Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan, approaches Green Gables in a carriage, her arm “black and blue” from all the times she’s pinched it to make sure she isn’t dreaming, that she really is coming home. The carriage stops under a row of poplars, their silky leaves rustling. “Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispers. “What nice dreams they must have!”
Though Anne is the fictional creation of L.M. Montgomery, what she says is true: there is a certain poetic wisdom to be found in trees. What if we, as Anne surely would have wished, could sleep among them? What if, at the end of the day, we climbed into a tree instead of walking into a house? Would we, in our rest, absorb some of the insight that their heartwood is sure to hold?
The idea of walking around in a tree, let alone sleeping in one, was a farcical idea for a city-raised kid like me. But with travel becoming more and more about the experiential, specifically when it comes to where one lays one’s head, I decided it was (pardon the pun) high time to check out some of Maine’s most unique accommodations.
SEGUIN TREE DWELLINGS
Georgetown // seguinmaine.com // Photography by Myriam Babin
The first feature to note about Seguin is the view. Located on a wooded finger of land that rises above the curving Back River tributary in Georgetown, the three minimalist dwellings, Madawaska, Isle au Haut, and Souhegan—all rentable on Airbnb—were each built with a wall of windows that offer an unobstructed lookout through the conifers. From my bed in Madawaska, I can see clusters of pines perched at the edge of the rocky shoreline, which becomes even more rugged at low tide, like the land is revealing its crooked teeth.
“We were thinking a lot about Scandinavian design,” says co-owner Marsha Dunn, “and wanting it to feel clean and simple. We didn’t put artwork inside, so the window is where your focus is.”
Marsha runs the business along with her husband Philip Francis, his brother Loren Francis, and Loren’s wife Ida Lennestål. Each of them has a concentration and a craft—Loren is a carpenter and a builder and, with a team of helpers, constructed the dwellings by hand; Ida’s a photographer who documents Seguin’s properties and teaches yoga in the newly finished “Gathering Space” (used for workshops and events and also rentable); Philip is a professor of philosophy and handles the marketing; Marsha is the designer. She conceived of the dwellings’ furnishings and decor, from the wide-planked, blonde wood floors covered in jute rugs to the space-saving cabinets of the mini-kitchens and bathrooms.
Luxury flourishes in the space, like screened-in porches containing Island Teak Company Adirondack chairs with thick woolen blankets draped over their backs. On bathroom hooks hang flannel L.L.Bean robes, ready to be used en route to the private, wood-fired cedar hot tub located on each treehouse deck. The window walls, whose wavy vintage panes were salvaged from the Plant Memorial Home in nearby Bath, open up and out, hooking to the ceiling like Bahama storm shutters, allowing breezes moving through the trees to cool the rooms on hot summer days.
The three treehouses are made up of two separate, compact spaces—one a bedroom and the other a cooking, washing, and lounging area—connected either by a platform or via rope bridge. The two-building design is not only necessary (a large oak juts dramatically through a hole cut out in the deck between Madawaska’s buildings), but it’s also genius. Despite the smallness of the spaces—which Loren tells me were determined not just by financial and spatial constraints but also by his obsession with renovating and living in vintage trailers—their separation serves to break up the already tiny rooms.
The furniture, designed by Marsha and built by Loren, is equally hyperfunctional. The king-sized beds pull apart to become two extra-large twins if preferred; the side of the headboards open to reveal a hanging closet; built-in drawers beneath the mattress pull out for extra storage. “We were thinking, how can you have a space where you can hang your clothes, for instance, and not have them up on a bunch of hooks,” says Marsha. “Often you come into a place you’re staying, and it looks relaxing, and then you put your stuff in it, and it looks chaotic right away.” In Souhegan, the largest of the dwellings, which sleeps four, the second structure can be used both as a second bedroom at night and as a larger living area during the daytime, its modular furniture easily converting into couches and a coffee table.
The structures feel as if they grew here organically, attaching themselves to the trees like fungi, but their germination began decades ago. Philip and Loren grew up on the 55-acre peninsula directly across the water from where Seguin now stands.
