Treehaus is a collective home centered around sustainability, open communication, respect, and cooking. There are thirteen members of the collective sharing a lovely four-floor brownstone, along with two cats and three chickens. Many of the housemates are artists, filmmakers, and crafters—a few are working on a documentary about the space, and one is in the middle of conceiving a performance art piece centered around a mermaid-egg piñata full of frozen shrimp. They often have parties, music, and other cool events, including craft swaps, dances, and an annual Pie Social.
They were all incredibly low-key and warm and welcoming, offering me any of their communal food, as well as some awesome homemade Treehaus Tea. During our interview, housemates wandered in and out, cooking and sharing and laughing and talking. It was a great picture of happy domestic coexistence, and a strong argument for the benefits of communal living in our huge, often lonely and alienating city.
Interview with Aimeé, Jackie, and Dave below!
brooklyn spaces: What’s the reigning ethos here? What unites you guys?
Jackie: I would say there are two basic things. First is that the idea of cooperative living is working together toward a higher ideal, trying to build something greater than any of us could do on our own. And the second is food. We all share food, we have a lot of things that we try to avoid buying, and we like to do things like supporting local farms by buying into CSAs. We do a lot of our cooking from scratch, which keeps our cost of living down and encourages people to be resourceful, and it’s a great way to ensure that we’re shopping with lower impact.
Aimeé: It’s much less waste when you buy a fifty-pound sack of rice or beans, instead of a million cans.
Dave: I think one thing that we all have in common is we all want to be part of something. Everybody here is a social person. You can’t just go in your room and shut the door when you come home.
brooklyn spaces: Are you involved in projects together outside of the house?
Jackie: A lot of people here are artists, and sometimes they collaborate with each other, but in terms of what we do as a collective entity, the house is the project. A physical manifestation of that is our monthly house workdays. The kitchen shelves were built at a house workday, and so were these tables and the chicken coop in the backyard. It’s about adding value to the house.
Aimeé: It’s also a way of seeing what we collectively have as resources. Steven and myself and a few others are developing an organization called Co-op NYC. We want to bring together the large number of people who have each other at their disposal, for skillshares, art, whatever. We’ve been doing events for that—we did a panel at the Anarchist Book Fair, talking about what it means to live in a community, and how you can start a community for yourself. There’s a lot of talk about taking responsibility and intention. In New York people think that if you’re living in these sorts of circumstances, it’s just because you’re young or poor, not that it’s something you’re choosing, but that eventually you’ll get over it, or you’ll get money and you’ll leave. I mean, I don’t know if I’ll live here the rest of my life, but the idea of intention and having a community and being responsible to them is one I hope I won’t abandon.
brooklyn spaces: What lessons have you learned, or what advice do you have, about how communal living can work better?
Aimeé: Last year we went to NASCO for the first time, and it was really fun to see this whole world of people choosing to live cooperatively. For me the lesson is always just respect, respect, respect. You often don’t think about the ways you interact with people unless you’re forced to do it constantly, in a space where you’re really responsible and accountable. The times when you have problems are when you feel you’ve been disrespected and the person won’t acknowledge it or take responsibility for it, or even talk to you about it.
brooklyn spaces: What are your goals for the future of the space?
Aimeé: Some of the stuff we touched on, like anti-oppression training, talking about what it means to be a part of the community in a positive way. Also reaching out to other co-ops, and being more invested in Treehaus as an entity. We’ve all been thinking a lot about what it meant to be here. I think moving forward as a house is about making it into something more meaningful than just a place where a bunch of eclectic people live because it’s inexpensive and we like each other.
Jackie: Recently we’ve had a lot of conversations about respect and communication and everything, and we’ve became more aware of our roles in the house and what it means to be here, as well as the value of being direct and honest about what you need from the people around you, which is not something that is often encouraged in day-to-day life. I think it really made us value one another and the fact that this place exists. This is really kind of a new organization; it’s a group that is growing together. New people come in and that completely changes the dynamic because they have something to add, or somebody leaves so there’s that piece missing, and we learn to make a new shape out of it together.