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Twistleaf Designs Whimsical Two-Story Treehouse in Highland Crest

Sarah Yant shares the inspiration behind the award-winning project, which was built for a family of four

Landscape architecture studio Twistleaf recently designed an entertaining two-story treehouse for a family looking to bring natural elements into their children’s outdoor play environment.

This is the first treehouse project for the Austin-based design studio, which was founded by Sarah Yant in 2020. The team has also worked on ranches, commercial properties, parks and public green spaces, including the 11-acre Horseshoe Bay Nature Park.

The backyard structure was inspired by folktales of fairies and garden trolls. More practically, the project was constructed to emphasize privacy from neighboring residences, while still allowing for open space.

“We wanted the treehouse to have a magical woodland feel, as if it were straight out of a storybook,” says Yant. “We were also inspired by the idea of cultivating a curiosity for nature, seeking out interactive and tactile rustic elements that would spark a child’s interest to engage with the natural world.”

The team envisioned an organic aesthetic for the treehouse, incorporating locally available cedar as the primary material for the overall structure.

“We are drawn to the fantastic tactile quality of its bark, which sheds naturally with time and reveals a smooth, warm wood beneath it,” explains Yant. “We imagined that it would be really engaging kinesthetic play for the children.”

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The design team ended up navigating several construction challenges, including working around a tangle of power lines and critical tree root zones and managing material shortages caused by the pandemic. In addition, the clients wanted to maintain cohesiveness between the treehouse’s woodland aesthetic and their more traditional northwest Austin home. In order to soften the rustic structure, the team added accents like string lights, a colorful outdoor rug and a hanging basket.

Interactive features include a slide, chalkboard and a climbing wall, each maximizing the playable space in and around the treehouse. Yant’s personal favorite element is a capiz shell curtain that creates privacy and gives the kids a fun way to enter their playspace.

Twistleaf won a 2023 Texas Excellence in Landscaping Silver Award from the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association for the project. Plus, junior landscape designer Sophia De Pascuale’s watercolor rendering of the treehouse was featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

“This was our first treehouse,” reflects Yant. “And we had so much fun imagining that we were 6 years old again!”

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