A high point at Highland Haven

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Romantic Tree House takes luxury lodging to new heights

By Vicky Gits

A secluded tree house with all the amenities of a luxury hotel room, including a champagne-bubble hot tub for two, is innkeeper Gail Riley's idea of the picture-perfect romantic getaway.

After two years of planning and construction and endless hours of shopping, research and thought, the Tree House at Highland Haven Creekside Inn is a reality. As of April 1, a few finishing touches were being added, but the multitude of details finally were complete and reservations were being booked.

The three-story, free-standing cottage is a reflection of Riley's love of nature combined with her grasp of modern hospitality, all tastefully executed.

The third-story spa room with vaulted ceiling seems to float in the trees. The second story houses the bedroom with a fireplace and deck, and underneath is a carport on the ground level. The stand-alone structure perches on massive tree-trunk pillars imported from California.

Building the Tree House was a big risk after the economy tanked in 2008. But the owners forged ahead with the help of son-in-law Blake Alexander and daughter Roxy, who have joined them as managers of the busy operation that also serves elaborate, home-made breakfasts.

"It's fun, romantic and magical," Riley said. "Nothing makes us happier than making our guests happy. This is a place where couples will make romantic memories."

The back-to-nature theme is matched by numerous green building techniques incorporated into the construction by Idaho Springs-based builder Chuck Standen of Peak 7 Inc. Design was by Tolleson Architects of Evergreen.

The Tree House is the culmination of Riley's 30 years of experience as owner and operator of one of the most romantic getaway inns in Colorado, with 17 units and many accolades.

Sunset magazine named it one of the top 10 romantic lodges in the country in 2007. ILoveInns.com named it a top 10 romantic inn in 2009. Hidden behind Sheep's Head Rock, Highland Haven is at Meadow Drive and Highway 74, with Bear Creek running through it.

After so many years in the industry, Riley knows a few things about what people want in a high-end Colorado mountain lodging experience. It's camping out without the inconvenient elements. It's rustic but not shabby.

It's a designer lounge chair next to a hot top with a view of the stars, a private deck hidden in the branches of a blue spruce, and a bottle of wine in the fridge.

"It's better than we envisioned. We knew as soon as it was stained brown and green."

The Tree House is taller than everything else, at around at 35 feet.

"It made sense to go up for the views," says Riley, who is exhausted but relishing the sense of completion and the satisfaction of a dream come true.

The Tree House was her idea, but she couldn't have done it without her husband and business partner, Tom Statzell, the general contractor, custom builder, tile layer and cabinetmaker. "He's really a creative person," Riley said.

Statzell's contributions include the meticulous craftsman touches, the twigs set into doors like screens, and the hand-stained wood strips lining the ceilings.


Inspired by nature

Riley took her design inspiration from nature and scoured her sources for such things as a hollowed-out teak-root sink and a petrified-wood sink in the bedroom suite. A pebble path leads the way from the vanity stand to the cutting-edge steam shower.

A massive bed flanked by aspen tree shafts painted white dominates the main room. Above the bed looms a chandelier embellished in crystals, beads, stones and glass.

The chandelier complements the restored 1880s stained-glass window above the bed. A few steps from the bed are the craftsman-style gas fireplace, the iPod dock, Blu Ray DVD player, the flat-screen TV, the mini-bar and a cozy deck with a treetop view.

Two matching leather chairs in a liquid wheatgrass hue make a cozy sitting area accompanied by a lily-pad pedestal table. Riley has amassed an interesting collection of "tree-house" art of all kinds.

Riley was cost-conscious but not stingy. "We thought long and hard, but we did not cut corners," Riley said.

The investment seems to be paying off already. People are booking the Tree House for multiple nights at a nightly rate of $475 to $550. Sunset Magazine is sending a crew in a few weeks for a photo shoot.

Now that the couple are in possession of their own Tree House on their own property, they will not be sampling its romantic magic anytime soon. It was just too grueling to get there. As Riley summed it up, "We won't stay here. We just couldn't relax."


Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.