were sitting around their kitchen island and Jayne casually suggested the shape of an egg. It was a moment of cosmic brilliance. An egg shape would be elegant, organic, unusual, and most distinctively, the structure would be contained within the form.

 

We hashed out the basic framework in our minds and then we bought foam board from the stationary store and Jayne and I began to model it. But before we had even finished modelling the tree part, Mark had already rendered the basic form in 3D. The shape looked intriguing and I loved it.

 

Though none of us had P.Eng stamps, the structure made good intuitive sense. It was all based on triangular strength (with one side of the triangle curved). To test the theory, I built a quarter-size scaled down model on a tree outside of a friend’s home. The model was about 3 feet tall which allowed me to stress test it by exerting excessive force in every direction. After a few minutes of playing God, I was convinced that the full scale version would easily support a family black bears, should they decide to inhabit it as a winter hibernation spot.

 

While I was building the model, I made some tweaks to the proportions. Instead of being a pure egg shape, I made it slightly fatter. This gave a more spacious feeling on the inside and made the shape feel a little bit cuter. I was excited to build it, but first I had to find the perfect tree.

 

Chapter 4: Finding the Perfect Tree

 

18 Comments

  • ben says:

    dude, loved reading your stories, very funny and inspiring. thanks!

    - fellow car-dweller and sport-sleeper

  • Joel Webb says:

    Wow, really amazing… Very very interesting how similar it is to a project I built in LA back in 2005 called Fort Joshua, which was printed in the LA Times, and other media outlets…

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like a little bit of design jealousy here. Perhaps a basic shape look-alike hear, but to imply that it came from your basic idea. . . Shame

    • Dorisn says:

      Sounds like a little bit of jealousy here. . .there are a lot of egg shaped structures out there. But ones that have the class and taste in the design are very far and few between. The guy is a remarkable builder and as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a arch-degree. His writing also shows his finesse to how he has done. Bravo Joel!

  • dimitri says:

    Wauw this is how it should be am really impressed but how does it sleep and what about the Beers

    Dimitri

  • Ken says:

    Love the house. Love the lifestyle. Love the eco-friendliness. Great initiative. Poor foresight. Build a house on land you don’t own? Retire at 26? You can only avoid reality so long my friend and then it’s going to be time to grow up.

    When your young you can call yourself a car dweller and sport sleeper. Around mid-30′s they call it things like poverty and homelessness…sleeping on a park bench. It’s about the same time cute girls stop showing up to hang out too.

    Fortunately, you’ve got something to pursue. Build it, market it, sell it. Repeat. Then buy some land, build it, live in it. And of course keeping building it and selling it. It also referred to as joining the rat race. There’s no way around it. Doing something that you love and believe in, can however, take the sting out of it.

    • Anonymous says:

      This young man is beyond the scope of being homeless! All I see is a tonne of initiative and lots of intelligent exuberance. Here is someone who isn’t leeching off people or parents, has already lived a full year off savings, isn’t a crackhead or welfare bum, a software engineer who narrowly missed striking it rich had Facebook not beat him to it, he simply is “living life fully” at a young age, and who knows?? Maybe this zany lifestyle and NOT joining the rat race IS his ticket to early retirement if the RIGHT people see his adventures and decide to kick a door wide open for him! I’m pretty sure I have been in the house he speaks of built on Alta Lake. Only high end trades worked on that house!
      If the man has the vision and the dream, who are we to cast negativity on it? It sure beats reading stories about gang members who seek and destroy people, living off the blood of others for a season, only to be incarcerated, dead or living off a park bench in poverty and homeless! I take my hat off to this guy and I hope for him that the “right” eyes see this fellow and scoop him up! Screw the system and get there buddy!! We are cheering for ya!!!

      • Anonymous says:

        absolutely agree!

