Living With Kids: Treehouse Tour

Something a little different for this week’s Living With Kids post. We sold our Oakland house. It’s really gone and I can hardly believe it. Would you indulge me while I share a goodbye tour of the Treehouse?

I admit, I’ve had to keep wiping my tears as I prepared this post. We loved this house so much — and our life in Oakland that the house represents — and it was really hard to leave. Come say farewell with me.

As I look at these photos, my brain starts listing every change we made — both big and small. A new front door. A new front porch light. New house numbers. New doorbell. I remember driving south to San José to buy the vintage outdoor furniture from a Craig’s list ad. The cement plant pots? I made them myself.

When we moved in, the entrance was tiled, and the floor was carpeted. Can you picture it? And I remember doing research on how to lighten the bricks without damaging them — I ended up using milk paint.

As we worked on the house, we designed most of the main floor to be one connected space — entry, living room, dining area, and kitchen — all open to one another. I know open floor plans don’t work for every family, but they were ideal for us. A lot of laundry was folded on those couches, while a meal was simultaneously being prepped on the kitchen island. I hope all the kids have happy memories of working together and being together in this space.

When I see the kitchen, one of the first things I think of is that it’s an unfinished project. I really, really wanted to enclose the laundry area and make it a laundry room/pantry. Then overhaul the kitchen at the same time. We did lots of updates and work in the kitchen, but so much of it was incremental stop-gap fixes as we waited till I had the energy (and funds) for a compete redo.

Oh well. The fixes we made were super helpful and even without the overhaul it was an easy space to have all eight of us in at once. Our current rental has a much smaller kitchen and gets awkward with more than a few people, so we are especially missing our Treehouse kitchen.

Another thing I notice in the pictures is the pottery collection on the shelves. The pottery came with house — or at least a lot of it did. We ended up adding to the collection over the years. I would hunt for new (old) pieces at the famous White Elephant sale in Oakland. We brought the collection to France and now I’ll hunt for more pieces at vide greniers (community yard sales).

I am quite careful about choosing items for our home and know the history of each piece. We chose the table when we lived in Colorado. The bentwood chairs were purchased from our friend Erik who runs Book/Shop. The chandelier was given to us when we lived in New York — friends were redoing their house and didn’t want it.

I have some heavy regrets about not bringing the chandelier with us. If the new owners ever decide to get rid of it, I hope they’ll give us a chance to buy it first.

The whole house is surrounded by balconies that look out onto the forest. There were no other houses like this in the neighborhood. It was truly unique.

Because the house was surrounded by trees, the exterior upkeep was a beast! Some years we were better at it than others. : ) The leaves fell continuously throughout the year and had to be swept weekly or sometimes daily. And there were SO MANY cobwebs. Just always, always cobwebs. No matter how often we swept them away.

But how could we complain when we had a little stream and waterfall running through the yard? Even when the drought was at its worst, there was still water in the little stream. The sound of running water was the first thing I heard every morning when I woke up.

You might remember the suspension bridge that hung high above the yard. I never really did a post on the bridge and platforms we built in the trees — there’s one in my drafts I never finished — but they were epic! Three platforms (one big enough to sleep on), a bridge, and a zip-line.

To reach them, you had to put on climbing gear and use ascenders to go up climbing ropes. You had to be clipped in at all times — it was high! — and a fall would have meant death or serious injury. We were always careful to be extra safe.

The trees were so tall, and the branches were so high, that having platforms and a bridge was the best way to interact with them; to be in the trees.

On the main floor, off of the entry, there is a hallway that led to two bedrooms. We added cubbies and hooks to the hallway and it functioned as our “mudroom”. It was the first project we tackled when we moved in.

I’m thinking about where I might use this wallpaper from the boys room I made in a future project. (Obviously I left the wallpaper on the wall when we moved, but could have more printed for a new space.)

We sold the wire closets from the girls room for a few bucks on Craig’s List and it was such a mistake. They were so useful! And I miss them. I thought we wouldn’t have room on the shipping container, but I was wrong, there was plenty of room. Oh well. (We found them at Ikea many years ago but they are no longer available.)

