Local magician builds backyard getaway in the trees

Matt Dunn, a professional magician and founder of Scream Town always wanted a treehouse. Now, he has one, in his Plymouth backyard. (Sun Sailor staff photos by Kristen Miller)

By Kristen Miller

Professional magician and creator of the Halloween attraction, Scream Town, Matt Dunn thrives on entertaining others.

“I’m a reaction guy … if you’re entertained, I’m happy,” said Dunn. And a reaction is definitely what visitors get when they see the treehouse he built last year behind his Plymouth home.

“I’m totally just a big kid – I’m an adult child,” said the 35-year-old, who began doing magic shows in his parents’ garage when he was 6.

Ever since childhood, Dunn wanted a treehouse.
“So, why not build a treehouse?” he said. “Why not live in the moment and have fun?”

Anchored amidst the trees on his 3.6-acre lot is a 480-square-foot miniature house straight out of a fairy tale, complete with a spiral staircase leading up to it.

“I think it happened by accident … I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Dunn said, of the design. So, he went looking for ideas on Google. “If you have never done that, I recommend doing it,” he said, explaining there are some rather extravagant designs. “It’s crazy; there is some unbelievable stuff,” he said, noting one even has a swimming pool. He also referenced Treehouse Masters, a show on Animal Planet.

While he didn’t want to go to that extreme, Dunn decided he did want a deck, loft and a screened-in porch.

The challenge wasn’t necessarily building the structure, rather getting everything up 12 feet to the deck and loft, including a queen-size bed.

Being a professional magician, Dunn wanted the interior to have the feel of a magic club, like the Hollywood Magic Castle.

The main seating area is furnished with mahogany leather chairs and couch, complete with taxidermy, including a zebra head and a snarling coyote –make up the sophisticated decor.

“It’s not as weird yet as it’s going to be,” he said, referencing his house, which has secret passageways throughout along with plenty of taxidermy, original magic posters and antique magic tricks.

“I love collecting stuff,” Dunn said, pointing to the clock in the corner that he purchased from the recent closeout sale at the Macy’s downtown location. The clock was once used for the store’s Cinderella-themed Christmas display. He also purchased other items that he plans on using this year to recreate a Macy’s Christmas display in front of his house. Some may recall his elf house display last year, in which raised $3,000 for Meals on Wheels, an organization he’s been involved in for 16 years and currently serves on the board for the Plymouth/Wayzata program.
Growing up, Dunn was particularly influenced by his neighbor, Neil Nordstrom, who always encouraged outdoor play and creativity with his own children.

“I feel like I don’t see kids playing outside anymore,” Dunn said, noting the stark contrast from his childhood where he spent hours outside building forts and playing bike tag with friends.

His treehouse now sparks childhood memories not only for him, but those who experience it. Dunn recently hosted the Meals on Wheels board meeting, and invited neighbors over for a wine and cheese party.

“I think it’s fun to let other people enjoy it,” he said.

When people see it, they share stories of growing up with their own treehouse, or how they had always wanted a treehouse. “That’s why it’s fun to share it with them, because it makes them happy, as well.”

Earlier this spring, the magician feared he would have to perform a disappearing act on the treehouse when the city’s planning commission denied a variance request after it had already been constructed.

The issue stemmed from a miscommunication between Dunn and city staff members when he inquired about a permit prior to constructing the treehouse. There hadn’t been a clear definition in the city’s code book regarding treehouses, therefore he was told, a variance would not be required.

It was only after it was built that it was questioned.

Recognizing there was a misunderstanding, the city council decided to work with Dunn to remedy the situation. “And I appreciated they did that,” Dunn said.

Anchored to the trees, the miniature house also includes legs for additional stability for snow load.

One of the main concerns was that it wouldn’t be used as a dwelling, which Dunn assured it would not, as there is no heat or a bathroom. “It’s just a hang-out,” Dunn said. While people are driving three hours to their cabin, he’s headed out to his backyard, Dunn said, noting it’s his little getaway.

Dunn also uses it for meetings with his crew at Scream Town. Together, they watch scary movies on the projection screen, which is also attached to an adjoining tree.“It’s a non-stop brainstorming session on how do we keep terrifying people in different ways,” Dunn said. “Very healthy, very balanced,” he joked.