        • Ken in Montana says:

          I also agree. I have lived an amazing balance between the regular highway that most people drive and the backwoods that a lot of people want. The side trips have been amazing. I think it is even getting better and better the closer we are to our retirement. I suppose we would be called middle class but we live a life that is pretty far from “normal” with very modest income. I always say you have to keep steering your life to where you want it to go.

    • sp says:

      Ken you’re a jealous moron! Joel carry on, you’ve got the spirit.

  • dietrele montgomery says:

    Great Idea. Hope The Crown will relent and allow this to remain. It’s innovative, creative, ecological, green and unobtrusive. Most of all, it BEAUTIFUL and PLEASING to the eye! ! !
    Prince’s Trust should be studying this for Earth Day and LEED Specs as Green CAN be pretty too.

  • Fernando says:

    Hi, I’m an architect and I love the simplicity of the design of your egg house, I want to congratulate on your great idea, well constructed and designed, as well as finding your life partner. Your story and this project is of great inspiration! Greetings from Costa Rica!

  • Anonymous says:

    You should be considering another alternative career, which can be done right from the egg house…writer! Nice narrative.

  • Matt says:

    Hey Joel and anonymous. This is crazy, I googled for “shacks built in the backwoods- whistler” and found this site. I too worked on a high end mansion in the summer of 2008 on Alta lake, my first time working as a construction labourer. I’m amazed at how close to home all this is for me. It’s now 2012 but I still remember having beers with a carpenter at dustys when I was told about people who live in self built cabins in the woods near the mansions owned and rented by celienne deon and the like. That concept has changed me pe

  • Matt says:

    Permently. As I’m writing I’m a carpenters laborer back home in australia and I’m obsessed with the fantasy of building my own home on government land with a beachfront view. I’d love it if you could email me Joel, I reckon we might have crossed paths, or perhaps I worked alongside anonymous poster. Joel, what you have done has captivated my imagination nearly every night since leaving whistler. Good on you mate! There is no harm in living your own life this way, in fact it’s no different to how humans lived during last century right back to the caveman, staking out his own peice of “crownland” I regularly plan my coming retirement and I’m on the eve of my 25th birthday. In answer to your question I think you should plan out your next move to however your heart desires. You did it during your transition at 26 into carpentry and again building your own home, and that’s brought you alot of lessons, insights and memories. Do what’s right for you mate, and if you regret your decision, whose stopping you from doing it all over again? Peace and love- another likeminded fledgeling carpenter

  • Jeff says:

    I don’t think people are _trying_ to be negative here when simply alluding to the other larger issues here. Ironically, it’s the reality of day-to-day commerce, the efforts of “poor” wage-earning stiffs, and the material trappings of a place as exciting as Whistler that draws everybody here, including supposedly down-to-earth guys like Joel, right? But if it was only about leading a simple and fulfilling life, it wouldn’t be at/near Whistler. It would be someplace else, AWAY from the hip and vibrant scene of Whistler. Again, no negativity intended here. It’s just that the irony (if not outright contradiction) is too loud to ignore. I don’t think Joel is trying to be holy about anything himself, but I do think other commentators are trying to make him that way ;-)

  • Chantal says:

    Some people are trail blazers. They have an idea, they follow it. And that leads to the next thing, and the next, and the next.
    Thinking outside of the box might mean stepping outside of commerce-think. The world changes. Doing something then repeating, repeating, repeating is the mark of the industrial machine, that is dying. It’s okay to let it go.

  • Patricia says:

    At 26 the world is renewed each morning. At 46 the physical challenges, like sleeping in damp and cold become very much less tolerable. At 66 your body will reflect all the insults it bore. Plan ahead.

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Free-range Ryan, fixing muffler on his home


Me, working in the kitchen


Showering before work.


Prime sport sleeping location.


Mark and Jayne, talented designers.


Mark's final rendering. Check out more
of Mark's work here.


I drew my treehouse in the sand


The 1/4 scale model I built to test strength.
I also made adjustments to proportions.

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