Now let’s go upstairs.

A note on the spiral staircase: it took some getting used to. When we first moved in, we talked to an architect about replacing the staircase with something more straightforward. But after a month of so, we were used to them and loved that they didn’t take up much space. (And there’s a full exterior staircase along the backside of the house that we used to move furniture in and out.)

Our bedroom was at the top of the stairs and the bed looked out on the bridge and trees and stream. We did major reconfigurations in this space and loved how it turned out.

Some good news: A lot of this furniture (like the bed and nightstands and artwork) is in our rental bedroom and it looks great!

I know I’ve shared before and afters of the bathroom, but holy cow this was a satisfying project. I’m already thinking hard about what I want the bathrooms to be like in our French house.

At the top of the stairs there was a landing that led to our bedroom, a half bath, and the family room.

The family room! What a great space. There was a reading loft, a kids clubhouse that you could only access by climbing the yellow ladder, a music area, a balcony, board games, dress-ups, legos — and kites hanging from the ceiling.

Many, many movie parties and sleepovers happened in this space. Lots of impromptu jam sessions too.

If you walked through the family room, it would lead you to the office/studio.

This room has a loft too! At first we used it as a guest space — we put a full-size bed and a little dresser there. But eventually, we needed some storage space (there’s no basement or attic or garage), and converted the loft with gorilla racks.

I am missing the Elfa wall storage we added to this room like crazy. I didn’t bring it because I wasn’t sure we’d have a wall for it, but I should have. It’s something else I wish we’d put on the shipping container.

I loved being down in the yard and looking up at the house. Especially in the evenings. The architecture was so interesting, and the house looked so pretty with the windows all lit up.

Speaking of windows, the forest was so private that we had almost zero window coverings. (We currently live right in town, so adding window coverings to our rental was basically the first thing we did when we moved in here.)

It’s hard to describe how much work we did in the yard. When we first moved in, the yard was unusable. It hadn’t been touched in 20 years and was completely overgrown. There were dead, fallen trees (some of them huge!) crisscrossing the yard, and a layer of leaves on the ground that was maybe 3 feet deep.

As we cut things back and dug out the leaves, we found a staircase that led all the way down into the yard! We spent a lot of time clearing the yard out, which we discovered was an ongoing project the entire time we lived there.

Eventually we added tree swings that took advantage of the views of the stream, we added more stairs so we could more easily access the climbing ropes, and we added a little hammock area. Sometimes we hung ribbons in the trees or from the bridge.

It was really cool outdoor space and we were always amazed that we knew nothing about it when we moved in — the yard was an unexpected bonus

. You might remember that we bought the house when we were still living in France, and we never saw it in person until the day we moved in. The house was sold privately and wasn’t listed. The couple who owned it was in their nineties and didn’t have any children. (I was always so curious about them — I know she was a feminist writer, because she left her book behind, and I have it still.)

My sister Jordan visited the house on our behalf and took some photos for us so we could check it out.

The house was so close to the Mormon temple that some people thought we must have bought the house from fellow Mormons, but no, they were total strangers to us and we never met them in person. Sadly, within about 4 years of selling the house they both passed away. : (

I use their pottery daily and I’m always so grateful they sold their house to us. Because we lived in France at the time, the paperwork took longer and required lots of patience on their part. They could have more easily sold the house to another family, and they didn’t have to wait for us, but I’m endlessly grateful they did. I hope they would have liked that we put every inch of the house to good use, and filled it with the best things — family, friends, important conversations, big projects, and lots of love.

We lived there for six years + six weeks. Because of the ages of our kids during those six years, it will probably be the place most of them remember as their primary childhood home.

We thought we would live there for the rest of our lives.

So many milestones for our family, and for our careers, happened from this home base. Oh my. It was hard to say goodbye to this house. It’s still hard. It’s a truly special home, and I’ll always be grateful we had the chance to live there.

P.S. — If you’re curious, many of the changes and improvements to the house that I mentioned here were chronicled in detail in earlier blog posts about the Treehouse.


