Designer Ray Cirino, who calls himself a dreamer, says of the playhouse he built, “I wanted it to look like nature.” - TPN

Nature house spurs fantasies

Ray Cirino is a dreamer.

He also is a builder, artist and inventor. His ideas are as never-ending as the recycled goods he uses to create unique projects.

Cirino is a man whose passion for "permaculture" — an approach to design based on working with, rather than against, nature — fuels his utopian ideas. A few of his latest? Transforming radar dishes from a landfill into herb gardens, and film lenses into solar cookers.

He dreams, basically, in green.

"I use the word 'sustainable' a lot," Cirino says before giving a tour of the treehouse he built recently at the Hollywood Hills home of Kari and Drew Dias.

With its steeply terraced hillside, the backyard suffered from a common Los Angeles dilemma: The couple's children — Hugo, 5, and Maud, 8 — had no place to play.

Cirino's solution was to build them a nest 12 feet high in a sturdy ash tree. That he wanted to use recycled materials pleasantly surprised the couple.

"Everything I do, whether it's my clothing designs or my artwork, involves recycled things," says Kari, a letterpress printer and designer. "I always make something from something."

Cirino used recycled Douglas fir for the treehouse's floating deck. He designed the climb-through entrance with a hatch door that prevents the kids from falling down and doubles as a bench when closed.

Woven willow branches that Cirino harvested from a stream and curved metal railing from a junkyard form a sturdy banister surrounding the deck and give the treehouse a nautical feel. From below, it looks like a boat floating in the sky.

A stainless-steel turn buckle in the middle of the tree supports the structure. A rubber gasket underneath the steel — Cirino guesses it was a former food conveyor belt — protects the tree from "choking." As it grows, the buckle and gasket can be adjusted.

Copper tubes and solid metal from a junkyard provide additional support. An aluminum pipe that Cirino found in the garbage serves as a fireman's pole. For added charm, a pulley that Kari found in a junk pile 15 years ago serves as a dumbwaiter to hoist picnic food, toys and homework.

Cirino is pleased that the treehouse turned out as organic as it did.

"I wanted it to look like nature," he says.

Fittingly, he has added a leaf-shaped shade made of recycled canvas to shield the kids from rain and leaves.

With an enormous waste stream at his disposal, opportunities for other projects are endless.

"I catch things before they go to the landfill," Cirino says. "I'm like that barnacle that sticks to the ship."

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