At its most extreme, the work of England's Master Wishmakers is best illustrated by a pirate island: hand-built, massive, and detailed, it boasts a fully functional pub ("The Black Doubloon"), a thatched roof beach hut ("Lubber's Locker"), and a lagoon and waterfall. It's artisanal: "Guys were working from sketches on the back of napkins; the only technical drawings for that island were the engineering drawings for the island material itself," marketing director Nino Rosella, son of one of cofounders Sergio Rosella, says by phone. It took millions of dollars and the full-throttle workmanship of 21 home builders and artists. It took 15 months. There are mermaid chandeliers, bloodied axes, and tufted velveteen armchairs. Perhaps most intriguing of all: it all bubbled from the unbounded imagination of a childless and extremely well-heeled 29-year-old—one with a big thing for pirates, apparently.
That's not to say that all of their clients are bachelors. In fact, Master Wishmakers' exorbitant play architecture is sustained by adoring parents willing to shell out £52,000—roughly $86,500—on totally custom, hand-painted princess houses or rainbow cottages. For the founders of the company, the elder Rosella and Roger McIntyre, the entree into the realm of airplane bunkbeds and candy shops was a natural extension of their work as homebuilders and contractors and a way to diversify their output to fill a gap in the demand for residential and commercial construction. In 2011, their business was still bruised from the pummeling the construction sector took in the years previous, so when a client asked for recommendations for a playhouse builder, the pair decided to give it a go.
The Hotchpotch Bespoke Playhouse
From there Rosella and McIntyre took projects on piece-meal: a fuchsia castle bedroom one season, a pilot's bedroom, an "adventure house." They were commissioned to create Challis Island and a similarly themed pizzeria, and they started hiring scenic artists—dilettantes wielding airbrushes, with pasts as motorcycle customizers and theater set painters—and builders. Each person focuses on hand-crafting miniature mansions done up to the exact specifications of their clients. "The hand-built aspect of our work is exceptionally important," Sergio writes by email. "It is this which helps to give our work its character. It also means that you can be extremely flexible in your approach to design and personalization for the customer."
Each piece of furniture or structure is designed and built start-to-finish by the same team of builders and painters, who are also the ones to install and the ones to show off the work to clients. "It becomes a real labor of love for them and you can sense this in the finished piece," Sergio says. "Most of our work are one-off pieces and pretty intricate to boot so having someone else work on a piece without knowing its intricacies can create problems." Plus, he adds, artistic freedom is paramount. "If we were to interfere with every tiny little detail of our builders' and artists' work then it'd end up stifling their creativity."
Last year, Master Wishmakers was approached by Robb Report, a famously grandiloquent luxury lifestyle magazine whose bread and butter includes irrationally lavish London penthouses, to design something for its annual gift guide—famously chock full of "gifts" such as $30M backyard stadiums.
"The only requirements were that it had to be as spectacular and unique as possible and the end product had to be completely feasible in terms of construction," Sergio says. Robb Report loved the idea of a treehouse, and told Master Wishmakers to build something "as outrageous and expensive as you feel necessary," according to Nino. What the playhouse creators devised, he continues, "looks nuts—is nuts."
As Curbed reported in November, the treehouse was listed in the Robb Report gift guide for $62M. $62M—as in the price of 194 average American homes and costlier than three Madonna-owned mansions or 14,000 acres of gorgeous-beyond-words California ranch land. Plans show off a 20,000-square-foot tree house complete with "zip lines, a pool, a lazy river, a helipad, a water-operated elevator, and more." (More?!)
"At the end of the day, it can actually be built," Nino says. And, in fact, it looks like it will be. The company has fielded "quite a few calls" from interested parties, mostly people living in the Middle East. In fact, the company is in talks with the chairman of a large oil conglomerate who's thinking about turning the Robb Report treehouse into a hotel.
Meanwhile, the BBC wants Master Wishmakers to build sets ("I can't say much more than that," says Nino); marketing agencies and large companies approach them for in-store installations, window-displays, and pop-up bars; and the team is gearing up to launch an e-commerce site for their new line of kids' furniture. Still, the Rosellas are quick to point out that the demands of private clients come first. Because when it comes to buying $62M treehouses, as Nino says, "You don't want be told how it goes."
Challis Pirate Island
· The Master Wishmakers [official site]