With the exception of this post, the Living With Kids series is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

54 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Treehouse Tour”

  1. Can you do a packing a moving tips post? I’ve done it before, successfully, but the thought of doing so a bit unexpectedly in the next few months is daunting. Thanks!

    1. I can feel the love and ache, for this beautiful home and life, in your words. I also think this post shows that you have a gift for making a house a home, and I’m sure both that the previous owners of the Treehouse would have been so happy with what you did there, and that you will do something just as heart-satisfying in your new home. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What an incredible home! And surely sad to leave a place that has so much of your families heart in it! France sounds like a wonderful adventure but I’m wondering what it was that gave you the push to make such a big life change? A house and life like this would be such a hard thing to let go!

    1. Thank you for sharing these photos and your honest thoughts on the pluses and minuses of living in The Treehouse. It’s a beautiful home, made more so by your design touch. As for the few things you regret having left behind, I’m confident you’ll find good substitutes, perhaps things you’ll love even more! Enjoy adding to your treasured memories as you embrace this new adventure!

  3. This may be my favorite DM post ever. What a magical house this is. It was such a pleasure to follow both your family’s and the house’s growth and changes for the 6 years and 6 weeks. Thanks for this wonderful recap. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who wanted this (lump in throat) closure. <3

  4. This is beautiful! I am curious to hear how your unpacking process happens, as you mentioned your rental a few times. Are you the type to hang pictures within 2 days after moving? Or are things in boxes waiting for the next move? And how do you approach your rental – are you painting walls, mounting furniture, putting wallpaper, or are you not making any major changes? I guess also, what is allowed in France in terms of rentals? You mentioned having to buy your own appliances, but how much is it assumed you will “make it your own” and how much is it assumed that you will leave it exactly as you found it?

  5. Since you move in this home, I felt in love with your home!!! What a magic and peaceful place! I admire your courage and determination to embrace the opportunities that life offers you!! I’m a long long time reader and I wish you and your family a lot of happiness in France. Beaucoup de bonheur❤️❤️

  6. My husband and I went to a wedding in Oakland where vows were exchanged near the Redwood Bowl staging area. We walked through the forest and ended up walking past the Mormon Temple. I kept on the lookout for the Treehouse the whole time. We have moved a fair amount too and I appreciate your honesty about how hard it is to leave a place you love. Even though you make the decision to go. I’m always reminded of those beautiful pieces of art found in Latin America made from flowers and petals on the street that are so time consuming and intricate and we look at them for a day and then the wind or the brooms brush them away. That’s how it feels to me. And our heart breaks and fills simultaneously. That’s what love and life feels like. And most especially parenting. Heartbreak and heart filling. I admire your bravery to accept that. And to keep moving on.

    1. Wow, I love this post and advice. You’re so right. We are constantly re-making, that’s part of the beauty and fragility of life.

  7. The staircase, the loft, the chimney!!! I didn’t know about your stream. We spent 8 years in a treehouse of our own near Portland, Or. I literally once saw my 65-year-old + female neighbor swinging from the trees cutting down branches a few stories above the ground. Our house was beautiful for us, but nothing super cool cause it wasn’t very old. Just old enough that we needed to upgrade our money pit a lot. I understand what your yardwork must have been. We had 1/3 acre in Oregon and it’s a jungle there. On the other hand, we moved to Boise next and we had to constantly worry about a patch of grass that would get scorched from the sun so you can’t win. BEAUTIFUL HOME.

  8. Great post! I love how organized your house looks. There is no clutter, neither historic, nor fresh. (Fresh clutter is laundry, for example, old clutter is disorganized places. In my mind, at least. :)) I really struggle to reach this level of organization and fail miserably most of the time. I’d love to hear how you do it, esp with kids’ stuff!

    1. On the one hand, it’s true: I don’t like clutter and try to put systems in place to avoid it. (My book goes into some of that as well.)

