WILMINGTON–— Captain Charles Robbins has had his pick of the river. Owner and operator of Cape Fear River Adventures, Robbins’ frequent river explorations led the builder to salvage a variety of dead or damaged wood to build a life in the trees.
Crafted almost entirely out of reclaimed wood, the Robbin’s Nest is a fully engineered tree house available to rent on Airbnb.
The tree house rests between a southern live oak and two American sweetgums toward the back corner of Robbins’ 4-acre Middle Sound Loop property.
Each of the nest’s 46 online reviews compliment the tree house’s unique offerings.
“We put it online in March at 10 a.m., by 2 it was booked from Texas to Ohio to Seattle,” Robbins said.
So you want to build a tree house?
After the 2008 economic crisis, which especially hit the real estate and building market, Robbins and his wife Page were looking for ways to earn additional income.
With 4 acres and 40 years of building experience under his belt, Robbins got creative.
He decided to build his first personal tree house on his own property with the intention of renting it out. Robbins gathered his plans and headed to the New Hanover County Development Services Center to present his idea.
Turns out, tree houses are not regulated by the county. Similar to a garage or“mother-in-law apartment,” a tree house is zoned as an accessory building.
Robbins would prefer his creations to be regulated for safety reasons, regardless, his tree house has been“engineered to death.”
The Robbin’s Nest is Robbins’ fourth tree house, but he said it is notsuperior to the others he has built for clients. Each design completely revolves around the available environment.
“Like a tree, it just sort of starting laying itself out,” he said.“You just sit there with a 6-sided drawing and you have to figure out how to fit things in there.”
The nuts and bolts
In a“real” tree house, the structure is supported entirely by surrounding trees rather than an additional support system.
Enlisting American tree house mastermind Michael Garnier to engineer his specialty Treehouse Attachment Bolts, Robbins was willing to pay a premium to ensure safety.
Each specialized bolt has been engineered to withstand 8,000 pounds.“I’ve got 32,000 pounds in each tree, twice as much as I need,” Robbins said.
With an organic foundation, the platform and bolt system are designed to adapt to a moving environment. The entire platform is bound to sliding beam brackets so that the structure will not experience damage via natural growth or weather.
“Everything moves– nothing is tied to the trees. If it’s tied to the trees everything comes apart.”
All about the details
Captain Robbins’ cumulative time exploring the area’s surrounding rivers have delivered a harmonious collection of recovered wood and treasures.
Cedar, oak, southern elm, white juniper and yellow pine woodwork create a mood of comfortable privacy.
Custom hardwood floors crafted from river recovered long leaf pine add a unique gradient of warmth to the loft. Straight groove pieces from the same pine were picked out specifically for the kitchen cabinets.
The cast iron sink was recovered from an old fisherman’s shack torn down in the Florida Keys.
Salvaged oak from the floor of a Wrightsville Beach home hugs the perimeter of the six-sided loft. The oak looked “terrible” on the floor but complements the room as a handsome take on wainscot panelling.
One wall hosts the skull of a 13-foot alligator, taken out of the mud from the creek 40 years prior.
Australian oil stained decking frames the arbor dwelling along with sections of goat fencing to form the railing.
During construction, salvaged metal iron bleachers discarded by a local high school were utilized as a platform support system to aide in the process of adding a custom tin roof.
Renting out your backyard
A true adventurer, Robbins spent years traveling from state-to-state, with nothing but a truck, a kayak and his distinctive combination of skills and personality. Living within the trees is only a natural transition for the outdoorsman.
At $112 a night, Robbins’ rate is comparable to an average stay in an area hotel room. “People keep telling me its too cheap.” Due to his lower-income upbringing, Robbins is intentional about keeping the tree house accessible.
Robbins has noticed that introducing himself to his guests can be rewarding.
“There’s some interesting people who come here,” he said. “I like to talk to them, find out where they’re from.”
In Airbnb culture, it is known that guests tend to take better care of a place when they can put a face to the name.
“I meet everyone I can,” he said.
The allure of living in a tree house has attracted national, international, an even local visitors. Several locals have booked The Robbin’s Nest for a quick escape and like to remain on the cancellation list.
Since going live this spring, Robbins and his wife have rarely gotten the chance to enjoy their own creation. If they can catch a rare cancellation or break, they’ll take a trip to their backyard.
“You know its been booked solid since March,” he said. “Every once in a while I’ll get a break to come out here and sleep.”
In total, the entire project took two and a half years and nearly $150,000.
During the last three months of construction, Robbins worked on the house seven days a week, 12-16 hours a day. “I got a sound system in here and I just cranked it up and worked,” he said.
“One day I was walking out there on the porch and it hit me that I finished and that was the strangest feeling.”
He hopes to build an additional bedroom pod adjacent to the existing structure, add five inch dried bamboo gutters and maybe even a zip line – if he can get his wife to agree to it. “Everything I have is under construction.”
Captain Robbins is still in the business of building, renovating and salvaging wood from his many swamp trips. Anyone in the area wanting a tree house of their own should know Robbins only works for “happy people and people without deadlines.”
Any interested renters may wish to book sooner rather than later. Robbins admits he often dreams about keeping the tree house to himself and selling the home he currently lives in with his wife.
“I would section off the land, keep this and sell the rest of it.”