Montana Treehouse Retreat Featured in Daily Interlake


May 14, 2017 at 5:00 am | By LYNNETTE HINTZE Daily Inter Lake


Kati O’Toole, Darin Robison and their children Ry, 5 months, and Rowan, 3, outside their treehouse on Thursday near Whitefish. The treehouse retreat will be featured Tuesday, May 16, on the DIY Network. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake

    Once upon a time, treehouses were relegated as play spaces for children.

    Not so anymore.These days treehouses are trendy. They’re unique abodes for folks who want a slightly different lodging experience, and they range from rustic to upscale.

    Treehouses also have their own television show now. The DIY Network’s “The Treehouse Guys” follows a team of builders and designers around the country as they create and build custom treehouses. Last year about this time, they spent six weeks near Whitefish framing a treehouse for Darin Robison and Kati O’Toole, who own Montana Treehouse Retreat off Dillon Road.

    The show featuring the local treehouse airs at 9 p.m. Monday on the DIY Network. In addition to showing the construction of the treehouse, the segment will feature local activities and amenities of the Flathead Valley.

    “We dreamed about building a treehouse,” O’Toole said.

    The young couple thought it was an attainable goal that might take a while to achieve. Robison owns Ace Landscaping and O’Toole is a music producer for an online record studio based in Los Angeles. They have two sons, Rowan, 3, and Ry, 5 months, so life already was extremely busy when someone suggested they check out an advertisement in the Daily Inter Lake about the DIY Network looking for locals interested in being part of The Treehouse Guys show.

    After a lengthy interview process, they made the cut and the project was set in motion.

    The first order of business was to get a conditional-use permit to allow the treehouse on their property southeast of Whitefish. The county Board of Adjustment granted approval to develop their seven wooded acres with up to three high-end treehouses open to the public for nightly rental.

    Once the treehouse build crew — B’fer Roth and his band of “tree muskateers” — had completed the frame, there was still much to be done. It’s been a collaborative project and a very positive experience, Robison said.

    John Colliander of Treeworks Log and Timberframe Construction of West Glacier built the spiral log staircase that winds around a gigantic tree Robison harvested from his grandmother’s yard near Echo Lake. The root of that special tree will be turned into a countertop for the treehouse.

    The couple’s fathers — Mike O’Toole of Polson and Ryan Robison of Columbia Falls — have helped out, as have Sean Donovan of Whitefish and Robison’s brother Dave. Bigfork architect John Robinson drew up the final plans for the unique, two-story treehouse.

    Finish work will proceed over the summer, with a targeted opening date of Nov. 1.

    Four living trees have been incorporated into the treehouse — two on the deck and two in the interior. The dwelling features a master bedroom loft on the upper level with half-bath and sliding glass door to a deck.

    The lower level will have a small kitchen, living area and full bath.

    It’s a one-of-a-kind dwelling that will rent for $500 a night.

    “We’re thinking honeymoons,” special getaways for guests, O’Toole said.

    Within the next five years or so the couple hope to build two more custom treehouses on their property.

    Offering something out of the norm was always the plan.

    “There are so many regular cabins for the rental market,” Robison said. “We wanted something unique.”

    For more information about Montana Treehouse Retreat go to

    Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or

    Link to original article:

    Staircase Featured in Hungry Horse News!


    May 11, 2017 at 7:04 am | By Chris Peterson Hungry Horse News

    John Colliander of West Glacier built the spiral staicase for this treehouse that will be featured on the DIY Network next week.

    John Colliander of West Glacier built the spiral staicase for this treehouse that will be featured on the DIY Network next week.

    A West Glacier man played a part in a treehouse project that will soon be featured on the DIY network show, “The Treehouse Guys.”

    Builder John Colliander of Treeworks Log and Timberframe Construction, made the 18-foot wooden spiral staircase for a treehouse the show staffers built with homeowners Darin Robison and Kati O’Toole on their Dillon Road property.

    Colliander began work on the staircase about a year ago, which is made of larch treads attached to an 80-plus-year-old Douglas fir Robison salvaged from his grandmother’s woods.

    Colliander, 37, is a fourth-generation builder. He grew up in Polson and worked trail crew in Glacier National Park for several years before striking out on his own. Trail crews make do with what’s around them, and Colliander brings that style to his own work.

