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CANOPY KING

BY JOSH CAUDILL

 

Django Kroner is probably building your next weekend getaway, whether it’s in nearby Red River Gorge… or your own backyard.

Django kroner

He runs Canopy Crew, a custom treehouse building and tree care company that offers treehouse rentals in the Red River Gorge and builds custom treehouses around the nation.

His success brought him a TV show pilot on Animal Planet, Canopy Kings, and led to his book, The Perfect Treehouse: From Site Selection to Design and Construction.

“Most people still think treehouses are little wooden boxes for kids. Nowadays they can be full on houses for adults, with the added benefit of being magical and life enhancing,” Kroner said.

Business has been good for Kroner’s Canopy Crew and the ‘fame’ surprises him sometimes. “I took an Uber in Chicago and the driver knew who I was! Other than that the whole experience is fairly surreal. Just seeing yourself on TV (especially dubbed over in another language!) is hilarious and strange.”

 

Sarah Carey and her husband Burgess build ziplines for a living. The two wanted a large private treehouse behind their Lexington home on Old Richmond Road. Since the family goes to the Gorge all the time, they’d heard the rumblings about this “tree guy” from arborists they had in common.

“My husband talked to him and the timing wasn’t quite right, then he got back to us that he had six weeks he could build,” Carey said. “The production company contacted Django separately and said, ‘We’d like to film a pilot series for you guys and it just worked out that Django thought our project was the right one to try that on.”

Kroner’s crew took over their farm for weeks on end, rolling in 20 deep every morning to film the Careys’ vision coming to life. However, Carey’s project was mostly a kid hangout and up to that point, Kroner was used to building places to live in. Carey wanted a super interactive playground and climbing gym style treehouse. Even after completion, they keep making additions such as a cargo net, an aerial silk rig for their oldest daughter, rings, balance beams, a drop ladder, pulley buckets and a slide.

“Custom treehouse builder, Django Kroner, and his team take on a new treehouse build near Lexington, Kentucky. Challenged by his clients’ request to get them over 70 feet into the tree, Django gets creative with a solution, taking this build to new heights.”

—from Animal Planet’s teaser for Canopy Kings

“Our treehouse is super specific to us,” Carey said. “Because we build ziplines, we’re really into swinging bridges and using bridges as a way to move around in the canopy.”

Kroner and the Canopy Crew built them a 50-foot bridge to get into their treehouse. It was an incredible first for Kroner, and it was all featured on the Animal Planet pilot series.

 

Canopy Crew projects usually run about two months and can cost $10,000 for a kid’s treehouse and around $16,000 for an adult treehouse depending on the design. Usually Kroner is the one pushing for wild ideas, but even he was no match for the imagination of a little girl who once requested to have an elevator built for her pet turtle.

 

Django Kroner working on a treehouse“The hardest part about living in the actual canopy,” he says, “is when you forget your keys, you have to climb to the top of a tree. I think one particularly forgetful day I climbed 400-feet of rope ladder.”

 

Kroner samples every house he builds and before he gained notoriety, he designed a tree house 45-feet off the ground at 19 years old and lived in it for three years.

Instead of going to college, he moved to Milwaukee and got a job with Habitat for Humanity and learned how to build homes. Soon after, he found the rock climbing lifestyle and became obsessed.

He bought a tent and got dropped off in Red River Gorge to begin his pursuit of rock climbing.

It didn’t take long for the Cincinnati native to fall in love with his new surroundings.

“Hiking down from a day of climbing always felt amazing. It’s the full package, great sand stone, beautiful wildlife and an almost prehistoric vibe,” Kroner said.

Kroner had no vehicle or computer and was content just riding it out in the Gorge. But fate had other plans, and he got a job with a timber-framed cabin builder.

He would work half a day and spend the rest of the day up the cliff, climbing until sunset. In exchange for working, he’d have a place to pitch his tent and cook.

 

Life in a tent eventually wore out its welcome (particularly after a close encounter with a copperhead slithering out of his boot one morning) and he was ready to turn the page and go back to his first love—trees. But he hadn’t thought about it in terms of a business yet.

Kroner moved back to Cincinnati and got an apprenticeship with an arborist. In November of 2013, he started the Canopy Crew. In less than three months, Kroner and his crew had built a cozy two-person treehouse between a Red Oak and Hickory in Red River Gorge. He took a picture of the new treehouse rental, Instagrammed it, and fame followed.

“That photo went viral. Pretty soon I was getting calls to do articles and do talks. I got a call to write a book with Popular Woodworking Magazine about tree house building. I got a call to do a TV show and I said yes to everything.”

 

When he looks to the future, he still daydreams of the possibilities just as he did at 19, lying on his back in the first treehouse he built.

“In twenty years,” he says, “I’ll be enjoying my treehouse village. I’ll work on my homestead, chase my fleeting paragliding hobby, climb, and raise my kids.”

 

Kroner is the author of The Perfect Treehouse: From Site Selection to Design and Construction, and was featured in Animal Planet’s Canopy Kings.

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