The sky’s the limit

Here, the designer and builder of the world’s first treehouse-on-a-crane shares his experience and inspiration behind the nature-inspired sanctuary built using sustainable materials and brilliant solutions from B&Q.

For more than three years, creating a liveable space in one of the UK’s most unusual settings has been the dream of UK-leading Treehouse Designer Simon Parfitt and Canopy & Stars’ Managing Director, Tom Dixon. This summer, that dream became a reality as the world’s first treehouse on a crane launches to the public.

In Canopy & Stars at Crane 29, the unconventional duo promise an explosion of natural living that will inspire those seeking a ‘sensory style’ for their own projects, and have worked through the many challenges that come with building a liveable space around an industrial crane 8m above ground level.

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Focusing on a low-impact build with a small footprint (both sustainably and literally – it’s a tight space!), Canopy & Stars and Bower House Construction stayed true to the company’s ethical ethos, the designers worked using sustainable build materials and brilliant solutions from B&Q to create a living and breathing nature-inspired sanctuary, both inside and out, whilst retaining elements of the crane’s industrial heritage and, most importantly, leaving the listed structure as they found it.

Here, Simon from Bower House Construction, Tom from Canopy & Stars – the expert on special holiday experiences in the great outdoors – and Rachel Bradley, Sustainability Manager at B&Q, talk through the structure from concept to build.

How did it all start?
Tom: “I have known Simon for years. We met through a love of wood, amazing spaces and sustainable design, and have worked on several treehouse projects. We have always had a plan to create something together and, being based in Bristol, we wanted it to be here. The idea of using Crane 29 came to me at the end of a long meeting, our offices look over the harbourside and I was looking out and thought ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if people could actually stay in one of the cranes?’ and it grew from there.”

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The challenges of building a treehouse in a crane
The first step in creating Canopy & Stars at Crane 29 was to digitally design the structure in minute detail. The design was millimetre-accurate and, once complete, each section was cut exactly to measurement in small parts. The treehouse was initially assembled in Bower House’s workshop before being transported and reassembled on site.

Simon: “The biggest challenges to the build were the scale and the physical limitations of the crane’s structure, not to mention how to get the treehouse into position. Everything had to be built in small enough parts so that two men could lift the sections into place.

“The cranes obviously weren’t originally built to hold up a liveable space, meaning we had to be incredibly creative with the design and build. Added to this is a limited space to work and a tight time frame. It’s been challenging but also hugely rewarding for the Bower House team.”

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Protecting the structure and celebrating heritage
The harbourside cranes are protected structures, meaning they could not be affected at all by the build. Whilst nature was at the heart of the design, it was also vital that the final build was a celebration of the crane’s industrial heritage.

The subframe and legs were crafted from specialist larch – a material known for its strength and durability – and attached to the crane by clamps, meaning there is no damage to the existing structure.

The team sourced materials that were originally used for industrial purposes, such as pallets, bespoke mullion windows from B&Q and corrugated iron, and reinterpreted them into the design.

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The exterior OSB walls were matched to the colour of the existing structure – RAL 7406 or Telegrey 2. Whilst the interior trusts are designed to look like riveted elements from the original crane, the prominence of plants and natural materials in the build help soften the aesthetic and evoke a feeling of being in nature.

Simon: “For us, builds like this are important and we hope that it makes people think about space and materials in new and different ways, pushing boundaries when creating their own space out of something unusual.”

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Sustainability at the heart
Staying true to Canopy & Stars’ ethical ethos, sustainability was always at the heart of the design. The zero-carbon build uses responsibly-sourced timber, supplied by build partner, B&Q. Recycled and reclaimed materials feature heavily, such as recycled pallets, corrugated iron and a reclaimed Belfast sink. The OSB walls are insulated with wool from Somerset, power-saving LED lights are used throughout and there is a compost toilet installed in the bathroom. The roof is covered with planters filled with pollinator-friendly plants to attract urban bees, birds and butterflies. The structure will be recycled or repurposed when it comes down in the autumn.

Rachel: “At B&Q, we’re committed to becoming a responsible retailer and to helping our customers enjoy better, more sustainable homes and we worked with the Canopy team to help bring this vision to Canopy & Stars at Crane 29. As with all wood products at B&Q, the timber used in the build is forest-friendly. Additionally, the roof planters were created in line with our greener gardens principles and we selected pollinator-friendly plants to help encourage urban wildlife. The treehouse is not just a great feat of engineering to be enjoyed by its guests, but a new garden habitat in the middle of the city that butterflies and bees will love too.”

All profits from Canopy & Stars at Crane 29 will go to Friends of the Earth, meaning that every stay at the treehouse will also contribute to protecting the natural world, climate and biodiversity.

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Bringing the outside in – a smart and sensory space
Step inside for a deep multi-sensory experience of textures, colours, plants, smells and sounds that work together with the architecture and interior design to evoke a feeling of calm that can normally only be found in nature. Guests can breathe in woodland scents, earth, florals, bark, lavender and sage; fall asleep to the sounds of a gurgling stream and wake to birdsong. Materials inspired by the industrial heritage and the natural world were provided by B&Q including a polished concrete worktop, taps created from copper piping, wool rugs and natural jute mats. Smart, space-saving solutions and bespoke pieces, like a handmade wooden bed, a branch coat hanger and a corrugated iron shower cubicle with watering can shower, add to the space. Custom-made shelving filled with plants, created by B&Q, brings the greenery and one wall is clad in slices cut from a tree-branch. The final look and feel is further enhanced by a carefully curated selection of furniture, textiles and ceramics from Anthropologie’s new spring collection.

Tom: “When creating a space, the sensory aspect is often overlooked, we wanted people to smell, touch and feel nature around them. With our materials, we took inspiration from the natural world, we added smells and sounds evocative of a Canopy & Stars holiday and then added greenery, and lots of it! We really hope guests enjoy our vision.”

canopyandstars.co.uk/crane29

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