    “In trail crew, we use nature to accomplish our building needs,” he said.

    He designed the staircase using a freeware program from Google. The four-foot treads are hewn from his own small sawmill and attached to the Doug fir with 1-inch, 6 1/2-foot bolts.

    He used a four-foot long drill bit to make the holes and crafted the mortise and tenon joints with a chainsaw.

    The end result is a staircase that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.

    Colliander also milled the siding for the treehouse as well. It will be featured on the DIY network on May 15th at 9pm PST. and then as a re-run after that.

    O’Toole said eventually the couple would like to have three treehouses on their property as vacation rentals.

    “The treehouse has all the amenities of a luxury rental up the trees in your own private area,” O’Toole said.

    The couple is still completing some of the interior and finish work and is in the process of getting the necessary county approvals for a water supply system for the structure. They hope to open by this fall, she said.

    The house is supported by several Ponderosa pine trees as well as other timber beam supports.

    Colliander, meanwhile, is onto his next project. He said he plans on spending the summer living in a tepee with his wife, Michele, and their sons Mason, 9, and Miles, 7, while he works on a home up the North Fork on a plot of land they recently purchased.

    View more about the treehouse at:


    Behind The Scenes: Filming "The Treehouse Guys" at The Montana Treehouse Retreat

    It's not everyday that we invite a film crew and reality show to our property here in Columbia Falls, MT. When we had the opportunity pop up to be a part of the Treehouse Guys from the DIY Network we jumped at it! 

    We had been dreaming of building a treehouse ourselves for years, but time always seemed to get in the way. Having the Treehouse Guys team fly in and build the treehouse of our dreams has been a surreal experience to say the least. We still can't believe we are treehouse owners.

    Here are some pics of the filming adventure from last spring and some behind the scenes snaps. Looking forward to having you stay in the trees with us come next FALL! 

    Our episode of The Treehouse Guys airs May 16th, 4pm on the DIY Network. Check it out!

    Want to Book A Stay at the Montana Treehouse Retreat?

    I have opened reservations for Fall 2017 starting Nov. 1st. We have a 3 night minimum stay and discounts for weekly rentals.

    Featured On Season 3, Episode 2 The Treehouse Guys on DIY Network!

    We finally got an official airdate for our episode of The Treehouse Guys featuring our build of the Montana Treehouse Retreat! Tune in May 16th at 4pm!

    Season 3, Episode 2, The Treehouse Guys, DIY Network

    Artistic Arboreal Abode in Big Sky

    The only thing better than living in a forest is living on top of the forest, and Columbia Falls, Montana, family Darin, Kati and their son are doing exactly that with the help of The Treehouse Guys. Nestled high in the ponderosa pines of their heavily forested property, B'fer and his team are building an impressive two-story home in the treetops. This creative family is also getting in on the build action by focusing on a large spiral staircase made from a giant tree trunk Darin use to climb in as a kid.

    Snowpocalypse at Montana Treehouse Retreat!

    Holy Snowpocalypse! The snow has hit us pretty hard at the Montana Treehouse Retreat, but we're not complaining. I took an evening stroll last night after a days work on the computer to get some fresh air. This venture even called for my REAL camera as this winter's scene was almost too good to be true.

    Izzie the treehouse pup.

    Izzie the treehouse pup.

    Of the 4 + years I've lived here, I have never seen this much snow on our property. I felt like I was in a dream. Moonlight, piles of fresh white snow leading to the TREEHOUSE and sweet serenity. I can't explain. Needless to say, I had a huge smile on my face. 

    Thought I'd share some pics of my walk in hopes that I could transport you to snowtopia for just a moment. Hope your winter is treating you well.



    Montana Treehouse Retreat: January Construction Update

    Winter is in full force at the Montana Treehouse Retreat! We are loving the fresh piles of snow and all that beauty comes with it. The treehouse looks it's best dressed in white.

    Just yesterday, we had our second snowboard lesson with our 3 year old Rowan on the property. I have also been doing some xc skiing on our groomed trail to catch a little bit of vitamin D here and there to beat my cabin fever. Needless to say, there will be many winter activities to enjoy on site for our guests in their own private woods, as well as surrounding areas...Whitefish Mountain Resort anyone?

