2017-04-29 / Features

Lofty retreat

Carpenter builds deluxe tree house
Story and photos BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STA FF WRITER


Art Knowles stands beside his deluxe tree house, which he has christened “Third Eye on High.” Art Knowles stands beside his deluxe tree house, which he has christened “Third Eye on High.” Some people never outgrow their love of tree houses. Art Knowles is such a person. His father built him a treehouse when he was a boy and he built his first one, complete with a trap door, when he was only 12 years old.

Now decades later, his latest masterpiece, dubbed the “Third Eye on High” because of the wooden eye on the back wall, rests 40 feet high in an old hickory tree, back behind his home outside of Hurdle Mills.

“I’ve been obsessed with it I guess,” he said. “I’ve always had one. Wherever I’ve lived I’ve put something up in a tree.”

Knowles is a master woodworker, and usually works alone at his business Word of Mouth Carpentry, which is renowned for its artistic and unique creations, including of course, tree houses. It has been his primary source of income for 30 years.


Knowles cut shingles to resemble himself and his wife Leslie. Knowles cut shingles to resemble himself and his wife Leslie. About five years ago he started working on his current project. He began by installing spiral steps up the tree, which took six months of work in his spare time. The whole project took three years.

The most challenging part was raising the eye wall, which he built in his shop over a winter. He fashioned a pulley system and used a battery powered drill to slowly raise the wall. It took a long time, and he had to change out the drill battery two times but it worked.

The treehouse makes good use of its 10-foot square floor space. There are cathedral ceilings and stairs that lead to a loft bed. There is a porch with folding chairs for watching wildlife. In a personal touch, two of the shingles on the porch were crafted to resemble his face and that of his wife, Leslie. The couple has spent a handful of nights in the treehouse, listening to owls and other creatures of the night. During the day, they see flying squirrels soaring between branches.

He is not a particular fan of the squirrels because they seem to enjoy chewing on the treehouse as a way to strengthen, clean and sharpen their teeth. And the flying squirrels found a roost on the top stair of the treehouse until he devised a system to keep them away.

He has plans to start renting out the treehouse, as a Bed and Breakfast style getaway, on weekends this summer. Occupancy will be limited to four people. Those who stay there will need to rough it because there is no electricity, although there are battery powered clear string lights. Also, there are no flush toilets but he has built an outhouse at the base of the tree, constructed of old tobacco barn wood on the outside but with a sterile white plastic interior.


The porch side provides a view. The porch side provides a view. In high winds the treehouse will sway along with other neighboring trees, but he is confident in its safety because he knows how well he has reinforced the structure with braces underneath and cable leading to higher branches.

“It’s been up there for five years with 30-40 mile per hour winds,” he said. “The tree house is never going to fall unless the tree falls.”

Still, he realizes that some people have a fear of heights which might reduce their enjoyment of being perched up in a tree, so his next project is going to be more down to earth.

“My next project is a cabin beneath it,” he said. “I found an old tobacco barn that I can tear down for the wood. It will look very North Carolina. I will use that and old rusty tin too so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb.”



A panoramic view of the inside of the tree house, showing the stairs leading to a twin-bed loft. A panoramic view of the inside of the tree house, showing the stairs leading to a twin-bed loft.

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