The Treehouse: Family Swing Project

May 21, 2014

Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Text and how-to images by Gabrielle. Family portraits by Sarah of Modern Kids. | This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to tackle your own weekend projects, just in time for Memorial Day!  #springiscalling


There are 3 reasons I’m super excited to share this project with you. 1) It’s awesome! I thought of it last fall, and the whole idea still makes me grin. 2) I’ve been sharing behind the scenes peeks on the Lowe’s Instagram stream for the last few days and it’s fun to get to finally share the finished photos. And 3) We haven’t had family photos taken since the Vintage Car photo shoot in France — 3 Christmases ago! We were long overdue and this was a great excuse/opportunity.

Sarah of Modern Kids did the portraits. She also did our French Greys portraits back in the day. She lives here in the Bay Area and it’s been wonderful to be able to work with her again!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Betty Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

The idea for The Family Swing Project came to me last fall. We had just started to get to know our yard, and Ben Blair pointed out how pretty the view of the stream was from under this particular tree. He mentioned we should hang a swing so someone could relax and take in the view.

I loved that idea and looked up to consider where a swing should go. And when I looked up, it hit me that there were a ton of options — ten or more branches growing horizontally.

There was a lightbulb moment and all of a sudden I could picture our whole family spending a warm, lazy evening under the tree — each child in their own swing, and Ben Blair and I sharing a bench swing. We could sway and chat and listen to the stream, and just be together.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Oscar Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

This vision has been stuck in my head for all these months, and this last weekend, we decided to bring the vision to life!

Ben Blair was the how-to master mind. He figured out how to build the swings and get them to swing properly. I’ve included a complete photo tutorial when you click through, so you can see what he came up with (and in case you’d like to build your own swings!).

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Ralph Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

They’ve only been hanging for a few days so far, but they are already a major draw for the kids, for their friends and for the cousins. It’s easy to see they are going to provide hours of entertainment, and a bucket full of memories for our family.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Maude Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Flora June Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

We hung the swings at different heights — one particularly low swing was hung especially for June. And all but two hang from their own branch. The bench hangs from the sturdiest branch and we tried to sort of center it — with the other swings hanging around it.

The project turned out wonderfully, and it feels good to have made a bit more progress in the yard. I already said this, but the whole thing still makes me grin!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Olive Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Man oh man, I like those kids.

Would you like to learn how we built the swings? Keep reading.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Are you ready for a project? Here’s a photo tutorial of how we put together the swings. We started with redwood boards that we had cut to size at Lowe’s. We had some boards cut to 24″ and some boards cut to 20″ to accommodate the different sized people in our family.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

We measured in 1.5″ from each side.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Then we clamped the board to our work table. We used a scrap piece of plywood underneath the board that we could drill through, and we added an old rag to the top of the board to prevent an imprint of the clamp.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

We further secured the board with 2 more hand clamps.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Then it was time to drill. We used a 1/2 inch bit, because our rope is 1/2 inch thick.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Tada! Drilling done.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Next, we went over the edges of the board, and any rough spots, with a palm sander.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Now that the boards were prepped, we turned our attention to the ropes. To prep them for hanging, we used some very specific hardware — all found in bulk bins at Lowe’s (all but the carabiners, that is).

Adding metal inside the rope keeps the rope from fraying or wearing down from hours of swinging.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

And this hardware keeps the ropes in place and allows you to adjust for length.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Then, we added a carabiner (we ordered these online).

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

The carabiner then attaches to an o-ring screw.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

And the screw goes into a sturdy branch.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

This is what it looks like all put together.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Next, it was time to attach the ropes to the boards. We measured the rope, then taped it off with a piece of white duct tape. Then we cut the rope in the middle of the tape.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

We used a lighter to melt the rope ends, to prevent fraying. (This step is optional depending on what type of rope you are using — obviously, if you go with cotton rope, don’t burn it!)

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

We then threaded the taped + burnt end of the rope through the board.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

We tied a knot under one side of the board (we used a bow-line knot). Then we leveled the board, and tied the second knot.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Once we were happy with the leveling, we taped, trimmed and burnt the end of the ropes that hang below the knots.

That’s it! If you get this far, it’s time to start swinging.

DIY Swing Tutorial   |   Design Mom

Happy building! And hey, if you get a chance to make these, or try any modifications that improve the swings, we’d love to hear about it!

P.S. — Like to make things? Find lots of tutorials, projects and crafts here. For more posts about The Treehouse, go here.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jan @ Family Bites May 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm

This is amazing – I couldn’t love it more than I do!


2 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Thank you, Jan!


3 Tamara May 21, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Very cool! What a fun place to spend the lazy summer days. I can’t wait to try it. I anticipate getting the second knot tied in the right spot will be the toughest part.


4 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

You’re a quick study, Tamara! I’m impressed. And yes, that final knot can take some adjusting. But if you find it frustrating, you can also adjust from the top, you just have to loosen the bolts, adjust the rope and then tighten again.


5 lynn May 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

hello, your pants? so cute. where are they from? dreamy idea, beautiful tree.


