Welsh wood products created at Clifford Jones Timber in Ruthin are finding a new lease of life high in the trees of the gardens of the rich and famous.
Specially laminated timber from the ground-breaking family firm in Denbighshire are proving a popular choice with bespoke treehouse designer Paul Cameron whose clients include the likes of superstars Elton John and Gary Barlow.
Paul has used the products in his creations for the past 12 months and they are currently being suspended 12 metres up as a viewing platform for the RSPB in Staffordshire.
It is yet another cutting edge step from the company that introduced Wales’s first timber laminating plant and has developed the country’s only wooden framed solar panels.
Paul’s made-to-measure ‘glulam’ orders are made in the company’s £1.2 million state-of-the-art laminating plant at Ruthin with pieces of wood glued together under high pressure using the same glue that aviation giants Airbus use to manufacture their A380 wing sections.
Alan Jones, Chairman of Clifford Jones Timber, said: “Our laminated timber is perfect for Paul because it is much stronger than ordinary timber and has a smooth finish but still has the attractiveness of wood.
“These treehouses will still be standing and doing their job in 30 years’ time and will still look good and they are part of a sustainable and eco-friendly process.”
Paul, who launched Treehouse Life 10 years ago after creating a treetop hideout for his own sons, explained why the products worked so well with his unique and magical designs.
He said: “I’m not a carpenter and I’m not a tradesman. My background was as a session musician but I’ve got two boys, Elliott and Charlie, and I had knocked something up for them that was getting a lot of comments from friends and neighbours.
“I went along to the Ideal Home Exhibition one day and saw that there was no-one doing treehouses so I vowed to be back there with a stand the following year.”
Paul, aged 52, kept his promise and Treehouse Life was born, quickly expanding and filling Paul’s order book for build projects with an average cost of £8,500.
He said: “I’d spent 20 years in the music business, and been very successful – working with George Lucas, being musical director of the Globe Theatre and playing on the soundtrack for Shakespeare in Love which won an Oscar for its music – but this just seemed a wonderful thing to do.”
Paul quickly changed tack and focussed on the high-end designs so he could afford to spend more time with each client and fulfil the most demanding of design briefs.
He said: “Our treehouses now tend to cost between £20,000 and £30,000 so it is all very bespoke, made to order, built on site and the client is very involved.
“For that reason the timber has to be right. Clifford Jones makes our glulam pieces specifically for us, to precise sizes and deliver it direct on to site.
“It is very strong, structurally it’s great but it also looks good which is vital for us. Our designs mean it has to look the part and be very smooth for little hands.
“Often you will try to hide structural elements of a build but with the wood we get from Clifford Jones we don’t need to do that. It’s there to be seen and touched.”
Paul’s designs have been constructed all over the country and abroad and he is clocking up a number of celebrity customers.
He said: “We created a treehouse for Elton John’s son Zachary which was a first birthday present. They were wonderful clients and it was pretty awesome but we had to completely wrap it once it was done. It was finished off with a huge red bow and I think there was more debate about that than the actual treehouse design.”
Clifford Jones’s timbers have also been part of a structure for Gary Barlow’s family and in the build for the children of Walt Disney’s financial director.
Unsurprisingly that brief demanded a particularly fairytale design but Paul describes his work and current lifestyle as quite a magical existence altogether.
He said: “It was certainly a bit of a fantasy build. But they all are really. As a musician I worked with some pretty well known people and everyone asks me how I can go from being a drummer to building treehouses but to me the creative output is the same.”
Clifford Jones Timber, founded in 1948 by Alan Jones’s father, are the UK’s largest manufacturer of fence posts – they make over four million a year – but they also make laminated timber and recently supplied hundreds of laminated timber lampposts and bollards for the massive new Center Parcs holiday village at Woburn.
They employ over 80 people at their bases at Ruthin, in Denbighshire, and at Gretna, in Scotland and handle over 100,000 tons of timber from UK forests every year.
Alan Jones added: “Every piece of timber that comes through these gates is used. There isn’t any wasted and there aren’t many industries that can say that.
“Our glulam laminated timber is very, very strong, lighter and much more attractive than concrete, ideal for the construction industry or for specialised clients like Paul and it is all from sustainable woodland.”
The range of other wood products they supply includes garden furniture, gates, bedding for horses and even cat litter, and a range of wood fuels, from dried logs and wood briquettes to wood pellets for biomass boilers.