The latest set to come from Lego Ideas, the innovative scheme that produces models as designed by the Lego community, is the Tree House. At £180, it's the most expensive set in the range to date, but with over 3,000 pieces it's also the biggest. The Lego Ideas range has been host to some of my favourite ever Lego sets – the Old Fishing Store, Voltron and the Pop-Up Book just to name a few have all been fantastic, mainly thanks to their uniqueness. The Lego Tree House, which became available to the public on 1st August, might not be the most innovative or creative theme – we've all seen or heard of a treehouse, of course – but the Lego rendition of what is a fairly ordinary idea is simply fantastic.
As to be expected from a set of this size, building the Lego Ideas Tree House is a pretty time-consuming activity. It took around eight hours altogether, and sadly several of those hours were rather tedious. As you can see from looking at the set, there's a lot of, well, tree. That means building with a lot of similarly-coloured bricks, and lots of repetitive sections. The trunk itself is made up of individual panels of brown bricks, arranged into a cylindrical structure, but thankfully you don't build the whole trunk in one go. It's done mostly in two halves, with the top and bottom being broken up by the tree house itself. Doing it this way makes the experience a little less dull – and building the tree houses is definitely the highlight of the experience, but more on those in a bit.
The first stage of the build is putting together the uniquely-shaped base, which makes it much more eye-catching (and solid) than if Lego had opted for a standard base plate.
The river, and the first part of the trunk complete. It's a whole lot of brown.
The worst part of the whole build, though, has to be the last few bags: the top of the tree. This is made up of a lot of "branches", and several dozen leaves. A big selling part of the Tree House set is that it comes with interchangeable leaves. There's a green set, and a brown/orange set if you'd rather your tree represent autumn. It really is a nice idea, and the tree looks striking in either colour – but there's no easy way to change them. The leaves aren't simply clipped onto the top of the tree; they're built into the branches that support them, so changing the leaves' colour means rebuilding the entire top of the model. It's very laborious, being that every branch is an ever-so-slight variation of the one that came before it, so it's not something I'm in a rush to build again.
One part of a branch, which then clips to another branch before attaching onto the tree. You'll need to build a lot of these.
Building the leaves is also about the time my cat decided to "help" by obstructing the instruction book...
Forget about the Lego, human, I need your attention.
As I mentioned, however, the tree house itself – or themselves, since there are technically three separate buildings – almost make up for the duller parts of the build. Made up of three circular rooms, each one is packed with a lot of brilliant and kooky detail. You could argue that since the building shape and structure is the same across all three that these are also pretty repetitive, but the difference in interior between all three makes them feel unique enough.
Putting the finishing touches on one of the rooms – a bedroom, complete with a double bed, vanity unit, hat stand and drawers.
There's also a lot of nice little details around the bottom of the tree. There's a river – brilliantly designed using blue bricks layered with clear tiles to give the impression of water – a little campfire, a swing, a picnic table, and a box on a winch that can be lowered or raised from the ground up to the tree house.
Those little touches make the Lego Ideas Tree House the ideal playset. Providing you'd allow children to play with a £180 Lego set, of course. The model itself is sturdy - it can be moved around very easily, and whether you grab it by the base or even the trunk of the tree, it feels secure enough. I carried it out into the garden to take some photos of the final model and didn't have any trouble at all transporting it. For larger sets like this, it's quite a bonus, as some can be very fiddly to move around in one piece.
Whether you want it to display or play with though, the Tree House is a brilliant model. It takes up a fair bit of space, so if you're buying it to show off, you'll need to make sure you have a good square foot of space for it.
The little details really bring the set to life. The stairs leading up to the tree house, along with the "rope bridge" that connects it together are extremely well designed, using bricks in an innovative way. But in the rooms themselves you'll find a massive amount of detail crammed in, including bunk beds, a double bed with something hidden inside, a story book, vanity units, a toilet and bath (who doesn't love a good Lego toilet?), and plenty of other neat little touches. The rooms all have tiled floors, which makes for a much nicer aesthetic - but it means it's harder to place minifigures should you want to use it as a playset. The rooms are also quite fiddly to get into and properly look at when the build is finished. The roofs and the top of the tree can be removed, which helps, but there's still not much room to get your hands in to mess with stuff. Probably for the best!
The little bridge connecting two tree house rooms together is one of my favourite parts of the set.
The Lego bathroom, complete with toilet, green toilet paper, and round bath.
One of the coolest little touches is the round "porthole" windows that have been made by putting two 'bridge' pieces together, and clipping them in place with rods. It's always nice to see bricks being used in new and innovative ways, and this is really effective.
The fact there's a pair of scissors hidden inside the bed is rather ominous. Just what is going on in this treehouse?
Once the walls and doors are on, there's not a great deal of room to play with anything inside the rooms.
It's also worth noting that there are absolutely no stickers in the Lego Ideas Tree House – always a boon! Granted, there isn't a great deal of need for them here, but there's a couple of really nice printed elements, such as a this carving paying homage to the set designer, Kevin Feeser:
What is really cool about the Tree House is the fact that its foliage, along with some of the plant elements around the base of the tree, are made from plant-based plastic. Lego announced its intentions to make sustainable bricks last year, and aside from a freebie set of plants that was given away, the Ideas Tree House is the first major set we've seen with such large quantities of them. Of course, it's only the leaves that are made out of the new polyethylene material – which are naturally thinner than most actual bricks, anyway – but you can't really tell the difference.
The minifigures are probably the most underwhelming part of the set, but they're perfectly adequate. You get two adults and two children, four altogether. I'd have liked to have seen a couple more added, since it's a pretty large set and it would have been nice to be able to occupy some of the rooms as well as the area to the base of the tree.
The minifigures themselves aren't anything special, but it is quite nice to see a female minifig with short hair – that's about the only unique thing about these guys. Still, they're nice enough, and can be placed in a number of places around the Tree House. I may well have to populate the rest of it with some of my own minifigs, though.
It's hard not to be impressed by the Lego Ideas Tree House. To look at, it's a really striking set. The fact that there's two possible colour configurations for the leaves is a really nice touch, too, and whether you go for greens or browns, the tree looks fantastic. It is just a shame they're not easier to switch over, because as it is I'm not sure I'll want to take down and rebuild the entire top of the tree every six months to keep up with the seasons.
If you're a collector and love big display sets that are going to draw people's attention, the Tree House does just that. It may not be fantastical or out-there in its theme, but its design really is eye-catching. Its little details bring it to life, and in the rooms especially, so many small touches are packed in.
It's a shame that it was a bit tedious to build in places, but there isn't really any avoiding that due to the nature of the model. With a lot of tree to build, there's of course going to be a lot of repetition in shapes and colours. But I'd say the finished product is well worth the few periods of slog.
The Lego Ideas Tree House is available now from the Lego Shop, priced at £179.99.