Air Apparent: Inside a Coastal Rhode Island Treehouse

A sky-high treehouse set in a leafy canopy doubles as a whimsical family getaway.

Sturdy trees poke their way through a custom-built treehouse in coastal Rhode Island. Photography by Meghan Sepe

John Clancy has built hundreds of homes over the course of his career — beautiful, custom-crafted dwellings in seaside communities like Newport, Jamestown and Little Compton.

But it’s a side project that has captured his heart as of late: a whimsical family treehouse in coastal Rhode Island where he got to abandon rigid plans and work in tandem with the owner to bring it to life.


Light streams in through dozens of salvaged windows. Photography by Meghan Sepe.

“We just came up with an idea. That’s what I like to do — just have ideas and work with creative people,” says the Newport resident. “Between the two of us, we had some great ideas.”

The client wanted a spot where the family could play games, sleep under the stars, dine outdoors and just relax and hang out. Work began in July 2020, a perfect time for Clancy, whose regular job was halted due to the pandemic.


Leftover pieces of wood are woven together to form an intriguing wall space. Photography by Meghan Sepe.


John Clancy leans against the burnished metal exterior. Photography by Meghan Sepe.

They started with the windows: They knew they wanted as much glass as possible to give the space an airy, sunny feel. Between Clancy and the client, they had an eclectic collection of windows in all manner of sizes, shapes and colors salvaged from worksites and the Brimfield Antique Flea Market. They laid them out on the ground until they found a configuration that made sense. 

To help brace the structure, Clancy ordered titanium posts online from a specialty treehouse shop and drilled them through several sturdy trees. An outdoor mahogany deck was added as an afterthought. At first, the entryway was going to be a ladder, but then they thought a ramp would be interesting. They found they needed to build higher to accommodate a ramp entryway, and so an outdoor deck and seating area was born. 

A bonus: Now the family dog can make it up to the space, too.


The lush canopy provides a shady area for al fresco family meals. Photography by Meghan Sepe.

“That’s the beauty of working with no plans and creative people,” Clancy says. “Things evolve and change and it’s kind of fun to just figure it out as you go.”

Salvaged cedar limbs thread their way through the outdoor railing, adding a rustic touch, while the treehouse is clad in metal. The material was Clancy’s idea, and the client — who’d always wanted to do something with metal siding — readily agreed. He sprayed it with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to make it rust and then cut it to fit around the windows. 

A bed, built-in cedar desk, shelving and stools all fit inside the sixteen-by-sixteen-foot space, with plenty of room to spare. Electricity powers several lighting fixtures and a ceiling fan, while a small wood stove keeps things toasty in the winter. (The insulated sloping ceiling also helps in that regard.) 

Family photos and found trinkets decorate the cozy interior, as does a puzzle-like wall crafted with wooden remainders and the many eclectic windows. 


The home is wired for electricity and a wood stove warms the interior during the cooler months. Photography by Meghan Sepe

Work finished in spring 2021. That’s when the family spent their first night in the treehouse. As springtime birds are wont to do, they started chirping madly around 4 a.m. before settling down an hour or two later. It took a bit of getting used to, but now the family adores the morning symphonies and lovingly refer to their new space as the “birdhouse.”

“It’s beautiful here,” the client says. “It’s like living in the trees.” 


Found cedar limbs are threaded through the railings. Photography by Meghan Sepe