No, it’s not likely you’ve seen much of Garrett Porter on Treehouse Masters. But it’s about time you got to know self-dubbed “Command Center Gary”: the mind behind our original video content, the hands behind packing and shipping all our online orders, and the heart that makes his unusual workspace more than just a slightly spooky specimen of ’70s interior design tastes.
By McKenna Asakawa
GARRETT’S PATHWAY TO NELSON TREEHOUSE
It’s late on a rainy Thursday afternoon when I walk from our central HQ to the adjacent mobile home known as “Browntown” to interview Garrett. Browntown—affectionately named for its strikingly single-toned brown interior paneling, brown shag carpet, and browning floral wallpaper—holds Garrett’s office and inventory for the Nelson Treehouse online store. Garrett’s “command center” is clustered in a corner of Browntown, forested by rows of shelving that host all types of Nelson Treehouse merchandise: stacks of T-shirts, containers of patches, boxes of mugs. Nearly all of these products have been touched by Garrett, whether in their original design or literal placement on the shelf.
It is from these humble quarters that Garrett produces videos, designs products and graphics, and prepares countless orders for shipment, taping boxes closed with the remarkable finesse of someone who has taped a lot of boxes. But Garrett doesn’t solely work from Browntown: he also traverses the country, photographing and filming many of our treehouses. It’s not hard to understand why he describes his role as the company’s “Swiss Army Knife.”
Garrett’s no stranger to the world of treehouses: growing up just east of Seattle, he spent hours building makeshift treehouses with his friends in the woods and playing on a tree-supported platform that his father had built in their backyard. As a teen, Garrett became engrossed in skiing and mountain biking, and it was through these sports that he began learning to film and edit videos.
“There’s a culture of making videos in those scenes,” Garrett says, leaning back in his tall command-center chair. “I never assumed the identity of a photographer. Photo and film just complemented the activities I enjoyed.”
In high school Garrett joined the yearbook team, which honed his photography skills and familiarity with design software. His high school years were also characterized by his growing interest in the apparel industry, stemming from his passion for sewing ski clothes.
“My friend and I would lock ourselves in our rooms to learn to sew, spending hours trying new techniques to put our own clothes together for skiing,” Garrett recalls. “By the end of high school, I decided I wanted to learn more about the business of fashion; I thought of starting my own clothing line.” After high school, Garrett attended the University of Nevada in Reno and then the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in L.A., graduating with a degree in apparel manufacturing.
The mountains of the Pacific Northwest called Garrett back to Washington after the glitz and grime of L.A. Upon his return home, he worked at the Summit at Snoqualmie ski resort for a couple years, filming and producing videos on events and working as a member of the park crew. On the off seasons, Garrett worked as a finishing carpenter, learning to lay trim and install door casings.
In spring 2015, Garrett attended a birthday party for Henry and Charlie Nelson—Garrett had been friends with Emily Nelson since middle school. Pete was at the party and, after chatting about Garrett’s background in video production, invited him to make digital content for Nelson Treehouse. “I thought he wasn’t serious; it was just a casual conversation,” Garrett tells me.
But Pete was serious: five days later, Garrett was on a plane to Tennessee to cover the construction of a build not filmed for Treehouse Masters. Garrett documented the treehouse and also assisted in its construction. “It was like treehouse boot camp,” he says emphatically. “We worked nearly 70 hours a week on that build—it was a humbling experience because when you work that hard, you’re uncomfortable a lot.”
Despite the intensity of the project, Garrett immediately felt at home with the crew. “They were my kind of crowd, an immediate family. There was no awkward period of getting to know people; they were all so welcoming. If I had questions, they took the time to explain the process to me. They were patient enough to teach me.”
In the months after Tennessee, Garrett paired his video production with shipping and receiving duties for the Nelson Treehouse online store (called “Be in a Tree”) and also began bridging into product design. The job activates various facets of Garrett’s unusual amalgam of skills: “Nelson Treehouse needed someone with video experience, and Be in a Tree needed someone with experience in the fashion industry,” Garrett says. “It’s rare that those two worlds collide, and it’s great that the two entities use both sides of my skillset.”
