A new sanctuary where couples and families can stay and play
For Amanda and Brian Jensen and their four children, building a treehouse in 2014 was a family thing. It still is—only today the number of their treehouses is seven going on 130. And in fact, they hope their interactive Sanctuary Treehouse Resort in Sevierville will be the world’s largest when completed.
“This concept is catching fire,” says Amanda, who is the marketer for the husband-wife team. They plan to build 130, possibly more. Amanda calls their plans and meticulously detailed designs “grow as you go.”
The resort near the Smoky Mountains offers reservations for three different types of treehouse lodging: Tree Fort, accommodating six guests; Tree Fort Double, two treehouses connected by a drawbridge; and the upscale Luxe design features king-size gel cooling beds and outdoor tubs. Also included in the couple’s current and future designs are an enchanted forest, walking trails, scavenger hunts, fireplaces, and bamboo jetted tile showers.
The other level of magic for guests includes special interactive features for children and adults such as hidden roll-out beds, drink chutes, hatches, ladders, portholes, speakeasy windows, rope climbs, outdoor trough tubs, and even heated toilet seats. Both rustic and luxurious in a style Amanda describes as “boujee.”
When the couple’s children were younger, that first treehouse sported bunk beds and zip lines for their kids who loved it. It was a kind of blueprint for their future, though they didn’t know it at the time. “But we ended up seeing how treehouses became a thing,” says Amanda.
Retired from other businesses, the couple also own Gatlinburg SkyCenter, a restaurant and shop at the top of Gatlinburg’s popular chairlift with its massive views of Gatlinburg and surrounding Smoky Mountains. Not far away are the 40 forested acres where the treehouses nestle, intentionally becoming part of the natural environment—just minutes from their 10,000-square-foot home and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most popular park.
Just Trees and Dirt
As Brian began to dream of an actual treehouse project in 2022, the U.S. Army veteran and electrical engineer gingerly “brought Amanda along” as he shared his initial ideas for the treehouse project. Choosing the spot was easy. They became aware of available property in their own neighborhood that they had driven past for years. Sugar maple and black walnut trees filled the property.
And the views? Built on a slant, the treehouses offer “stadium seating” scenes of the Great Smoky Mountains, Mt. LeConte, English Mountain, two 18-hole golf courses, the Little Pigeon River, and more. “This was untouched property—just trees and dirt—and we knew we had to buy it after we saw it,” Amanda says. Keeping the trees and topography of the land was a priority, making all the difference in how people would find sanctuary in these mostly cedar treehouses.
Amanda admits there were days “I didn’t want to work this hard,” she says, smiling. It would be a project they began planning during the Covid pandemic with architect Allen Halcomb, president of MossCreek Homes in Knoxville. Glass shortages during Covid made it challenging to get porthole windows, yet Brian creatively found replacement options.
Brian actually built the first seven treehouses with his own small crew of construction personnel, working with Jerry Sutton as general contractor. The couple plans to bid the rest of the build out to a larger construction company. “Brian and I and our team can then focus on the building of the amenities,” says Amanda.
Keeping it Personal
Still a family affair, their emerging commercial project involved Brian building much of the furniture and some very stylized pieces like Jack Daniels whiskey barrel sinks and tables as well as king- and queen-size beds that roll out, hung with ropes. And then there were bunk beds he would build that crank up to expand. “Brian can literally build anything, even our home as well,” Amanda boasts.
While she began designing the marketing and public relations, working with the new website and social media, their 17-year-old daughter helped create art for the interiors. The whole family—their three daughters and son range in age from 10 to 24—joined together to come up with the themes and names of the treehouses. “We’re keeping it as personal as possible,” Amanda says. They are also delighted the children are getting to see firsthand how a business is built.
Brian’s favorite part of the endeavor? “I would have to say working together with my wife and our children. We are blessed with the opportunity to create something for them, for others—with them. There is a lot of value in family and showing your kids how to build their dreams. Nothing was ever handed to Amanda or me. We have had to work for it. We have thoroughly enjoyed showing our children how this is done. You know, give a child a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a child to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” Married 17 years, the couple’s style is “yin and yang, and it works,” says Amanda.
We’ve Stayed in Every One of the Them
Along the way, the couple’s biggest surprise continues to be the reception of their big idea. “We were humbled by this, and we love it.” In addition to great local interest as well as from friends and family, they are receiving booking requests from outside of the United States from travelers curious about the unique resort—something Brian and Amanda could not have imagined. “It’s just so rewarding,” she says.
The secret to getting it right? Real world trials. “We have stayed in every one of these treehouses,” Amanda says. Truly, the couple and children have “hung out and lived in them a little to work out those kinks you don’t want your guests to experience.” Their final punch list included resolving minor issues in the electrical system and small furniture adjustments. Getting it right meant nothing was too insignificant.
The couple foresees interest from customers with broad vacation interests, from vacationers looking for a one-of-a-kind experience or those wanting to relax at a nature reserve, right through to guests interested in being in the mountains or at Dollywood in minutes. Guests ride the property in solar-powered golf carts, and, Amanda says, it is so complete that travelers need not go any further. She and Brian call it a sanctuary for good reason.
The Grand Opening—A Dream
From that one family treehouse came the whimsical business idea that saw its grand opening on March 27 this year.
Amanda says that special day was a dream. “Kind of like a wedding day—a whirlwind of unfinished conversations with friends, neighbors, family and those in our community who were excited about what they finally got to come and see. We were humbled by it all and look forward to the memories that will be made here by people and their families for years to come.”
“It’s been a true dream of mine and Amanda’s to create this resort,” says Brian. “For my part, I find that the challenge of creating all the unique features on the treehouses has been personally gratifying and entertaining. I always thought of my wife as amazing, but I have been truly affirmed in watching her handle our PR, marketing, branding, decorating, and theming—in addition to her ideas she gives so freely to me. All this, on top of the wonderful wife and mother she continues to be.
“It is quite rewarding to see the reaction to what we have created. We are always told that pictures do not do it justice. You just have to come and see it to really feel it.”
The seven-treehouse resort including trails and lush landscaping will grow to 130 tree dwellings. And after that? “We’ll see,” says Amanda. “We’ll just keep saying, ‘Grow as you go.’”