“It was just woods when we started thinking of buying the land,” says Marsha, referencing the Seguin property, which, after years of the Francis boys looking out at it and dreaming about its uses, finally went on the market in 2015. “First we were thinking of a hub to do creative programming and interdisciplinary conversations and retreats,” Marsha says, “and then we thought we could have some rental properties. But we wanted it all to feed us creatively in some way.”
They closed on the land on Leap Year Day, 2016, and Loren began working 80-hour weeks to get the first two treehouses ready for the summer season, constructing them in the boathouse in order to grind away through the cold. “Marsha drew these beautiful sketches of what they were going to look like,” he says, “and we posted them on Airbnb, and people started renting them. So, before I’d even finished the second one it was like, ‘Wow!’ We had a little more confidence economically.” Then, Loren and his friends drove the dwellings across the land and dropped them into place with a small crane truck. “Moving them over—they were strapped down—I was smacking trees. It was heart-pounding stuff.” Loren laughs. “The craning, oh my god, the craning and then moving them over was just unbelievably difficult. And awesome.”
Of course, after meticulous engineering and construction—and plenty of support cables—there is nothing scary about the treehouses now. But it’s still nice, if not a little other-worldly, to hear someone walk across the floor on the other side and to feel the buildings shake a bit, or settle, a reminder that you’re not on solid ground.
THE WOODS MAINE
Norway // thewoodsmaine.com // Photography by Myriam Babin
In the decade before Sam and Rob Masabny dove full-time into running The Woods Maine, a luxury treehouse rental on their 10-acre property on Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway, they were living a high-stress existence. After four years in New York City, where Sam worked in television and radio and Rob was in real estate, followed up by several years in executive positions at the software startup HubSpot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they felt it was time to pull the plug.
“I was physically ill,” says Sam, recalling those years. “Like, something’s gotta give.”
Rob had long dreamed of buying land in Maine, so when their friends, who run Granite Ridge Estate and Barn, turned them on to Norway, they started taking the dream a little more seriously. “I had just had spinal surgery,” Sam says, “and our friends asked us, ‘When are you guys buying property here?’” She and Rob looked at listings online and found their home. “I said to Rob, as soon as the doctor clears me, I want to go look at this property. Two weeks later, we put in an offer.”
With all the extra acreage, the couple knew they wanted to build a second residence for visiting friends and family and to rent out for ancillary income. But they didn’t want it to just be a guesthouse; they wanted something different. “We used to watch Treehouse Masters all the time,” says Rob. For kicks, he and Sam started running the numbers: would it be any more expensive to build a treehouse on their property than a regular guesthouse? Then they reached out to Pete Nelson of Nelson Treehouse and Supply—the star of the Animal Planet show and the visionary behind some of the world’s most magical dwellings in the sky.
“I thought it would take a couple of weeks to hear back,” says Sam, “but two hours later we got an email. Two weeks later we were on the phone with the Nelson family. And about two weeks after that Pete flew out from Seattle.” The group hit it off immediately. Nelson looked for the ideal spot on the property—“touching all of the trees, doing his voodoo magic,” as Sam describes it—then returned to Washington state and sent sketches and a budget back to Sam and Rob in Massachusetts, where they were still living and working fulltime. As is typical, the estimate was much bigger than Sam had anticipated. “We thought it was a unique opportunity to build something incredible. We didn’t want to fall in the middle when we built it. We wanted to create a fully functional home in the trees. So we just went for it.”
And that’s exactly what The Woods Maine feels like: a rustic yet refined two-bedroom, two-bathroom tree home, fully stocked with all the accoutrements of life. (But as compared with my life, even better stocked.) The kitchen comes equipped with a stylish SMEG fridge and coffee maker, a Bertazzoni oven, a full set of WÜSTHOF knives, a MacKenzie-Childs teapot, and—well, the list goes on. Feel like an espresso? Brew some Nespresso. Celebrating someone’s birthday? There’s a hand mixer and birthday candles in the cabinet. “I want people to go in and feel like they’re on vacation, but like they’re very much at home,” says Sam. There are puzzles and board games galore, a flat-screen setup with several streaming services, a gas fireplace, and a heat pump system that, even in the depths of winter, makes the entire place warm and snug.
