Just beyond the front gates of Matt Dunn's Plymouth estate, parked on an expansive stretch of lawn, is a hearse.
That's your first clue that this is no ordinary home. But visitors are still surprised by the many marvels hidden on Dunn's 3.6 acres. There's a full-size chessboard made of grass and stone, an aviary for parakeets, Christmas elf houses, a stunning magic arts collection — and an antique coffin in the garage.
Beyond all of that, in a wooded patch behind his already ample 6,500-square-foot house, is Dunn's crowning achievement to personalized living. It's a two-story treehouse he built himself, and it's the ultimate man cave.
Dunn, a professional magician, is 35. Along with his youthful looks, he has managed to retain the spirit of a child, someone who sees a wooded lot as a blank canvas for the dreams of his childhood.
He bought the estate three years ago, and when he saw the backyard, he thought, "OK, this is the perfect location for a treehouse," then added, "because you're talking to an adult child."
He started googling treehouses and got sucked into a digital vortex of increasingly elaborate backyard abodes.
"By the third page, there was a treehouse with a pool," he said. That, however, was too much even for Dunn.
Instead, he sketched up a tasteful playpen in the sky, complete with a sleeping loft and a Juliet balcony.
He started building it last summer, and finished his masterpiece this spring.
Since then, he has been spending a few nights a week in the deluxe, 480-square-foot treehouse. Other than plumbing, it has everything a magician needs: a stuffed zebra head, a grandfather clock from old Dayton's Christmas Nutcracker displays, a marble-topped bar, and a deck for watching horror movies that he projects onto a screen he mounted in the woods.
Dunn and his father built a treehouse when he was a child. It was nothing more than a platform with a couple of walls. But a treehouse on this grand scale was a first for the city of Plymouth.
"Sometimes you get requests, and you just shake your head," said Steve Juetten, director of community development for the city. "I have never seen anything like this."
Dunn had to get a variance to allow electricity in the structure, and was required to add railings and fencing to keep it safe for visitors.
He risked his own safety to make the treehouse look exactly how he envisioned — by standing on a ledge and tossing moss up to the roof.
Dunn's attention to detail comes from his fascination with the immersive amusement parks he visited in his youth. "Disney World damaged me heavily," he joked. He loved the animatronic-populated rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and wondered, "How could I make something like this?"
He didn't hesitate to start trying. He began collecting Halloween decorations at age 10, making extravagant displays on the front lawn of his family's Plymouth home.
"You never know with Matthew," said his mother, Sue Dunn. "He's been full of creativity and enthusiasm all along."
Dunn now makes more than half his income in one month each year as the owner of Scream Town, considered one of the country's best Halloween attractions, on 30 acres near Chaska.
The rest of the year, he earns his living performing sleight-of-hand tricks — sawing people in half and the like — as a magician at parties and corporate events. He's performed for everyone from the Minnesota Vikings to Gov. Mark Dayton.
"My big thing is entertainment," Dunn said. "I like to see people having a good time."
The treehouse is his love for his profession made manifest. Covered in dark green wood siding, with antlers mounted above the front door, the exterior has a Minnesota cabin aesthetic. But inside, Dunn decorated it to evoke Hollywood's Magic Castle, a famed clubhouse for magicians that's outfitted sumptuously with leather chairs and secret doors.
'Addams Family' aesthetic
"I always liked that 'Addams Family' look," he said.
Dunn created his own personal magic castle with red leather sofas, boxes of cigars and lots of taxidermy that he found on Craigslist — including that shocking zebra head. It's at once classy and a little eerie.
As far as treehouses go, Dunn's has more of a high-end feel than, say, "a Dennis the Menace type thing," said Larry Kahlow, owner of the Eagle Magic and Joke Store in Burnsville and a mentor to Dunn.
"You can pull out a cigar and sit there and watch Houdini escape from a trunk," said Kahlow, who has been a regular guest at the treehouse, coming over to watch movies on the projector.
Dunn, who is single, likes the term "man cave" for what he's built. Not that he needs one.
The sprawling main house is filled with more magic memorabilia and half-finished examples of his newest hobby, sculpting busts from clay.
He rents out rooms of what he calls his "Magician's Estate" on Airbnb. Guests often jump at the lifelike mannequin seated at the piano.
It's all part of Dunn's obsessively detailed, whimsical world-making.
"I love to see childhood dreams come true," he said.