I built this cabin and lived in it for 3 years in a secret place in Bristol. The cabin is now sold but I have very fond memories of those years living off-grid.
The total cost was just £2,500. Getting costs this low requires an adaptable design process. I had a general concept but knew that the design would evolve around materials and components that I could find for cheap or free on gumtree. The project started with an old, mouldy caravan bought for £250. The great thing about caravans is that they have incredibly compact services already installed. Water heater, fridge, cooker, shower, space heater, batteries and gas connections, etc. I liked this once because all the services were on one side of the chassis which freed up the other elevation.
With such a small space there are a few tricks to encourage a sense of space; a pitched roof considerably helps the space to feel airy and not claustrophobic. It also means you can dry wet clothes above head height where the hot air rises. Another is to keep a reduced material palate and avoid using up all wall space for storage to de-clutter the environment. To raise the roof, the caravan shell was removed, and a new digitally fabricated birch plywood frame installed. This is light but also strong which enabled the vaulted ceiling without the need for ties disrupting the space.
The cabin features a red tarpaulin roof which formed a very useful undercover porch area but also enabled the cabin to be wrapped up during transit. The ratchet straps could be tightened to fasten the tarpaulin in both positions. They also formed the rainwater disposal system giving it a kinetic façade that gave it much of it’s character. I can see many applications for tarpaulin roofs as they offer great flexibility and are incredibly quick to install and can be re-used.
The walls and roof are insulated with strawboard – a new innovative product that uses the natural glucose in straw to bind it into a rigid board that has racking strength when wrapped in paper. Thanks to Craig White from White Design for giving me this material free of charge.
The interior faces were also in birch plywood with a service void and vapour check membrane behind.
The cabin was comfortable enough; a bit chilly in winter but the log burner would quickly warm things up. The oversized log burner is something I miss the most. I could see the flames whilst sitting in bed. The counter-top height enabled easier stoking and tendering.
You get used to living in such a small space. There is something wholesome and gratifying by reducing the things you own and living closer to the outdoors. I wrote a poem about it:
The soft cooing of chickens stir in the dawn.
Here comes day, sharp against the soft wood.
I think of them as I perch in this parcel of space that I have salvaged as my own.
This thin threshold,
This delicate structure of solitude.
I am not inside, nor outside.
I am in the in-between.
In the interplay where in can fold out and fold in with a gentle breeze.
It is a marsupial’s pouch,
A womb wondering in something much bigger.
A refuge in a forgotten fantasy.
A wardrobe between two worlds.
Eggs rattle as the pot boils.
The steam joins breath against the chill.
Another awakens to the morning’s harvest.