      On the other hand, these photos are particularly uncluttered because I took a bunch of stuff out of each room before the photographer came over. This is typical of any interior photo shoots you see online or in magazines — when you’re going to photograph a room, you “style” it first, which often means decluttering and moving anything “extra” out of frame.

      That’s no problem if you’re shooting one room because you just move the clutter and extras temporarily into a neighboring room. But if you’re shooting a whole house, then you need to move the clutter to a garage or basement that won’t be in the photos. At The Treehouse, there was no storage space to put the clutter, so we ended up renting a storage Pod for a couple of weeks and put the clutter in there. : )

      1. Sometimes I wish more bloggers would do occasional “cluttered,” real-life, behind-the-scenes photo shoots. I think it would help fight that pressure that many of us feel to somehow have the perfect home (or wardrobe, or office, or whatever the subject is). While I assume people “clean up” before these photos are taken, it never occurred to me that the “real-life” is edited out to the extent that you’d need a storage pod to put the clutter so the pictures look better. I really like seeing how people actually live, not just magazine shoots.

        1. Sorry if that came out overly negative. I LOVE the Treehouse, and love seeing the beautiful spaces you set up. It’s very inspiring. I guess I’m saying I’d like to see it BOTH ways–magazine photo shoot and actually lived-in. :) That’s true for other bloggers and blog posts, not just this one–it was general commentary.

      2. Thanks for the clarification. :) I’m aware that a lot of work goes into styling a home before a photo shoot, but I still think that it needs to be well-organized in the deep structure to begin with for one to be able to do the styling. It’s not about a cluttered drawer or two, rather about the system you mentioned. Bottom line: I need to get your book!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve personally been inspired watching the transformation of the treehouse and how much your family loved it. I can’t wait to see your next homes.

  10. Wow I can understand why you’d wanted it to be your forever home. Looking forward to seeing what you do next in your new home in France! Although as a fellow Oaklander, I will miss your thoughtful posts about living in Oakland and in those rare occasions seeing you and your family around town!

  11. It was fun to see the entire Treehouse after watching the projects on the blog. You did so much work! I think you are so brave about embracing change. I cried my eyes out the day we sold our old house because it was where my children had been babies. It felt that that chapter of all of our lives was gone along with the house…and I mourned hard. I hope France is a wonderful adventure, and it seems “home” in a different way that structural for your family. Also, you made me buy a lot of cheese at the grocery store after that insta story from the French market! :)

  12. it really is a wonderful house. so lucky you could live there. I do have one question, you showed the master bath and the new half bath. What other bathrooms are there? im guessing the main bathroom for the house wasnt remodeled?

    1. The main floor had a full bath. I thought I had included a photo but you’re right, I didn’t. Let me see if I can find one. I know I’ve shown it before on the blog because we did a bathroom refresh (but not a full remodel).

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this! Absolutely loved reading as I am in the middle of updating my apartment and can’t even imagine dealing with a whole HOUSE. How do you manage renovating + the time it takes with a desire to travel and visit other places? Did spending weekends working on the house ever give you cabin fever? Do you think all the work you put into it was worth it since you ended up selling and therefore won’t live there for years?

  14. Gorgeous home tour and photos. I’ve loved following along on how you transformed this beautiful home over the years. I also was never quite able to figure out how your family room and office fit into the overall layout and now I finally do! :) You have such a gift for creating a home that works for your entire family and is beautiful to boot.

  15. What a fab house! I love how you styled it and the changes you made.

    I feel your pain. My parents built a house in the woods in the late 60s when I was ages 3-6, and where my brother was born. I loved it there…I had a lot of freedom to roam, and I had a rope swing that swung out over a woody slope. I was super sad and upset when they announced we were moving.

  16. I love this post! I commented on your Instagram post as well and left our story of selling our home but I truly feel the love your poured I to this home through your written words and beautiful pictures.

  17. A stunning home from top to bottom! I am so glad you gave us a tour. My question is did you sell it to someone you know? If so you can picture the lovely life they are living there and rejoice.