    I've been asked several times when the treehouse will officially be available for rent. I wish I had a definitive answer! At this point, we are looking more towards end of summer or next fall. 

    In the meantime, I thought I'd show you some updated pictures of the progress of the project. We have the spray foam insulation complete thanks to Taylor Insulation, stage one plumbing finished thanks to Mildren Pluming and electric wired and ready to hook up thanks to Ambient Electric.

    Darin has also custom created and welded some additional beefy steel supports for under the treehouse to make sure that it is 100% safe, solid and sturdy.

    Click Through updated construction pics below:

    We have plumbed not one, but TWO bathrooms for our guests to enjoy as well as a full kitchen space which will even include a dishwasher! The treehouse will have all of the luxury amenities that you enjoy in the comforts of your own home...UP IN THE TREES. 

    Darin is currently busy planing, sanding and staining boards to complete the interior finishing wall touches. Ceilings are done. We are chipping away as fast as we can! Stay tuned for more updates as we progress.

    Would you like to take a walk with me on site?

    Click the video below:


    Looking forward to seeing you in the trees sooner than later and HAPPY NEW YEAR friends!


    Family Photos by Lindsey Jane Photography

    We love collaborating with local businesses and so when we had the opportunity to team up with our good friend and photographer, Lindsey Jane, we were all for it! 

    The Montana Treehouse Retreat was the beautiful setting for these family photos captured by Lindsey Jane. Such a great feature of our property and the happy campers that visit. The laughs are contagious when you are exploring the woods and there is a treehouse on site!

    Building A Grand Staircase with John Colliander of Treeworks

    The Montana Treehouse Retreat's first treehouse just wouldn't be complete without the grand entrance of the spiral log staircase. This masterful work of art was constructed by local craftsman John Colliander of Treeworks Log & Timberframe Construction.
    Based out of West Glacier, John was eager to hop onto the project. We knew he was the man for the job of taking Darin's elaborate concept and putting it into action! 
    Check out his epic staircase that was built around "Grandma Mary's Tree" that Darin excavated/harvested and trucked up to the site from Echo Lake, MT.  Here are a few words from the man himself:

    How did you become interested in log work and timber framing?

    I became interested in log and timber work at a young age. I am a 4th generation builder (just learned that my great grandpa was a staircase builder from Sweden), which if nothing else made me realize that if you can dream it... it's buildable.

    I can remember growing up in Oregon dreaming, as kids will do, about having a cabin deep in the woods, secluded, and built of logs. Before I even knew what I really meant I was telling people that I would someday live in the woods in Montana. I can't recall even once thinking that someone else would build this for me, building it myself was always a part of the plan.

    My mother and I moved to Montana when I was 16 after my parents divorce and my siblings were both out of the house. Finishing high school in Polson then trying my hand (for a short time) at North Idaho College, I realized that this was not a good match for my mindset.

    The following years I traveled the western US extensively with just a backpack and my thumb as well as South America, New Zealand, and Australia- slowing down in places like Bozeman, Whitefish, and finally West Glacier where I gained work on a trail crew for 3 summers in Glacier National Park.

    During this time I honed my skills working with chainsaws and hand tools as well as continuing to dream of a life in the woods. Glacier's beauty was undeniable and as my world travels had made obvious, increasingly rare. After my third season in GNP I took my first job with a log home builder in Whitefish. I realized almost immediately that I had a knack for working with these raw materials. My skills excelled quickly for the next few years, working for various contractors until the recession of '08 drained most of the work from the valley.

    About the same time I began to raise a family and found myself dreaming again about living in the woods in a home I built. The experience that I gained while working for various other builders was just enough to give me the confidence that I could execute my dream. Towards the end of the summer of '08 I purchased land and began construction of my own home in West Glacier.

    After completion of my home I realized that there was still a shortage of work. I came to the conclusion that no one was going to be able to put me back to work so I simply began finding my own.  In the beginning I was mostly getting small jobs, handrail, accents, decks, staircases, mostly the things that the bigger contractors didn't care to do and often complicated things that they could not do. Over time these jobs began to grow in size and scope. I now find myself building other peoples dreams.