6 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Those pants! I am living in those pants these days. I went shopping with Rachel of Handmade Faucett when I was in Atlanta for Mom 2.0. She’s local and took me to the best vintage/used clothing shop in town. And I found these pants (and 4 pairs of shoes/boots, plus a red velvet suit I’m dying to share).

The pants are leather, but they’re cut like sweats or lounge pants — with pockets, too. They are amazing! Made in Italy by a London label called Les Chiffoniers.


7 Jaime May 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I’m local to Atlanta too! I’d love to know the name of that shop. ;) The swings are dreamy, as are your pants, as is your adorable family, as are you! Sorry to be embarrassing and gush, but you’re an inspiration (and one of my absolute favorite fellow Mo’s)…thanks for all you do!


8 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:34 am

Hi Jaime. The store is called Labels, and it’s actually in 4 different houses that are next to each other. The shoe house was my favorite. : )


9 Alice May 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

They’re SO cool! (I couldn’t leave without leaving a comment about those pants…)

10 Grace @ Sense and Simplicity May 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I love the swings – what a fun project and a perfect place for a family photo. Can you all swing at once or do you bump into each other???


11 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Hah! Good question, Grace. We specifically hung the swings so that yes, everyone can swing at once. But from certain swings, if the kids face each other and try to sort of high-five their feet, they can.


12 M. May 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Oh, Blair Family–this is so sweet! I LOVE the photos, the text, and, of course, the SWINGS. Thank you for sharing all of this. Your family and the love that is so clearly seen make me appreciate the beauty in this world. God bless!


13 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:31 pm

What a lovely comment! Thank you, M.


14 Danielle May 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Love this! I don’t have a spot to make it happen…or do I?…but I love, love, love it! Thanks for sharing!


15 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Depending on how many swings a family needs, it seems like there are a lot of trees that could accommodate a project like this. Of course, that’s easy for me to say when my current house happens to be surrounded by trees. : )


16 Deb May 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Your family is beautiful–just wanted you to know! :)


17 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Thank you, Deb!


18 Thia May 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Wow! Best idea ever! Love it.


19 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Thanks, Thia! I’m pleased as punch about it.


20 dawn @ peek photography + design May 21, 2014 at 3:11 pm

well I know what we’re doing this weekend! swings galore!


21 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Yay! Have fun. Getting to swing is a great reward for the work you put in creating them.


22 Matilda May 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm

This is a very cute project. Swings are such a social center for kids (and adults too I guess!). I wonder if drilling two holes in the board and threading the rope through in a triangle would make a sturdier swing? It might lead to fraying problems though


23 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I bet you’re right — double holes would probably make them even more stable. Something about the thickness of the wood keeps them from being wobble-y, but every once in awhile they do seem to dump their cargo. : )


24 Matilda May 21, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Maybe that makes them more fun anyway!


25 mom in mendon May 21, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Great! Fun, fun, fun!


26 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Thanks, Mom!


27 Jennifer May 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Lovely! I feel like the best conversations with my kids always happen when they’re moving, like when we’re taking a walk or driving in the car. This takes that idea to a whole new level! Hope you have many wonderful conversation here for years to come!


28 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:50 pm

So true about conversations + movement!


29 allysha May 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm

This is a million kinds of awesome; I love it so much.


30 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Thank you, Allysha! It would fun to see your kids on these swings. : )


31 Adriana May 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

It looks like those swing carousels from amusement parks. ;)

We have a slackline that sometimes we use at parks since we don’t have big trees on our little patio in DC. You have so many options!


32 Design Mom May 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Hah! You’re right — it totally looks like a swing carousel.


33 Gabrielle May 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Fantastic idea! The swings almost look like a scene from a whimsical children’s book. I can’t wait to see how the rest of your yard turns out.


34 Cathy Hunter May 21, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Fantastic! Awesome! There just aren’t enough adjectives in my vocabulary to say how wonderful the idea – and fruition of it – are.


35 Amy May 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

What a beautiful family!! love Ben Blair’s red socks!


36 Heidi May 21, 2014 at 6:47 pm

I absolutely love this idea. I assume that my kids would try and see who they could knock off the other swings, kind of like a big bumper car thing, but I’m sure that your family is much more sensible. (or maybe the measurements are exactly right so that this can’t happen) We have only coniferous trees in our back yard, so I don’t think we could do this, but maybe if we used a bunch of trees – I’m going to go outside and have a look.


37 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

A couple of the swings have some bumper car action going on, but mostly they’re far enough apart that it’s not an issue. : )


38 Preethi May 21, 2014 at 7:18 pm

This idea, and your whole family, are just so, so lovely. Will have to keep it in mind if we ever have a yard. :) Thanks for sharing!


39 Beatriz May 21, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I completely love the idea and am already looking for the “the best branches” in our backyard. My only concern is the o-ring screws, can do you make sure they can hold up all the weight and not come out?



40 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:30 am

The 0-rings and the ropes are all labeled for weight loads, and the family members fall well below the weight load limits, so we’re not worried at all. Another thing that brings confidence is that every solid tutorial we found used similar screws, so we know this is standard, approved practice.

Obviously, it also depends on the strength of the branch you’re using. We casually tested the branches by climbing on them and hanging from them.