Garrett has a penchant for autodidacticism, effectively translating things he sees and admires into things he can do and create. He taught himself Photoshop so he could make posters like the ones that once papered his walls, displaying a progressive sequence of frames of skiers or bikers in action. He taught himself to sew so he could make his own outerwear for skiing, emulating trends while also crafting something distinctive.
This month, Garrett is busy learning to animate his own drawings in Adobe After Effects to produce illustrated music videos like ones he enjoys watching. “Right now, I do this in my free time,” Garrett tells me, pulling up a file from his crowded desktop. A video opens of hand-drawn butterflies that he has programmed to float drowsily from corner to corner of the screen.
Despite (or perhaps as a result of) thoroughly teaching himself these skills, Garrett shies away from self-identification as a photographer, videographer, or graphic designer. “I’m the type of person with hobbies,” he says, shrugging, downplaying his dexterity in any one particular field and highlighting the breadth and diversity of his interests. It seems Garrett genuinely enjoys the process of learning new techniques and tools for improving the things he makes—he delved deep into learning design, photography, and sewing simply because it was fun, or because it enhanced something else he did for fun (as was the case for learning to film skiing and biking). To shape a career in these creative fields is an unexpected outcome.
“This job is a great opportunity to shoot video professionally without having gone to film school,” Garrett explains. “This was never my career path, but I guess it could be, or maybe it is. I just drew on my skillset I gained just from having fun as a kid.”
The variety of Garrett’s responsibilities make every week of work distinct: some will have him designing a patch or hat; others will have him onsite of a build, taking photos of a progressing treehouse. Garrett’s favorite part of the job is editing footage, stringing together disparate scenes to create a cohesive and engaging storyline. Piecing the puzzle of a video together is a creative outlet, and he’s fueled by uncovering new techniques in editing software to enhance the story and film. When developing a video, Garrett is given ample directorial liberty.
“The hardest part of my job is also the best part: the creative freedom,” he says. “It’s rare that I’m working with many guidelines; it’s very open. I’m asked to create context and storyline without a full production team, which can be daunting but is also very rewarding.” Garrett pauses, picking up an Allen wrench for a camera tripod from his desk and turning it over in his hands. “No one knew what was going to come of this role when I first started; I’ve been trusted to create something.”
The other realm of Garrett’s job, shipping and receiving, provides restorative breaks from the creative openness of his video and design work. “Fulfilling orders is nice because it brings you back down to earth,” Garrett explains. “The routine frames my days and gives contrast to the creative work I do—it’s a cushion to come back to.”
THE VIDEO GARRETT IS MOST PROUD OF
Garrett has directed, filmed, and edited nearly all of the videos on the Nelson Treehouse YouTube channel. Some, like his time-lapse of the Orcas Island treehouse, have garnered hundreds of thousands of views and have been shared widely across social media platforms. Garrett names his DIY Ships Ladder Tutorial as the video he is most proud of.
“I filmed it all in one day with [Charles] Spitzack and then also edited it entirely in one day,” he says, now clinking the wrench in his hands together with another, smaller one. “It was fun and smooth to edit, made sense start to finish, and felt cohesive. I liked that it was informationally dense but not boring.”
POWER TO THE PATCHES
Garrett was also tasked with designing almost all of the Nelson Treehouse iron-on patches, the most recent being the intricate Temple of the Blue Moon patch. This project was perfectly suited to Garrett, as one of his many hobbies is collecting patches he finds “in RL,” as he says. (That’s “Real Life” for readers new to millennial vernacular. As in, patches he comes across out-and-about in real life, rather than seeking and ordering online.)
Garrett harbors a deep appreciation for patch design and manufacturing. “Patches are old-school tech,” he explains. “I think the process behind it is interesting. It’s like a permanent, more substantial sticker with a nostalgic connection to your favorite brands. Like a manufactured piece of art.”