    How long has your business Treeworks been up and running? 

    I have been self employed for 9 years. I'm in a very comfortable niche within the building community in the Flathead Valley. I pride myself in building small custom homes and accents with rustic features but modern amenities.

    I find myself working in amazing, beautiful, often secluded locations because that is where my building style fits. My clients tend to be drawn to dramatic wooden features throughout their home or property. I continue to offer one of a kind homes, barns, accents and features that sometimes seem to extend beyond the realm of possibility.

    What is the most rewarding part of your work?

    Being a log builder is amazing in part because it allows me to help people who, like myself, have dreamt of living in a log home- achieve their goal. There is no better feeling than having a client be overwhelmed by the realization of their dream. It is also a very rough, heavy sort of work but seems to always be just on the verge of art.

    The visual aspect is always heavy on my mind, which is where the work/art interface seems to take place. I like to think that I have an eye for the right log or the right location for specific logs that goes beyond the structural needs of the building but has a large visual impact. In part this is what divides my building style and others.

    How did you get involved in the Montana Treehouse Project?

    Darin and I have known each other since our Polson High School days. As kids grow up it is increasingly difficult to maintain all of your childhood friendships. Only some of them will stand the test of time.

    Darin and I have always been able to connect on multiple levels. I worked with him for Ace Landscaping when they were still unlimited (haha). I often found myself crashing on his couch while he was in school in Bozeman, we spent much time together exploring the Mission Mountains. As adults we found ourselves living near each other in the Flathead Valley and able to continue our friendship into our professional and family lives. Darin and Kati are now some of my wife and my best friends enjoying as much time together as our busy lives allow.

    When the idea for the tree house arose, I found myself almost as excited as D&K. Their artistic ideas and relentless drive I found to be very inspiring. It almost makes a guy feel like a kid again trying to figure out how your going to get a 4x8 sheet of plywood to the top of a tree. The challenges of this particular tree house were of a fairly different degree than those I encountered building in trees as a kid.

    How did you dream up the idea of the log spiral staircase?

    The idea to build a spiral staircase, was one of the original ideas Darin and I came up with while talking around the campfire. It was something that I had executed only in small scale but I knew that it was possible. As the building moved from dream to reality, some of our original ideas were found to be a little far fetched, but we maintained the vision of a grand entrance via a very dramatic staircase. I can still remember Darin mentioning the tree in his cousins yard that he could dig up for use as the center post, and me being a bit dismissive about the reality of it actually arriving on site.

    I can also remember my reaction to the picture he sent when it was dug up and loaded onto his As soon as it was decided to use this huge, crooked, knotted up, piece of Douglas Fir I knew that I had my work cut out for me.


    What was the biggest challenge of the log spiral staircase for the build?

    A spiral staircase built around a perfectly smooth, dried piece of wood is challenging enough but to maintain uniform tread heights and layout on a rough piece of wood like this was a whole different ball game. In the end the process was the same, the large diameter actually helped me be able to spread out the steps a bit and the knarly character of the log only added to the amazing visual impact of the piece.

    What was the step by step processing of tackling such a huge staircase?

    Once the log was on site, it needed a lot of work just to get it ready for placement and the treads to be added. Fortunately for me, Darin was willing to undertake the removal of the bark which I can guarantee was no easy task.

    After this we needed to have a flat surface across the bottom of the log for it to sit flat on its foundation. The diameter of the root wad was roughly 6 feet. In order to remove the majority of the root ball and leave the flared bottom of the trunk it would take a big saw and a great cut.

    This was about the time that the camera crew showed up (to film the first day of the Treehouse Guys for the DIY Network) and really put the pressure on. I have made a lot of difficult cuts with a chainsaw in a lot of different circumstances, but never like this. The cut went better than I could of expected and supposedly there is film to prove it. After the bottom cut was made the log was put in its final resting place by crane and the beams were attached to support the deck for the tree house.

    While the Treehouse Guys began work on the building, D and I picked the treads and moved them to my yard to begin the milling process. The logs that we chose were all from the butt (bottom) portion of the tree. In many circumstances this part of the tree is deemed unusable due to its variable grain pattern and dense impenetrable wood structure. But for this project they were perfect.

