How a 32-Year-Old Built a Vacation-Rental Empire of Luxury Treehouses

  • Django Kroner, 32, started his business, The Canopy Crew, to help people reconnect with nature.
  • The business rents treehouses in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, some for up to $950 a night.
  • Take a look at one of the properties with two single-room sheds he refers to as “Cliff Dweller.”

The entrepreneur Django Kroner describes his dream home as a treehouse on a cliff where he can see miles of forest and where tree-dwelling critters can come visit him in the morning. And it’s this vision that motivated the 32-year-old to bring a slate of treehouse vacation rentals from his imagination to reality.

As the owner of The Canopy Crew, which operates in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Kroner said he wanted to give people a creative outlet to interact with wildlife the way he does.

“Everyone thinks about children when they think of treehouses,” Kroner said. “But an adult treehouse can bring out your inner child, which is something everyone should harness.”

Kroner moved to the Red River Gorge area in 2009 because of the location’s world-renowned rock climbing. He took a job building timber-frame cabins with a wilderness cabin-rental company called Red River Gorgeous soon thereafter, and he asked the owners whether he could build a treehouse on the property. The owners obliged, and he built his first 10-foot-by-8-foot structure out of scrap material about 45 feet in the air between a tulip tree and a sycamore, he explained.

That first treehouse was more of a canopy, Kroner added. It didn’t have any walls, but he had a chest for his clothes and slept in a hammock. If he needed to keep food overnight, Kroner said, he used a net rope to lower a basket into the creek running between the two trees that supported the treehouse. Kroner said he slept in that canopy year-round.

It was after Kroner’s friends started to visit his treehouse when he came up with the idea for The Canopy Crew. Kroner launched the company in November 2013 with just one treehouse that he built for about $10,000, he said. Since then, the company has added nine more treehouses that cost $200,000 to $400,000 to build, some of which rent for as much as $950 a night on Airbnb. The company also employs about 50 people, who are split between its vacation-rental business and the tree-service operation it provides in Cincinnati.

When he’s scouting a new location for a treehouse, Kroner said, he looks for a place in the woods where he’d like to hang out. Sometimes, he finds a few trees that can support one of the designs he’s sketched in his notebook. Other times, the landscape dictates the design, he said.

“Whenever I’m up in a treehouse, all I can think about are suspension bridges and other connections going out into the trees further into the gorge,” Kroner said.

The company’s most recent addition is a treehouse known as “Sky Dancer,” which looks like a pirate ship that was built into a cliff face. There are three separate structures that make up Sky Dancer, each of which is connected by wooden staircases and has its own primary bedroom and bathroom. It also has a giant net that serves as a hammock and unbeatable views of the gorge, Kroner said.

While there are plenty of treehouse builders to choose from, Kroner said The Canopy Crew was one of a handful of companies that could build treehouses into landscapes the way they do.

The Canopy Crew uses techniques that Kroner picked up during an apprenticeship with an arborist that are meant to protect the trees they build in, including lowering materials into place instead of hoisting them off the ground and taking the time to appropriately prune the branches. This allows The Canopy Crew to build their structures higher off the ground than other treehouse builders.

“I like to think of these treehouses as blunt reminders that we don’t have to live in busy cities or chase material objects all day long,” Kroner said.

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