Outstanding Architecture Among the Trees
By Nicole Childrey

Cullen Douglass’ two littermate yellow labs, Scout and Bo, bound up the hilltop on his Grundy County property, shaking off some of the local Beersheba Springs water.

“They love it up here — as you can tell,” Douglass says. He and the dogs are starting the weekend early, perching in the sun on the wraparound deck of Greeter Loft, one of four cabins Douglass built overlooking a wide, wild expanse of the Cumberland Plateau.

Douglass loves it up here, too, though he doesn’t get to spend as many nights as he’d like in the modern but homey rental properties he’s dubbed The Tree Lofts. All four are booked tonight, so he’s had to schedule a stay at a friend’s place. 

Stepping from the cabin’s back doors up to a valley view that seems to stretch across six states, it isn’t hard to see why The Tree Lofts became an enticing Tennessee vacation option — for playful pups and for their people.

Trash Heaps Turned Tree Lofts

A Nashville native and longtime financial adviser, Douglass didn’t set out to found a mountain town retreat mini-community. But with the four Tree Lofts booked regularly and more cabins in the works, he seems to have hiked into a side hustle that’s becoming a lot more.

The catalyst was Top of the Rock, the first and biggest Tree Loft property, with four bedrooms, three baths and a two-story wall of view-accommodating windows. Douglass and his wife, Kristen, envisioned the cabin as a driving-distance getaway for their family of five and started building the property at the start of the pandemic. They’d purchased four acres of Beersheba Springs land that held loads of potential. At the time, it also held a literal trash dump.

“The locals in the ’70s didn’t have trash service, so this is where they brought it,” says Douglass, tracing the paths that now lead up to Top of the Rock and back to the overlook. Decades and acres of garbage covered trails, trees, even caves, before he and a crew of machines came to dig in, dig out and reimagine the property.

That reimagination was a team effort, with architect Chad Polk of Nashville’s CDP Architecture leading the building’s design and Kristen Douglass offering key conceptual direction.

“I thought I was gonna put a one-bedroom cabin here,” Douglass says, laughing. “My wife’s like, ‘The hell you are. We got three kids.’”

The finished Top of the Rock strikes a comfortable balance: spacious but cozy, minimalist but earthy, high-end but lived-in, cohesive but eclectic. Polk responded to Douglass’ desire to let nature take the lead in the architectural design, and the property owner brought that same sensibility to the interiors, pairing a floor-to-ceiling patinated copper fireplace surround with a sleek, sputnik-style chandelier — adding a few eye-grabbing details, but mostly letting the outdoors shine.

“There’s only one piece of artwork, because to me, the artwork is this,” Douglass says, gesturing toward the valley.

The Tree Lofts Beersheba Srpings, TNA Lofty Vision

The expanded plan for Top of the Rock grew into a bigger vision for the whole property—and now a wide expanse of acreage across the valley.

In 2022, with five adjacent acres acquired, Douglass brought Polk back to work on the three-bedroom Cumberland Plateau A-Frame and the two-bedroom Greeter Loft and Stone Door Loft. Those opened for booking in January 2023, each having taken design cues from the woodsy hilltop surroundings and coming through with distinct style.

In the Stone Door, lower-level sleeping spaces let guests feel like they’re curled up below deck on a wooden ship, windows peeking out onto the trees like portholes. Cumberland Plateau gives laid-back ’70s vibes, with hoop and Acapulco chairs that vinyl hounds can pull up to a vintage Marantz receiver and record player (with records to pore over and play). Both blend into the landscape with dark timber siding, carefully charred through the traditional Japanese yakisugi (or shou sugi ban) technique.

By early 2024, Douglass had 550 more surrounding acres under contract, and he and Polk were drawing up plans to start building the next three Tree Lofts by summer, with a goal of finishing construction by the end of the calendar year and continuing from there.

“We’re gonna eventually build hiking trails through here, maybe biking trails,” Douglass says. “It’s like a play land for me. It’s what I love.”

Building Memories and a Legacy

The next phase looks like Polk’s play land, too, with architectural concepts that take the “outdoors in” inspiration even more literally. He and Douglass pinpointed perches on a bluff overlooking the current properties, and the three new cabin designs make the most of the surroundings in a serious way — with one directly incorporating a 20-foot bluff wall.

“You’ll come off the bluff and go into the main room, and you’re gonna see the view,” Douglass says. “You go down a level with the kitchen and the family room, and you’re gonna be in the tops of the trees. You go down to the bottom level, and you’re gonna be in the forest.”

From top to bottom, the inspiration grew out of the ground, very intentionally.

“Chad had his whole team up here to spend the night,” Douglass says. “I’m like, ‘Go stay in the house for a night. I want your people to breathe it and feel it before you draw, you know? I want this to be your place.’”

And the broader intent, as The Tree Lofts community continues to expand, is to extend that “your place” feeling to every guest, in every Tree Loft, for every stay. Douglass thinks about the memories he’s helping encourage — including the ones he’s building with his kids — and the legacy he’ll leave for his family, the community and all the folks who’ve come to visit.

“My hope is that people come and discover it and it’s not, like, ‘check the box,’” he says. “They want to come back — it holds a special place for them and their family and their dogs.”

The Tree Lofts

TheTreeLofts.com

Beersheba Springs, TN

Rates range from $250 to $650/night.

 

 

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