The fact that patches are manufactured is part of their appeal for Garrett: it makes the art form more accessible. The best patches are emblems of contrast: quotidian in subject matter (featuring a company’s brand) and relatively common by way of their mass production, yet elevated by thoughtful, artistic design and quality craftsmanship. They’re pieces of art devoid of the cobwebs of pretention and institutionalized exclusivity. “The finer details of anything, like a patch, become cooler when you realize all the intention that goes into it,” Garrett says.
SKIING IS SAFE AND EASY
To say Garrett is an avid skier is an understatement. “Skiing is safe and easy,” he claims with total certainty, stacking his feet on top of his desk and leaning precariously far back in his chair. I conjecture aloud that no one else in the history of skiing has ever described the sport as chiefly safe and easy—Garrett laughs.
“I meant it’s safe when you compare it to skateboarding or even mountain biking,” he clarifies. “There’s no other sport where you can tomahawk down a steep hill, collect yourself, brush the snow off your face, and look back up at a crowd of friends laughing and egging you on. If you take a spill like that on concrete—well, chances are you’ve significantly hurt yourself.”
Garrett pauses. “I do like skiing for the adrenaline and endorphins in pushing myself outside my comfort zone,” he concedes. “There’s excitement in learning new tricks. I just grew up going with my dad so thought it was normal for so long.”
FAVORITE NELSON TREEHOUSES
Among Garrett’s favorite Nelson treehouses: the Beehive (“It’s very unique”), the Single-Spruce Treehome (“I like the massive tree and the height of the platform”), the Fox Farm Treehouse (“The detached bathroom was a good design move”), and the Nelson Family Treehouse (“It was so high up!”).
When I ask Garrett to describe his ideal treehouse, he gives me the most detailed and prompt response in a Staff Spotlight interview to-date.
How high would it be? “Low enough that it’s not a pain to climb to, but high enough that you don’t forget you’re substantially in the trees—maybe 15 or 20 feet up.”
Built in multiple trees or just one? “Definitely multiple trees. And located near the [ski] slopes.”
Form of access? “Access would for sure be a bridge or stairs; ladders are too tough to climb with groceries.”
Deck features? “The deck would be moderately sized, with a Dream Net [an expansive, hammock-like netting woven by artisan and treehouse collaborator Sarah Jay] off the side or maybe a crow’s nest.”
Amenities? “It would have a fridge and electricity, but no running water. Maybe with a detached bathroom on the ground so that you wouldn’t have to run plumbing up the side of the tree—and it’s nice to not have a bathroom right next to the bedroom in such a small space. That’s not very romantic. I’d also add a cast-iron wood stove—it produces a different type of warmth and aroma, something you don’t get from a radiator or an electric heater. It vibes with the ambience of treehouse life.”
What would the inside hold? “I think it would be one open space, maybe with a bedroom loft. And an area for a computer and TV. I don’t think walls or doors are needed in a treehouse—the space should be a shared experience with other people.”
NEVER DONE BEFORE BUT WOULD LIKE TO TRY
Garrett hopes to embark on a “solo mission outside the States,” living and working abroad. Japan is top on his priority list for international travel—he’s drawn to the country’s cuisine and prime skiing.
When I suggest that Garrett can either fill me in on the advice he would give his not-so-distant 20-year-old self or share a piece of advice that has resonated with him in his life, he asks very seriously: “Can I give both?”
To his 20-year-old self, Garrett would say: “Be patient, as nothing happens overnight.” As for a piece of advice he’s found inspiring: “Under-promise and over-produce. It’s always best to show up with more than you were going to bring, to leave the place better than when you arrived, to commit only to the things you can truly deliver on.”
At the close of our interview, I ask Garrett to name one place that makes him happy. He pauses, his eyes briefly roving around the brown surroundings. When he answers, his response shares the same qualities that make his best work so good: unplanned, lyrical, relatable, and disarmingly sincere.
"Trampolines make me happy. And skiing—being at the ski resort. Cliff jumping. I guess I like falling out of the sky in potentially dangerous ways,” he deduces, laughing.
“I like being outside.
I like being inside.
Lying in bed.
Eating dank food.
Playing video games.
These are all places that make me happy.”
You can read all our Staff Spotlights on our intrepid crew here.