Why This Artist Built A Treehouse In Her Brooklyn Loft

Many adult New Yorkers need roommates to afford rent. Terri Chiao came up with this creative, kid-inspired solution to make the space feel like her home anyway. (And you can stay with her on AirBnb).

When artist Terri Chiao moved into a loft in an old Brooklyn textile factory, she quickly realized that she’d needed to get a roommate to afford the rent. But instead of putting up walls or a room divider to separate the space, she decided to start building tiny homes inside the apartment–a cabin and a treehouse.


“As an artist and designer trained in architecture, it was a chance to play and build a space I would also be able to live and work in,” Chiao says. “The forms, materials, and layout of the cabins came from a long process of sketching and modeling many different ideas, but ultimately these forms were both practical and visually appealing to me. I’m inspired by living with nature, and yet I live in a city–the cabins and treehouse may have been a subconscious way to bring the outdoors in.”

It also was a chance to fulfill a simple childhood ambition. Like most people, growing up, Chiao made blanket forts with tables and chairs. But she’d never had a treehouse and always wanted one.

Chiao lives in the treehouse herself–now with her partner, artist Adam Frezza. When she first built the space, she rented out the other cabin to roommates for several years. But now it’s listed on Airbnb. “It’s nice to have it to ourselves sometimes while still making the rent a little more affordable,” she says. “Travelers also tend to have less stuff and be around less than full-time roommates, so that helps our home feel more like ours.”

Inside the cabin, there’s just enough room for a full-size bed, night stands, and a suitcase. Outside the cabin door, there’s a little nook with a table and chairs. One of Chiao’s goals was to make the space feel private, even though it’s inside a shared loft.

As the project has gotten press, Chiao has started giving advice to others who want to build their own cabins. She and Frezza have also worked on several art projects to build other tiny buildings, including one in a field in the Catskills and one in a greenhouse in a garden.

They plan to continue designing more. “Small cabins or huts are particularly interesting because they are simple experiments in building that you can inhabit,” Chiao says. “We’d love to keep building.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.