Most of the treehouse was precut in Washington state. Then Nelson and his team trucked 83 tons of lumber across the country. “At the time, the roads were still posted up here,” says Sam, “so we had to make the call to send the truck or not with the hopes that they would be unposted before they arrived.” Thankfully, the ground thawed in time, and the final build began.
After the treehouse went up, Sam and Rob decided to leave their company in Massachusetts and dive headfirst into crafting a life in Maine. “Part of my job had been helping other businesses grow their business,” explains Sam. “I thought, am I going to stick with a day job, and the treehouse will just be a side hustle? No, I know I can do it. I want to take exactly what I know and apply it to our own business.”
Much of the guest experience at The Woods lies in the details and the design. The deck and staircase railings, custom cut from tree branches, are particularly striking, with bits of still-live moss clinging to the bark. Both inside and out, one can see the craftsmanship in every corner, from the sliding barn door in the bunk room to the handcrafted coat and boot storage in the entryway to the built-in banquette. For the interiors, Sam worked directly with Christina Salway, a New York– and Maine-based interior designer who collaborated with Nelson on his show for two-and-a-half years and continues to consult on his treehouse projects off-camera. Typically, Salway is brought in at the very end of the Nelson builds, but Sam reached out to her during the sketch phase. “I wanted to work very closely with her on the vision I had,” she says.
“Sam is a real powerhouse,” says Salway. “She knows exactly what she wants and has a really terrific sensibility. It’s easy to lean ‘lodge,’ kind of ‘rustic cabin’ when you’re in a treehouse. Sam had a clear vision that she wanted it to be cozy and magical but didn’t want to lose sight of it also being a luxurious, opulent experience.” Much of this is accomplished with the kitchen: how it’s laid out, the appliances, the overall functionality. “You can turn out a real meal in there,” says Salway.
Salway describes her and Sam as being “aesthetic soulmates,” evidenced in their choice of lighting over the banquette area and the island. “They’re the same pendant lights I put in my husband’s restaurant in New York,” says Salway. “When we started talking, I was like, ‘Oh girl, I know the light for you.’ It’s elegant, but it also has a little bit of an antiqued quality, so it feels timeless and classic.” The navy blues throughout the home and the blue of the buffalo plaids were first inspired by the splash of indigo tiles that Sam had laid into the floor just inside the doorway, which catches mud and dirt from shoes before guests slip into the provided slippers. And while the all-wood interior has the same fir flooring and pine paneling characteristic of Nelson’s work, Sam and Salway made a point to whitewash much of the wood to add a little nuance to the aesthetic and to keep it from looking, in Salway’s words, “like a cabin box.”
Plenty of local goodies greet you upon arrival, like Time and Tide coffee from Biddeford and Ragged Coast Chocolates from Westbrook. And there are several unexpected items for use, like Seabags and ChappyWrap blankets from The Woods Maine Shop, which Sam first started online and now also runs as a beautifully curated and browsable storefront on Norway’s Main Street. A portion of the apparel and bag sales go to supporting the Western Foothills Land Trust, including such gems as the nearby Roberts Farm Preserve, which not only maintains 12 kilometers of accessible, non-motorized, multiuse Nordic trails overlooking Norway Lake, but also offers use of cross-country skis and snowshoes in every size free of charge.
“A lot of the Maine brands are coastline; that’s what people think of when they think of Maine,” says Sam. “But for us, there’s this whole other world, and we’ve always said we’re not in the business of marketing The Woods Maine. We’re in the business of marketing our town and our community, and we just happen to be a destination along the way.”