41 Nathan May 21, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Happy and beautiful family and great idea!


42 Melissa Trudinger May 22, 2014 at 4:56 am



43 Sarah D. May 22, 2014 at 6:48 am

That is just awesome! We have a huge tree in our yard and I have always wanted to add a swing for our boys. Question for you – did you do any testing to the tree to ensure it could withstand the weight of people swinging? My husband thinks that if we add a swing to a tree the branch would break and land on our son’s head. So of course now I have that image in my head and don’t want to put up a swing! Plus, there is the stress to the tree. Curious if that was a concern.


44 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:27 am

Hi Sarah. We didn’t do any super formal testing, but we did hang ropes over the branches we wanted to use, and had the adults (me and Ben) hang from the ropes to see how things held up.

As far as stress to the tree, I remember reading an article in Martha Stewart Living many years ago about tree swings and the author was clear that drilling into the branch with screws did no harm (no harm but leaving 2 holes), versus hanging a rope over the branch, which can apparently can weaken the branch. As we prepped for the project and did some online searches, the same info was confirmed.


45 Sarah D. May 23, 2014 at 7:33 am

Awesome! Thanks for the info. Maybe this weekend I can convince my husband that we should do it! :-) Have a great weekend!


46 Jen S. May 22, 2014 at 7:00 am

Love this project and especially love your blog (just discovered it a month or two ago) and your living with families series. Thank you for such a nice place to land on the internet. Enjoy Oakland, I lived there for awhile and sure to miss the city and Arizmendi Bakery’s pizza and pecan rolls! :)


47 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

I haven’t heard of Arizmendi Bakery. Thanks for the recommendation!


48 Karen L. May 22, 2014 at 11:43 am

The one on Lakeshore (near 580) is pretty awesome. We are planning on making a special trip there this weekend (from SF) because my kid misses it so much!

Also, the photo of all your kids is beautiful!


49 Vanessa May 22, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Gabi, Arizmendi is a worker-owned cooperative, which makes them even better. In Berkeley they are call Cheeseboard.

Karen, There is one in the mission on Valencia, too, not that I’m trying to discourage you from crossing the bridge.


50 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Cheeseboard! I totally know Cheeseboard (and I’m a big fan!), but hadn’t heard the Arizmendi name.

51 julia g blair May 22, 2014 at 7:14 am

How wonderful! Do you have speed limits on the swingers?
I think it’s the perfect family gathering place, and activity, especially on a warm, clear day. The beautiful photos have made my day already!


52 Bonnie May 22, 2014 at 8:45 am

What a lovely idea-swinging in the wood with family.


53 rose | rockrosewine May 22, 2014 at 8:50 am

That’s all kinds of awesome.


54 Summer May 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

That looks like so much fun! Also, I have to say – Olive’s hair. She’s STUNNING!


55 Design Mom May 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

Olive is as photogenic as can be!


56 Katie Harding May 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

This is the coolest ever! What a great place to unwind with your family!


57 KelliO May 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

Thank you for sharing the joys of a big family! We’re just starting ours, but I can see that someday we may stand out among current family sizes. I hope I can pull it off with as much grace as you do!


58 Lindsay May 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

Cool! What a beautiful idea. And a gorgeous family to go along with it. enjoy, enjoy, enjoy….


59 Amy3 May 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Love the swings! How fun is that?! And the photo of the kids at the end is wonderful.


60 Nina May 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Excellent idea! We don’t have a tree as large as yours, but we might get one swing on our birch in the back. I had a tree swing as a kid and I loved it! It was so much fun! Your family is beautiful.


61 Emily May 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I can just imagine the gears in your brain as you thought of this project and brought it to life. Truly awesome. Your family photo shoots are always a favorite of mine….as a photographer I first was lead to your blog WAY back when you posted your NYC photo shoot! Obviously been a fan ever since. I had to laugh at some of the swinging bodies in some of the shots b/c I know how hard it is to photograph children on swings. It’s wonderful but tricky to get just the right amount of blur & focus. Sp fun to see how the kids have grown. Easy to comment on the lovely girls, but I must say Ralph and Oscar look so grown up and great too. And I imagine June has still never had a haircut, right?
We just installed a zipline from one tree to another in our backyard….when will the first zipline come to the Blair treehouse? :)


62 Jess. May 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

How did I miss this?! The project is so magical, and I love to see how you & your husband worked together to make your grin-worthy idea come to be. Your while family is just so sweet, and the photos to memorialize the completion/new house/love/joy are perfect. Go Team Blair! xox


63 kathleenmcs May 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I love seeing the whole family together in such relaxed form.I feel like I know your very special family. Thank you for Design Mom. I always open your blog first!


64 Rebecca W May 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Are you kidding me? How are all your kids so cute?! And stylish? And….. I don’t know. So great.


65 Darilyn May 31, 2014 at 9:01 pm

This is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while! Brilliant installation and such a lovely family.


66 Steph @MisplacedBrit April 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Absolutely awesome! …I feel like I’m writing that ALL OVER your blog right now!
This is such a beautiful idea and your photos are stunning.

What a beautiful family you have too :-)


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