At the end of “summer vac”, Clarissa Fortescue-Brown was at breaking point. Of course, she adored her boys – Jack, James and Charlie, aged 11, 13 and 15 – but when they were all back from boarding school, they drove her mad: noisy antics, noisy arguments and even noisier music. The latter was the cause of regular fights between her and her sons: “Turn that racket down now or it’ll be salad for dinner!” And between the boys themselves: “You’ve got Rita Ora’s single? No wonder you get bullied…” In the physical fights that ensued, phones were broken, noses bloodied and eyes blackened. The only time “JJC” weren’t totally overwhelming was when they were dead asleep. And long leave in October, when they were bound to be indoors even more, would be worse still.
So Clarissa demanded that her restaurant-empire-owning husband Sam do something about it, given that they’d be spending the break at home in Sussex for Sam’s new hotel opening. The couple toyed with sending the kids to relatives, friends or activity camps, but concluded that if they did so, they might as well not have bothered having offspring in the first place. No, what the boys needed, Sam surmised, was a den, far enough from the house that sound wouldn’t be a problem, with a few cool mod cons. Why hadn’t he thought of a treehouse before? It was just the thing – and he had just the man to design it: Stig Stiggerssen, who’d recently finished the new hotel’s slick, log-cabin-style spa – and who could build a treehouse with central heating.
As Sam was busy, Clarissa took charge of the project. In very little time, she’d rather run away with the concept. Stig had such wonderful ideas, and it was so hard to deny her darling boys. So the building started, with spiralling walkways and platforms linking three oaks at the far end of the garden. A fantastically futuristic, oval‑shaped room in oak, glass and steel, reminiscent of a space capsule, 10ft off the ground and with a high, retractable roof, formed the main “playroom”. Radiating off were three separate pods, a den for each son, reached by handwoven fair-trade rope bridges. Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLink was installed to link the central sound system and flatscreens to smaller ones in each pod, so each son could listen to or watch whatever he wanted or play video games away from the others. A zipwire, running a good way back towards the house, completed the haven.
And what a haven it was – for Clarissa. As “road-tester” of the treehouse before the boys’ exeat, she found herself spending increasing amounts of time there. The playroom soon became her “studio”, perfect for twice-weekly hatha yoga classes for her and her friends. Of course, they needed a cold drink after these sessions, or – in the increasingly cool weather – herbal tea. And so, as the house seemed so far away after exercise, Stig was summoned back to remodel a pod as a mini kitchen. (“I really can’t imagine all three boys being here at once,” rationalised Clarissa.) Hans Wegner limed-oak Wishbone chairs and a Saarinen Tulip table in arabescata marble appeared, followed by a Siemens Porsche kettle, an Electrolux hob and a glass-doored Sub-Zero fridge, filled with mineral water and champagne – first to christen the treehouse, then to celebrate Clarissa’s wonderful back bend, and then… oh, she forgets why, but it was so nice to have some bubbles handy. A day bed was placed in the second pod, along with bookshelves lined with Jilly Cooper, Shirley Conran and Vogue (plus Fifty Shades of Grey, carefully encased in the slipcover from a hardback copy of Pride and Prejudice).
October arrived. Sam realised he’d barely seen his wife since the building of the treehouse. When he returned home late one evening mid-month to an empty house, he worried. Perhaps she’d fallen asleep in her arboreal arcadia…? He didn’t know that just days before, a large Hästens bed had been hauled up into the central pod. As he approached the oaks, Sam’s full-beam torch revealed that the electronic ladder had been pulled up and in its place hung a handcarved-beechwood “Do not disturb” sign. Sam checked his iPhone: the long vac was six days away. Was that enough time to have a basement den built, he wondered. Bar, big screen, pool table – and a dead-bolted door. Surely he had Stig on speed dial...