Milly’s House: Glamping Should Embrace the Quirky

My Glamping adventure started back in 2012 where, after finishing my architecture degree, I spent some time in the industry, where I soon came to the same conclusion a lot of people do. I really didn’t like the stuffy office and being told what to do all the time. I had to find a way to make all the crazy ideas I had floating around in my head become a reality. So, I went out on my own to find somewhere to test out my ideas. It all started where most revolutions begin, at the bottom of Grandma’s garden. I managed to convince her to let me knock down the old shed and build what I described to her as a “super shed”. I have to admit, she wasn’t completely sold, but she quickly changed her mind when she realised her TV crush, George Clarke was coming along to visit with his Amazing Spaces film crew. And there it was, my design company, StepStudios was born, albeit at the bottom of Grandma’s garden.

The TV show helped with a bit of exposure and enabled me to get to work on another project, this time it was a custom build Artist studio. That’s where I thought my niche might be, custom home offices and “Super Sheds” as I liked to call them. But I soon realised that as much as I was enjoying these projects, I wanted to do something for myself, I wanted to test my skills on a project that could be used as a home while also being completely off-grid. But that’s where I came up against my first big problem. Finding a nice open space with beautiful views is a lot harder when you live in Central London, and I didn’t think the Queen would let me build in her garden like Grandma did!

I am lucky enough to have some amazing godparents, who just so happened to be in the world of farming, although they themselves didn’t have the sort of land I was after, they were able to introduce me to a whole network of farmers and landowners. Eventually I met Alex, a young and ambitious farmer who saw my vision and has been a great help in getting this project off the ground. After visiting numerous locations around his farm, we stumbled across a small patch of woodlands, and I instantly knew this is the spot I was looking for. Alex was a little perplexed at this point as the woodland was home to 10ft high nettles and was completely inaccessible. But, after some hard work and lots of stings, I’d found the site I was looking for.

To get to this point was a huge milestone as this was now 2016 and I was desperate to get this project off the ground, but we still had a long way to go. We decided that we would keep the agreement simple as neither of us knew if this would even work, so, we went about trying to get all the correct planning that we needed. This was not as easy as I originally hoped and the first application was rejected. However, we eventually overcame the planner’s concerns and we eventually got all the paperwork we needed. To make this process a little bit easier I had done a lot of research on planning laws, eco-friendly design and off-grid technology. And the design that I came up with hugely helped with my planning applications as it meant we only needed a change of use planning rather than full planning permission.

The planning rejection did cause something of a delay, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge fan of taking orders, so, to tell the truth, I’d already started building the project well before I probably should have. This wasn’t as bigger risk as it sounds though as I’d designed the building to sit on a trailer, three of them to be precise. The design of the building was created using three old caravan chassis, they were all stripped down and built on from scratch.

One of them houses the bedroom which boasts 180-degree glass. The second has a large lounge with cosy log burner and the third has a full kitchen and bathroom. When on site, they all connect with tunnel footbridges allowing the building to weave in and out of the treeline. The outside of the building has been planted with lots of native evergreen vines what will eventually completely engulf the building, making it blend into the nature around it. The construction of these three sections was made all the easier with the help of my godparents who kindly allowed me to literally move into their empty barn. This was an interesting experience. I spent almost a year in their barn during the construction phase where I put in every nut, bolt, nail and screw into this building while also working to clear the site ready for moving day. During this time, I slept in an old camper van, which wasn’t too bad, except it turned out that I wasn’t the only occupant of that barn and my new neighbours had a couple more legs than I do, and there were lots of them. But it’s all worth it in the end, that’s what they say right?

What came next though was easily the scariest part of the whole project. Forget the rats, it was moving day. With only the help of a farmer, his tractor and a trailer, we had to load all 3 units onto a low loading trailer and then navigate 12km of low bridges, trees and a motorway. It’s a good job I wasn’t wearing a heart rate monitor that day, it could easily have blown up on numerous occasions!

But slowly and surely, we made it to site without any problems, other than the 5 miles of tailbacks we caused. It took a while to position the sections but once they were in place, I was able to upgrade from the Campervan in the barn and moved into my new glamping site. There were a further 8 weeks of work to do on site, but the views certainly made the experience worth it. Alex the farmer was also very impressed, “epic” was the phrase he used, just before he became the first official guest and booked himself in for a 5 day stay……… in his own field!

Milly’s house, named after my niece, is hopefully the first of many units, all of which will be completely unique and every one of them will be designed to be completely off-grid, with environmental consciousness at the heart of their design. I think that we have not only a great opportunity within the glamping industry, but also a responsibility, to create environmentally conscious sites that help to show the public just how beautiful and important the environment around us is. We can show people that they can live in luxury and also be completely off-grid, while still having all your home comforts, but most importantly, helping to support nature in the process.

We have space on this site for two more units, but I am undecided yet as to whether or not they will appear here. My ambition is to make these units completely off-grid, moveable and completely private. The design of these buildings is key to this, with the building being on wheels, it not only helps us avoid the need for full planning permissions, but it allows me the freedom of knowing that when the contract on this site ends, we can simply pick the building up and move it on without having had any impact on the site itself.

With a unique and evolving design, we are also able to update the technology in the units too, with my long-term plans to make the buildings remotely operated, with modern technology rapidly evolving, we will soon be able to monitor everything remotely with digital door locks, remote water level monitors and security cameras. This ability to move the building and place them anywhere on short-term contracts allows us to open up access to small pockets of land all over the country.

Land that could be unusable for farmers could become a highly profitable plot, something worth taking note of when you consider the possible implications of Brexit and the EU subsidies that farmers could end up losing out on.

The glamping industry has a great opportunity now to move away from conventional unit/pod design and embrace the quirky and unique accommodation market. People want something new, something different, and with a little creativity we can create something that has never been seen before, truly amazing spaces.

Milly’s house is new to the market and has already received some very positive feedback, with the 180-degree glass in the bedroom being the biggest draw. “It’s amazing waking up as you feel like you really are in the middle of a field, but you’re still so warm and comfortable, it’s a very surreal but nice experience,” said one review. This building is the first in line of a new breed of glamping units we are working on, with our second project already in its infancy and is turning out to be even more bold than this one!

All the design and build work is done through as we now have a team of architects working on a series of quirky and adventurous designs to add to our network of properties which are managed by our sister company while also being advertised on CoolCamping & Glampingly.

by Liam Rollings, Director