  18. Oh wow. I cried reading the last few paragraphs. I kinda hope you will someday come into possession of your home again. On the other hand, I’m actively encouraging my patents to sell my childhood home (which has all the memories) so they can relocate to be near my family and we can be part of each others lives on a regular basis, as my siblings and I won’t ever likely live near them otherwise. When it comes down to it, I hope relationships will trump things, no matter how much sentiment a home brings.

  19. Oh my goodness. I remember when you bought this house! I had moved back from France the year before, and I was excited for you and your family to be coming back to California.

    “I thought we would live there for the rest of our lives.” That sentiment makes me sad, but also gives me hope. So much of my life at that time was just beginning. Now, there are big changes on my horizon again, and not all of them necessarily positive. But changing with you seems somehow familiar again.

    Thanks for the journey, Gabby!

  20. Emily Rendall-Araujo

    This is legitimately the coolest house I’ve ever seen. How lucky you were to live there and bring out its potential! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  21. Thank you for sharing this. I loved watching your transformation of the tree house and can feel all of your love for your previous home and the bay through this post. I too used to live in Oakland and always enjoyed watching your family experience our shared old haunts.

    Such a lovely tribute to a beautiful home!

  22. This was such a beautiful post – for some reason I found myself tearing up when you wrote about the former owners. It’s so funny how “connected” your two families were, even though you never met. The story would actually make a great novel!

  23. oh how I love your energy Gabrielle! We moved house just over a year ago to a house we designed and built. It was the end point of a number of project that took 11 years to complete and involved buying 2 derelict houses, living in one of them for over a year, knocking them down, building three in their place, renting twice for 2+ years during the new builds. The interior of our new house is almost completed from a furniture and decorating position (although I am still mulling over the master bedroom!). But I’m exhausted and have not had the energy to tackle the mess of old furniture boxes and general stuff we have accumulated over this time and is filling our double garage! You inspire me to get moving.

  24. You have such a talent and eye for renovation and decorating, and it is your gorgeous heart that puts everything you do over the top! Thank you for sharing all you and your family did to create a beautiful home. I know your next home (or homes, as life is always surprising) will be just as adventurous and full of love and creativity! I can’t wait to see what is in store!

  25. What a lovely story of a home! At first I thought, too expensive of a home. But the story of the steps in the yard, and the previous owners and your family itself is a fantastic story, a bit like the secret garden.

  26. Love this! Amazing home and family! I’m wondering if who bought such a special home from you and if they had a cool story to tell 💗

  27. I prefer your photos of your home because they captured the warmth and joy you brought to the space. It looks like the yard was completely magical too! Oakland will miss you but I think I would also choose to move to France in a heartbeat. Best of luck in your next chapter. ❤️

  28. What a wonderful home that was! Thank you for this post. I am sure you will make a beautiful new home in France. You are so talented!

  29. Oh, what a magical home. My eyes watered reading it and feeling your sorrow at saying goodbye. What a blessing to found this home and enjoyed. As my oldest is off to college, I also think that sadness is also from knowing that this was the last home that housed all your kids. We’ll be moving next year and just the idea that the next home our oldest will only come to visit makes me cry. Thank you for sharing so much of your beautiful family with us.

  30. Thank you for sharing this recap of The Treehouse. I was renovating my house when you were working on The Treehouse, and I so appreciated the full experience of the projects you would relay. I loved hearing about the creative development process and then the implementation challenges. I would cheer you on as I read down the post and share some empathy about the joy and pride and disbelief at how a project ended up. I hope you’ll share some of the home-making stories from the nouveau Chez Blair!

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful last goodbyle to The Treehouse. What a wonderful home it was and a forever memory in your ongoing narrative!

    I have a very mundane question. I’d love to know where you got your house numbers from. They look like they’re off-set from the wall itself and exactly what I’m looking for. So sorry to bother you for such trivialities but would you care to share?

  32. What a gorgeous magical home you created! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. All the best to your lovely family in France!

  33. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful home. I know what it’s like to leave a house that you made into a home and have such love for it still and at the same time know that it’s the right decision to leave. Hugs to you.

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