From garden offices to fully liveable treehouses and cabins, The Custom Cabin Tree House Company provide a completely bespoke service for outdoor living. We go right back to where it all began with founder Zach, who tells OX Homes about how he transformed his childhood love for building things into a thriving business.
Can you tell us about the business?
We're called The Custom Cabin Tree House Company – I tried to select a name that would speak for itself. We build cabins and tree houses of all shapes and sizes focusing on building them to really high standards. They’re not just kids’ tree houses, they can be enjoyed by adults and range from small decks up in trees to fully functional, liveable tree houses. The cabins we make can be anything from garden offices to gazebos… anything out of wood really.
When did you first start?
We started two years ago, a week before the pandemic kicked in which is a bit daunting when you’re starting a business. For me, it is something that's been coming along for a really long time. I’ve always enjoyed woodwork since I was a child, and have been working towards this business for many years now.
So, you’ve always had an interest in building things?
Absolutely. When I was young, I broke my arm so my parents comforted me by saying would buy me anything I wanted when I got out of hospital. I asked for a roll of Sellotape and a ball of string because I just loved to make things. My dad was a woodworker, and my grandad as well, so I was always making things in the garage with my dad. Since I was around seven years-old I would be making things or taking things apart seeing how they worked. I think it’s quite fortunate that as an adult I can essentially be a big child and go into a forest and build a treehouse.
What’s your demographic?
It splits into two really; we have those who have garden offices and looking are for a warm and welcoming space – they usually have a family already and are working professionals looking to increase their living space. We also have the domestic holiday market, within which customers are looking to build something they can rent out. Nowadays, people are after really interesting places to stay in the countryside – as opposed to a hotel or resort – so the treehouses are very popular.
Do you have a favourite cabin that you have worked on?
I really like them all, to be honest. One of the things that I love about the company is that every single building is different. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own company is because I was working for a company that built treehouses but everything was very similar, which became repetitive. I'm always looking for ways to improve our buildings and new things to add. It keeps it fresh for the team.
Not only that, but there are so many different forms that it can take…
Every single building we make is designed exactly for that customer's needs. Even with garden offices, each person works differently, doing different jobs, so we try to tailor everything to their exact needs so it performs really well for them. That’s not to say that when they sell it someone else can’t come in and enjoy it, but every building is unique.
Do you think that's what sets your company apart?
Absolutely, that and the care that we take. There are so many companies that say they build to really high standards but you go to inspect them and the standards really aren't that high. We take pride in our work; we want the buildings to function long after we cease to live. What sets us apart is that nothing is off the shelf, and we take pride and care.
Is there anything you do to ensure that respect is paid to the tree that you are building around?
When you work on a tree, there’s a layer under the bark called the cambium which is essential, so you want to limit the number of times you pierce this. Contrary to popular belief, a few large bolts into the tree are much better than lots of small nails. We use specialist bolts that were designed and developed by American pioneers. Of course, anything that you put into a tree has the potential to cause some harm, but these bolts have the lowest possibility of that. This bolt is drilled in – after sanitisation to stop infection – and over time the tree treats this bolt as if it’s a branch that has been cut off, and it grows around it, resulting in it actually strengthening over time. It mimics the natural process that the tree would go through if it were to lose a branch.
Does being in a tree serve as a kind of escapism for you?
Absolutely yes, I love it. My biggest passions are climbing and carpentry; when I'm working up in a tree putting a roof together or something, everything else just disappears. Obviously, in running a business there’s a lot of stress and things to think about, but it’s meditative in a certain way because you have to concentrate and be present otherwise you might fall. It’s really nice to just be in that moment in nature, doing something you love.
You mentioned briefly some of the stresses that come with running a business. What would you say is the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge is probably explaining to customers and educating them on the difference between the quality of our buildings and the quality of our competitors.
It must be hard to communicate that without them seeing the final product.
Yeah, and there are so many cheaper alternatives. I understand those may be more within some people’s budgets, but when someone wants something of really good quality and they’re looking at us as well as our competitors there is a really big difference.
Can you tell us a little about the art of Yakisugi, the Japanese method of wood preservation which is often referred to as burnt timber cladding in the West. When did you first come across it?
I think my dad might have put me on to it; he might have seen it on the internet and passed it along to me. What I love about it is that it looks fantastic but it’s also really practical. It serves a lot of purposes, protecting the wood in two major ways: by stopping water ingress and also stopping infestation. We offer it to all of our customers, but it depends on the appearance that you’re going for because it’s a very bold look. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic process because a piece of cladding may last 30 years, but with Yakisugi, it could last three times as long. The amount that it costs to begin with compared what you get out of it makes it a no-brainer.
What’s next for Custom Cabins?
I hope we continue to grow – but not too much. I'm looking forward to some really interesting builds and maybe some bigger projects where we really get to show off our skills. I find the bigger projects a bit more fun because you get to spend more time on them, and what we can produce in that amount of time is always fascinating. We did our first international project last year and we have another one on the horizon so that’s fun, to be able to travel with it as well.