    We found many pieces with a very tapered shape perfect for the circular pattern of the steps as well as many character pieces that we just liked the look of. The dense wood grain and green (wet) nature of these pieces proved again to be an added challenge to the project, but in the end, well worth it. The treads were milled and moved to the site and the real fun was set to begin.

    Each tread is actually held in place by a large tenon that extends into and almost through the main post. All together the treads were about 6.5 feet long and weighing roughly 300lbs. In order to locate the placement of each tread I placed layout on the top of the log and extended the lines down to intersect with the proper height of each piece.

    After this I cut a 20" mortise into the center post to match the size and shape of the tenon on the corresponding tread. After the mortise was complete I was able to place the tread and scribe it to fit the contour of the center log. At this point the decision was made to add the all-thread through the center of each tread not only to help keep the treads true and level but to allow for the tightening of the treads that may work loose over time.

    In addition, the look of the all-thread and malleable washers played right into the overall look of the tree house with multiple metal features. This added feature was not only extremely difficult to pull off (drilling a 6-7 foot hole with both exposed ends in a pin point location) but the process of its execution became one of the most commonly asked questions that I received.

    This process was repeated 19 times until reaching the exact height that I set out for and finally being able to access the tree house without a ladder. As I worked my way up and out of comfortable working height I implemented the use of my skid steer to lift and move the treads in and out of their locations until they were ready to be permanently attached.

    What is the most rewarding element of this project?

    This was hands down my most enjoyable project to date. Not only was I able to help my friends achieve their dream, but I was repeatedly showered with not only wonder in the work but praise for its outcome. This project was physically and mentally demanding throughout its entirety but in the end it was amazingly gratifying not only to see a dream realized but to know personally that I can rise to a challenge like this and not disappoint.

    I have built a lot of cool things in my career that will only be seen by a select few, but to have some of my most amazing work appreciated by my own community and friends, as well as the opportunity to show a national audience what a hillbilly from West Glacier can do, is something that I never thought possible.


    more Pictures from The STAIRCASE Build:


    What's the best way to reach you if one was interested in hiring you for a custom project like this?

    Hit me up at...

    Pssst...we at The Montana Treehouse Retreat highly recommend him (if that isn't clear enough already) -Darin and Kati

    Craning in Grandma Mary's Douglas Fir Stair Tree

    Today was pretty exciting at the build site. We hired a crane to come in and help us bring Grandma Mary's big Douglas Fir tree to it's final resting place. This impressive fir will serve as the main center support for our spiral staircase that John Colliander from Treeworks (West Glacier) is custom building for us in conjunction with the Treehouse Guys build team from the DIY Network.

    The build was held up until this point as the tree is serving as a centrifugal point to which the builders need to add support beams off of to start the decking and initial subfloor of the treehouse. The amount of work and man hours to even get to this point have been huge but we are reaping the benefits now, as it's SO WORTH IT!

    How majestic it looks standing up right in the treehouse build site. We only wish Grandma Mary could see it. Can't wait to see how it takes shape and is eventually the main entrance into the treehouse. What a grand site that will be.


    Harvesting Grandma Mary's Tree

    Darin Robison, the owner of the Montana Treehouse Retreat, always had a very special connection with his Grandma Mary who has passed within the past few years. When we thought about our initial idea of getting into the trees, we wanted to make sure it was a grand entrance.

    One thing to know about Darin, is that he doesn't just do things the easy way. He approaches each building project as an individual work of art. When he remembered that the huge douglas fir tree from Grandma Mary's house (which is now cousin Curt's) needed to be removed, he jumped at the challenge to take his excavator down to Echo Lake and dig up the tree from the roots up.


    He had a vision of wrapping a spiral staircase entrance around this tree which he'll set on a concrete foundation. It was important for Darin to get the root footprint of the tree so as to be a more dramatic effect. Thus, more work involved.


    He has spent hours and hours harvesting, trucking the tree from Echo Lake, power washing, peeling and cleaning this tree so we could start the build.


    We have also brought in our good friend John Colliander of Treeworks out of West Glacier to help with the build and to help transform this tree into the most badass staircase one could imagine! Can't wait to see it come together.


    More soon!