Sanford // purposelylost.com // Photography by Mike Iannetta
Peter Valcourt and his business partner, Bryce Avallone, had been completing condo conversions in Portland since 2014, but when prices started to skyrocket they decided to invest in something a little farther afield—and a little more in line with their personal interests. “We’re both outdoorspeople,” says Valcourt. The two’s business trips often include hiking and even trying to shoot an elk together. “We canoe; Bryce is a whitewater guide with an environmental background. We decided to start looking for some land.”
Of course, reasonable land prices in southern Maine weren’t easy to find either. “It didn’t exist,” Valcourt clarifies. But then, a friend who is a surveyor in the Sanford area put Valcourt onto Littlefield Pond, which, unlike most bodies of water in southern Maine, had no houses on it and was surrounded by mature pines that hadn’t been cut over. Valcourt did his research and found that a lawyer in the town owned 15 untouched acres on the pond. “When I first approached him to see if he’d be interested in selling, the answer was no,” says Valcourt. “And then,” he laughs, “I semi-stalked him. A little bit. I was very persistent.”
Valcourt’s tenacity paid off, and soon he and Avallone had acreage to play with. They decided to create a subdivision of f ive lots in which they’d build three treehouses and two hobbit homes. “We both watched Treehouse Masters on TV,” says Valcourt, “and noticed a pretty big trend in doing these kinds of unique stays.”
Because subdivisions require extra licensing rigamarole and, due to the property’s proximity to water, additional approval from the Department of Environmental Protection, they decided to start with one treehouse to make sure the demand was there. “That was 2019, and we were finished in the spring,” says Valcourt. “It was super successful. It was way more expensive than we wanted, but I keep saying it will pay itself back.” In September of 2020 the approval for the final two treehouses came through, and construction began again. “Going into wintertime, during COVID, with the highest prices for lumber, of course,” Valcourt says.
For engineering, Valcourt and Avallone worked with Bild Architecture in Portland. “The idea was, we would have one base with the same legs and floor for each treehouse, and then we could play with what’s sitting on that base,” says Valcourt. The Canopy Treehouse, with its gabled roofline, is the most compact at 350 square feet, and contains a sleeping loft and an attached sleeping pod. The Cliff House has a rustic barn look and features a screened porch with a daybed and outdoor dining. The Sky-Frame is a modern take on the classic A-frame, with a much higher pitch. “We wanted to do some contrast with color, so we went with a black roof and bright red cedar shakes,” says Valcourt.
Sky-Frame is the largest of the three treehouses, with two queen bedrooms and a shared full bath. From the loft, you can lie looking up through the skylight at the tops of trees swaying in the wind and, at night, stars lit up behind the branches. During the day, large triangular windows overlook mature pines, maples, and oaks, and in wintertime, the frozen trout pond 200 feet away.
Each rental includes modern amenities like fully stocked kitchens, thermostat-controlled heating, and screen projectors for streaming, plus extras like outdoor barbecue grills, fire pits with quality patio chairs, and even electric hot tubs that connect to Bluetooth for tunes and that are set in prime stargazing territory. Valcourt and Avallone had private docks built for each dwelling (soon to be five, as the hobbit homes are in the process of being buried during this writing) just a 30-second walk down a meandering path through the trees. Each dock comes with a canoe, fishing poles, and inner tubes for lakefront paddling and lounging. “The pond’s blocked off, so there are no motorboats, making it very chill,” says Valcourt. “And the water’s as clear as can be, with awesome swimming in the summertime.”
The most unique thing about Purposely Lost is that the entire property is carbon neutral. The partners invested in 200 solar panels and placed them in a field almost to Bangor, feeding the grid and generating enough power to offset electrical expenses. Every decision, from the energy-efficient heat pumps to the ultra-insulated walls and f loors, came from a place of eco-consciousness. Putting their money where their mouths are, there are even electric vehicle chargers in each of the wooded lots.
Do the owners ever stay there themselves? “We try to,” says Valcourt. “If we have vacancies during the week, we’ll take turns. And sometimes, we just go out and use the hot tub and have a drink and then go back into town, because we’re only 40 minutes away.”