It all started with a reality TV show.
Bill St. Pierre’s family regularly watches the Animal Planet program “Treehouse Masters.” The treehouses on that show inspired some of St. Pierre’s children to request one of their own.
But these kids weren’t going to get a bunch of planks nailed together and perched up in a couple of branches. St. Pierre, a 45-year-old construction worker, has a full-service woodworking and sawmill shop on the family’s Floyd County property.
St. Pierre Woodworking & Sawmill specializes in reclaimed wood, such as boards from demolished houses and logs that are too big for most sawmills. The family property is loaded with it, so St. Pierre launched what he figured would be a weekend-long project.
“It turned into a year,” he said, with a smile. “I never thought I’d have a $30,000 treehouse.”
While the materials and construction time are worth that much, he said he only invested about $10,000, as he had much of the material already on hand.
The structure mimics his family’s house, which in turn reflects the architecture of his native New England. Aside from the well, St. Pierre built everything on his property, including storage sheds and drying kilns for his wood.
St. Pierre, a Vermonter who moved his family here 15 years ago, said the treehouse has already become a way to show customers at his shop what he can do with reclaimed wood.
Just don’t ask him to build your treehouse.
“That’s not what I do. I would never give this up to build treehouses,” he said of his construction work and the hobby he has built into what he calls a “retirement plan.”
But for the St. Pierre clan, the recently completed building has become a backyard getaway. He and his wife, Jill, get as much use out of it as their four children, ages 8 to 20.
“They say a treehouse brings families together, and that’s true,” he said.
Reclaimed and reincarnated
The St. Pierre treehouse rises from the middle of a stand of oaks. One of those oaks emerges through the middle of the unique structure. St. Pierre used pressure-treated wood for the support posts and outer siding, but the stairs leading up to the house — and the entire inside of the little building — are made of reclaimed wood.
He collected much of the wood for that particular project through his association with the stars of another reality show, the DIY Network’s “Salvage Dawgs.” St. Pierre, who works for Roanoke-based E.C. Pace Company, has a long relationship with the stars of that show, the principals of Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke.
St. Pierre has been featured on the program, and said he is scheduled to be part of an upcoming episode. He has mantles he has made from abandoned wood, and other items for sale at the salvage store.
Wood from a 1795 house in the Smith Mountain Lake area is part of the family treehouse. So are planks from a couple of 1800s-era tobacco barns from around the lake. A 19th-century barn in Floyd also provided part of the material, and the floors are made of reclaimed heart pine.
Among the dozen types of wood he used, the cedar ceiling provides a wonderful aroma and helps (somewhat, St. Pierre said) to repel bugs.
He even built several pieces of furniture for the 11-by-17-foot treehouse. A loft includes sleeping space and provides enough room for the entire family to camp out. It also accommodates kids’ sleepovers and visits from the family’s church youth.
It’s a solid perch, built to support such folks as St. Pierre’s father, who is, according to his son, “moving up on 375” pounds. Strong winds — and there are plenty of “terrific” gales blowing through the property — have proven to be little problem, as well.
“I was real worried about that,” he said.
The deck features a picturesque view of Floyd County when the weather is clear, and it provides a view of the yard and the stacks of wood he has reclaimed.
Big trees, big plans
Word has gotten around in St. Pierre’s years of woodworking: Here is a guy with a 50-inch sawmill that can take care of logs that others cannot. People call him to come pick up what they can’t use.
Trees that the 2012 derecho blew down rest among St. Pierre’s stock. Roanoke College’s storied “Bittle Tree,” a tulip poplar that the school’s founding president, the Rev. David Bittle, planted on the front quad in 1855, is here and getting new life via St. Pierre Woodworking & Sawmill.
It’s all part of a neat shop and grounds that St. Pierre said is turning into a bit of a tourist destination. For the owner, it has become more than a hobby. He said he plans to retire from construction in three years. The woodworking is attracting more business than he can accept.
“This is my 401(k),” he said. “This is what I’m retiring to.”
He’s doing it with material that would otherwise be bound for the landfill.
“I can turn that junk log into a couple thousand bucks just by putting it on the mill,” he said. “And people don’t realize that.”