Eight years or so ago I bought Henk a book called Bed in a Tree, a collection of weird and wonderful types of accommodation from all around the world. Included here was a listing for Free Spirit Spheres, spherical treehouses suspended in a small forest of cedars and douglas firs on Vancouver Island. These whimsical balls-in-trees immediately captured my imagination and I vowed if we were ever in the area, Henk and I would spend a night in one of them. Last month, we got to do just that and our stay in this unique treehouse accommodation on Vancouver Island was everything I hoped it would be and more!
Meet Anna, our Hostess
Upon arrival at Free Spirit Spheres we were greeted by Anna, our lovely young hostess who invited us up to the ‘office’ sphere to check us in. Personable and clearly as enamoured with the place as we were, Anna walked us around the property, describing the history of the place and a bit of its background, including introducing us to Tom Chudleigh, the man who started it all more than two decades ago.
Meet Tom Chudleigh: the Man Behind the Spheres
Tom Chudleigh is the genius and engineer behind Free Spirit Spheres and I got to chat with him at length about the inspiration behind the spheres. His explanation was simple: he’d always had this idea to build a spherical treehouse, and finally decided to make his dream a reality twenty-some years ago. He had the skills to do it, with experience in ship building as well as engineering, so he set about building his first creation, Eve, which took several years to complete. After Eve turned out so well, Tom took what he had learned and improved on the model with his subsequent spheres.
Equal Parts Engineer and Free Spirit
A practical, intelligent craftsman who is as passionate about making minimal impact on the environment with his orbs as he is obsessed with executing every detail perfectly, Tom cuts no corners when it comes to construction. His perfectionism is evident in every detail that goes into each sphere, from the hydraulics that he installs to raise and lower the murphy bed to the mysterious runes that he carves into each custom-made handle and lever. Those druidic symbols reflect another of Tom’s interests, and the messages that are represented by them reflect Tom’s belief that nature has the power to heal and renew the spirit.
This balance of mechanics and mystery makes perfect sense, as Tom is the kind of spiritual soul whose feet remain firmly planted on the ground, (even if his spheres are not.) At 60-something he still works 6-8 hours a day or so in his workshop on-site, inventing new ways to improve on his designs which are clearly a labour of love. And even though Eve has now been officially retired, she has been replaced by Luna, and another sphere, Flora, is currently under construction.
Meet Melody, Our Free Spirit Sphere for the Night
Like each of the handful of Free Spirit Spheres Tom has built, Melody has a woman’s name, (given to her by Rosie, Tom’s wife of 25 years) but the feminine names may also reflect Tom’s shipbuilding experience. “Melody” also was the inspiration for the musical design (a piece of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”) that is painted on her exterior by a local artist.
Treehouse Accommodation that is Beautiful and Practical
Although Melody may only be 10 feet in diameter, every inch of her interior is put to use the way a ship’s interior would be. Each nook and cranny is used for something practical: a pull-out tray that tucks away behind a door holds an electric kettle, coffee maker and glassware; another niche has a Bluetooth speaker for music; a shelf by the bench seat holds a guestbook, other reading material and board games; and there’s a small sink, cutting board and utensils for enjoying the abundance of decadent treats and goodies that were waiting for us in the sphere. There was even a small bottle of champagne and orange juice to make morning mimosas to go with our breakfast yogurt parfaits!
Melody Rocked Us To Sleep in the Trees
Outfitted with twin tables and comfortable curved benches on either side that tuck under the sphere’s porthole style windows, Melody was spacious enough for both Henk and I to move around in quite comfortably. At night, the tables tuck away neatly to allow you to pull down a queen-sized murphy bed and cozy up under its comfy quilts. There’s a skylight where you can watch the trees overhead, as you feel the sphere sway gently with the occasional breeze that rocks you to sleep.
A Sweet “Non-Suite”
What about when you need to get up for a pee in the night, you must be wondering? Obviously, a 10-foot sphere doesn’t allow room for en ensuite bathroom, but just below Melody was the cutest little ‘mushroom’ composting toilet I’ve ever seen. Spotless and odourless, this outhouse is there if you need it during the night, and there are headlamps and flashlights provided in the spheres to help light your way to it.
Even without an en suite, there’s no ‘roughing it’ when you stay in a Free Spirit Sphere: a permanent Bathhouse building is only a short walk away where each sphere has its own private, fully-equipped washroom with a shower, toilet, vanity and everything you need from bath products to hair dryers.
The Property at Free Spirit Spheres
The 5-acre property where Free Spirit Spheres is located is as charming and intimate as the spheres themselves: there is a small pond in the centre that is surrounded by a treed path that leads you from one sphere to the next, with benches and chairs where guests can just sit and enjoy the surroundings. With only 3 spheres available to book here, it doesn’t get more private or ‘boutique’ than this.
Tiny little messages are hidden around the property, too – on the painted stones you’ll see nestled in the crooks of tree limbs, or on plaques and planters. My favourite touches are the ‘reading gnomes’ who are found at the base of some of the spheres and around the property.
If all this doesn’t convince you that you’re staying in a real-life storybook, we even saw a hummingbird’s nest that Tom pointed out near the Bathhouse with the mother bird quite content to stay put while we took her photo.
An All-Round Escape from the Ordinary
There are a few places on the planet where you feel privileged to visit and where, when you visit them, you connect to the place in a special way. Some of these places are wonders of nature, some are wonders created by man, and some are a combination of both. Free Spirit Spheres was one of these, an intimate place where the creative genius of one man has provided visitors with a unique way to commune with the forest. Our stay in Melody wasn’t just a night in a unique treehouse accommodation on Vancouver Island; it was a peaceful, perfect, romantic interlude and an “Ode to Joy” that Henk and I will never forget.
TIP: Being as unique and boutique as they are, Free Spirit Spheres are in high demand, so definitely plan ahead if you want to book here.