Stoughton resident Derek “Deek” Diedricksen is redefining what a treehouse can be.By Dan Mathers | Photography by Jack Foley
If you’re like most people, then you probably think of a treehouse as four wooden walls with a roof, built a few feet off the ground in a tree. The structure might have a few small holes cut into the sides for windows, and a dark, empty interior where kids can hang out. That is definitely not what Chris Shannon and Charles Rothman’s two children have in their Stoughton backyard.
What they call their “treehouse” can’t be seen from their back deck. Hidden behind leafy green trees, you have to walk along a narrow path into the woods before you suddenly come upon it. The structure, built with what appears to be more windows than wood, stands roughly eight feet above the ground. Small lanterns hang from a metal structure in front of the treehouse. Wooden stairs provide access, with a tree branch for a railing.
The front of the treehouse is all windows and a branch is used to prop one open. On one wall there is an old yellow wooden door with ten small windows in it. Two log benches attached to the walls offer comfortable seating and even overnight accommodations for kids. The view through the windows from the inside is of the surrounding woods, providing the illusion of isolation. And at night, the treehouse takes on a magical glow.
The structure isn’t exactly what Shannon and Rothman originally had in mind when they told their kids they would build a treehouse for them. After asking friends for recommendations, someone suggested a fellow Stoughton resident by the name of Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, and their simple treehouse project took a dramatic shift.
When the couple looked into Diedricksen, they discovered that he wasn’t just some local handyman. He’s an internationally known tiny house guru, a former host of a popular television show, an author and a creative builder who is redefining what is possible with treehouses. “We were like, ‘Whoa, he’s a local celebrity. He’s a big deal,’” says Shannon.
You wouldn’t know that Diedricksen is a big deal by talking to him. The former host of HGTV’s popular television show “Tiny House Builders” has a very down-to-earth, self-deprecating, everyman type of personality. If you’ve ever seen his show or videos on his popular YouTube channel, you’ll find he’s also fun and can be downright goofy. In the world of tiny structures, however, Diedricksen is a very big deal.
Building tiny houses and jaw-dropping treehouses is little more than an extension of Diedrickson’s childhood. Growing up near Long Island Sound in Madison, Connecticut, he spent his childhood days building forts and treehouses in the woods near his home—and he’s never stopped.
After studying in Boston at Northeastern University, Diedricksen decided to stay in the area and moved to Stoughton 16 years ago. While he doesn’t live in a tiny house, he does live in what he calls a “small bungalow,” and he appreciates the advantages of tiny-house living. Proponents of tiny houses not only claim that it is an environmentally friendly way to live; they also say that it makes a lot of financial sense. According to Diedricksen, not having a large mortgage allows him the financial freedom to do things with his kids, like take them on fun trips and splurge at Christmas. “I feel I’m the opposite of cheap. I go out to eat all the time,” he says with a laugh.
About seven years ago, Diedricksen created a blog about the structures he built called RelaxShacks.com. He also began uploading videos of his projects to YouTube. That’s when interest in his work exploded. He now has more than 130,000 subscribers and he’s uploaded more than 300 videos. His popularity led to his short-lived HGTV television show, which ran from 2014 to 2015. The show gained a strong following, but with a difficult schedule and costly production, Diedricksen and HGTV parted ways. The show continues to be re-aired both in this country and around the globe. In fact, it is getting its first run in Australia this year. And no longer doing the show has allowed Diedricksen to do many fun projects. He’s even been hired to travel to Australia for a project.
Diedricksen’s brother and friends often help him on projects. “We’re able to make a living making treehouses and forts. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves.”
Not only is Diedricksen doing what he loves, he has virtually all of the control over the projects he does. He likes to build on the fly, letting his materials and surroundings dictate his direction, allowing him to change mid-course if he decides to. After viewing his work, Shannon and Rothman were more than comfortable letting him do what he felt was best. “It was obvious he put a lot of personal pride into his work,” says Shannon.
When Diedricksen isn’t building tiny structures, he’s busy promoting and teaching people about tiny houses and treehouses. In fact, he built Shannon and Rothman’s treehouse during a weekend workshop for people interested in making their own small creations. He runs several workshops a year in which people can get hands-on instruction about building tiny structures. Diedricksen says he gets people of all ages and experiences, from rookies to master carpenters, at his workshops. He also gets people from around the globe. Attendees have come from as far away as Chile, Norway and Switzerland.
Diedricksen recently published a new book on tiny houses and treehouses called “Microshelters.” He’s helping to bring the BIG Tiny Houses Festival to Stoughton this September. This event will offer tiny house enthusiasts and anyone interested in small shelters a place to gather and learn about the lifestyle and building tips.
In the future, Diedricksen says he’d like to experiment with creating shipping container houses and even shelters built into the ground. But he’ll always be creating treehouses. “There’s something about being up in a tree. It’s relaxing,” says Diedricksen. “The whimsy of a treehouse is something I love.”