10 May Western Landmark: Below the Stars, Amid the Trees
The Edwards Plateau at the heart of Texas Hill Country forms the southern tip of the Great Plains. The pale rock underneath the earth here is mostly Cretaceous limestone, and enormous granite domes like Enchanted Rock just outside Fredericksburg give uncommon shape to the land. Growing out of that ancient stone, Ashe junipers, oak woodlands, and vast shrubby grasslands spread in every direction. It’s a paradise for birds — some 431 species have been documented in the region — and other fauna, including white-tailed deer, the non-native speckled Axis deer, wild turkeys, armadillos, and javelina. This is a place of quiet beauty. And quiet beauty is exactly what Jacob and Katie Rhodes were looking for.
After stints in both Los Angeles and Houston, where Jacob started a handyman business and built closets all over the city, the couple kept studying real estate and daydreaming about remote cabins and the quiet vistas they both loved in the Hill Country. It wasn’t long before they bought land just 200 yards from where Katie had grown up outside Fredericksburg.
They started designing their own house and quickly decided to build a cabin. When they’d chosen the building site and cleared the greenbrier, cedar, and poison ivy, they discovered an old live oak precisely where they planned to set a pier. The creative solution to this problem became the cornerstone of their hospitality business, HoneyTree. This was in 2017, and the Rhodes have since built a village of bespoke treehouses overlooking Palo Alto Creek.
The original treehouse, The Sycamore, took just over a year to build. Katie created the design, and Jacob built it with a cantilevered deck over the creek and an entire wall of windows. “We weren’t afraid of glass,” Jacob laughs. Like each of their five treehouses, The Sycamore is beautifully appointed and even curated for each guest’s experience, he says. Comfortable beds, functional kitchenettes, luxurious bathrooms, and elegant outdoor living spaces are de rigueur. But the couple paid attention to the tiny details, too, with wall-mounted record players and an assortment of vinyl records, games, books, plus pillows and blankets for every cozy sitting area inside and out.
The Live Oak — one of HoneyTree’s most popular treehouses, built on stilts with a glass living room and a round, wood-framed glass reading nook — was the second treehouse and took eight months to complete. This time, Jacob did the design. Since the beginning, the couple has taken turns designing each structure. The arrangement has not only pushed their creativity but made their marriage stronger, says Jacob. Each treehouse went up faster than the last, and the couple attests to the delight of learning and getting better at every turn.
Not only are the designs of each treehouse exquisitely unique, but the fabrication is singular. From stunning mosaic tile work and a helical wooden staircase in The Acorn, to the rolling ladder in The Sapling, every detail was carefully planned and meticulously crafted. Like generations of Westerners before them, the Rhodes found inventive ways to use what they had, embracing available materials and utilizing them in unique ways. Resourceful artistry is evident in every nook and cranny.
The treehouses at HoneyTree have been so popular with guests that the Rhodes are working on another collection of 12 cabins up the road called Blue Sage. Like HoneyTree, these hideaways — set to open in June 2023 — will offer a tranquil setting, abundant outdoor living space (including gas grills for the requisite Texas barbecue), and inviting details.
“Blue Sage is our magnum opus,” Jacob says. “These treehouses and hideaways are even more adventurous and imaginative than the original five.” He is especially excited to talk about the three treehouses with limited mobility access: no stairs, curbless showers, good handrails, and wide clearances. “Katie and I are really excited to share them with the world,” he says.
From the beginning, the Rhodes have worked to build spaces that offer the experience they themselves are seeking. “When we go on vacation,” Jacob says, “we want to go somewhere beautiful and just relax.” Even though Fredericksburg is just a few minutes down the road with its galleries, shops, restaurants, and wineries, HoneyTree was built as a place to get away from it all. Several of the treehouses have candle-lit outdoor baths, one on the rooftop; and even with five young children, the Rhodes make it a priority to quality-check each of their treehouses. Jacob recalls an icy winter night when they sat under the stars in the just-finished rooftop tub.
“The stars rule the night sky here,” he says, explaining that Fredericksburg was named a Dark Sky Community in 2020, which means the city works to prevent light pollution. “When we design our treehouses, we are very intentional about lighting, and those choices encourage our guests to notice the stars.” They are the same stars under which Jacob proposed to Katie 14 years ago, he says.
There are no TVs at HoneyTree. Twinkle lights count as technology here. Birdsong makes for the perfect soundtrack. The wind in the trees. The swing of a hammock. The Rhodes are clear in their mission. “We hope that people will come stay at our spaces and disconnect from the stressors in their lives, turn off their phones, and reconnect with the most important people in their lives — including themselves — for some rest, some adventure, and inspiration from the beauty of nature.”