The Daily Telegraph
Why the world is getting cabin fever
From upscale fishermen’s huts to designer treehouses, Talib Choudhry reports on the rise of rustic hideaways
Escaping to a cabin in the woods has long been a romanticised ideal for city dwellers. As we become increasingly disconnected from the land, more of us yearn for a rural idyll – if the proliferation of Instagram feeds, blog posts and Pinterest boards devoted to the good life is anything to go by. Next week sees the publication of
Cabin Porn, a coffee-table tome full of drool-inducing boltholes around the world, from treehouses in Austria to fishermen’s huts in Ireland and mountain cabins in Morocco.
The book is the brainchild of American tech entrepreneur Zach Klein, co-founder of the hugely successful video-sharing site Vimeo. Five years ago, Klein, keen to escape the digital rat-race in San Francisco, started a blog charting his labours building a cabin in the forests of upstate New York. Bolstered by images of remote shelters around the world, the site soon developed a cult following, with over 10 million people regularly logging on (cabinporn.com) to get their fix.
“It doesn’t surprise me that cabin porn appeals to such a large audience,” says Klein. “The more we migrate into a technical world, the more sublime nature is to behold.” While Klein acknowledges that these pretty pictures of cabins often have the effect of “recasting wilderness as move-in-ready” – which is far from the reality – he hopes that the book will encourage people to think about building their own rural cabin. “It’s a wonderful kind of confidence to discover that you can provide yourself with shelter and offer warm hospitality with such simple construction.”
Of course, the likelihood is that his book is more likely to gather dust on a coffee table in London than provide the blueprint for a slew of country cabins, but a growing number of people are getting dirt under their fingernails and building sustainable dwellings in Britain. Leading the pack is Rupert McKelvie, who trained as a classical boat builder but founded his company Out of the Valley this year: as well as furniture, he now builds stylish, “low-impact” cabins using sustainable, local materials from a barn in Devon.
“I believe strongly in the importance of ecologically sensitive buildings,” he says. “It’s a fantastic feeling, being able to deliver a project that is as efficient and green as it could possibly be – knowing that, for years to come, it will provide shelter and happiness for its occupants while treading very lightly on the earth.”
The cabins might have a small eco footprint, but they aren’t rustic or low-fi; the burnt cedar cladding and clean-lined pale interiors are the peak of contemporary chic. The first cabin he built is in beautiful countryside on the edge of Dartmoor (although it is fully portable and mounted on a modified hydraulic trailer) and comes with a sleek kitchen and living area, a kingsize bed, a wood-burning stove and a wet room with a rain showerhead. Those who don’t have the budget to commission McKelvie to build a cabin (prices start at £20,000) can hire the Dartmoor bolthole (from £260 for a two-night stay).
“People relish being disconnected from their digital lives and having the chance to reconnect with natural surroundings,” says McKelvie. “The word ‘human’ has roots in the Latin ‘humus’, which means soil, and for 500 generations we all worked the soil as farmers. It’s deeply embedded in our genes; we feel a calmness and peace in an natural landscape.”
His cabin’s surroundings have
provided McKelvie with both the materials and inspiration for many of the furnishings: his elegant Leaf cabinet is made from sweet chestnut felled in autumn and veneered with leaves from the same tree; simple ash tables and chairs have been darkened and strengthened using a naked flame, mimicking an ancient technique that preserves by charring; and aerial photographs of the River Teign (a few steps away from the cabin) inspired the patinated brass tops of side tables.
The latter were shown at the prestigious Mint gallery in Knightsbridge during the London Design Festival, resulting in a number of commissions. For now, though, McKelvie and his team are busy building a cabin that is destined for a garden in north London.
Another incredibly upscale ‘‘shed’’ is one of the most shared examples of cabin porn on the internet. Product designer Linda Bergroth has created a striking glass-walled cabin on a remote Finnish island, using a prototype for a prefab garden shed she co-designed with architect Villa Hara. Set by a lake and surrounded by pristine forest, the cabin’s wooden panels have been painted black to blend into its surroundings. “The glass windows isolate the sound and it feels like you’re sleeping out in the woods with ancient trees slowly moving in the wind,” says Bergroth. “It can be compared to camping, but the first night I spent there beat all the five-star hotels I’ve stayed in. Nothing has ever felt as luxurious.”
Ironically, given the internet buzz, it is the lack of digital distractions and seclusion that Bergroth values most. “The lifestyle here is very simple. There’s no running water, so we bathe in the lake and use solar panels to power a water pump. We spend most of the day outdoors – swimming, fishing, walking, cooking over a campfire – and only head indoors to sleep. It’s idyllic.”