Home: Off-Grid Living In Style

Home // Design // 10th September 2021

We had the privilege of speaking to the British cabin maker leading the charge in off-grid escapism, sustainably. Have a read of our interview with Out of the Valley founder Rupert McKelvie on everything from his motivations for starting, his favourite cabin, and why the cabin is here to stay.

Out of the Valley have developed exceptionally attractive cabins that are as clever as they are good looking. These small abodes can suit any need, from small-house living to a forest retreat. The pandemic has created a desire to live in a more purposeful way, and a small log cabin provides the opportunity to reconnect with our surroundings, affordably. Rupert is a fantastic example of how a UK cabin maker should operate.

What sparked the creation of Out of the Valley?

I moved down to Devon in 2014, I had been working in London for four years as a furniture designer and maker. I was keen to establish my own studio and workshop. I set about restoring an old timber-framed barn into a commercial workshop, once up and running I realised I also needed somewhere more permanent to live.

There was a big pile of wood in one of the barns, and a perfect spot for a cabin in a neighbouring field. My first cabin acted as a template for how I’d like to live, I created a space big enough to meet my needs and be fully off-grid. When it was completed and launched in 2015 the phone started ringing, we have been designing and building cabins and furniture ever since for people who share our values.

Is there a location you’ve built a cabin in that particularly stands out and why?

Our Quarry Sauna was an exciting project. Granite rocks were taken from the decommissioned quarry and levelled flat which the building perches on top of at the water’s edge. We made copper fish scale tiles for the roof, they will turn verdigris over time. It was a project that used all of its materials in their raw state, no finishes were applied to any of the exterior or interior surfaces. The materials will just patina down with time, and become more beautiful in the process.

Are you seeing an increase in people enquiring about cabins as a result of the pandemic?

I started Out of the Valley because I wanted to demonstrate that low impact living was not only good for the soul but also for the planet, this was back in 2015. Events in the World have been changing very rapidly since then, and these changes have only been amplified by the recent pandemic. My customers are all expressing a need for spaces that respond to, and connect them with the natural world.

A well designed and built cabin is one of the best ways to create that sanctuary. It wasn’t so long ago that we were all living in simple shelters – as a result we were far more attuned to the land and seasons that passed through them. The need to connect with this again has caused a huge surge in work for us, whether it be an off-grid hideaway, or a city cabin, we carry our principles into every project we undertake.

How is out of the valley leading the charge in sustainable cabin building?

We spend a huge portion of our lives inside buildings, even more so lately. The vast majority of the built environment puts cost before anything else, any financial savings are passed down the line to the earth which pays a far greater price. Many of these damaging materials were born out of the industrial revolution and the proliferation of petrochemical based substances. Between the energy buildings use and their construction, they are responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s emissions, a figure that needs to be rapidly reduced.

Our projects are modest in scale compared to behemoth concrete and steel skyscrapers that mark our cities’ skylines, but that also gives us the opportunity to explore new processes, materials and ideas. We start by taking wood from local sawmills as our primary building block, using it for structure, cladding, flooring and furniture. It’s an incredible replenishing resource that creates habitat during its growing cycle, absorbs huge amounts of carbon into its cells and has the most beautiful tactile quality. We’re also using a lot of plant based insulations at the moment, hemp is a rapidly growing crop that can be used to achieve high insulation values and permeability. Margent Farm in Norfolk has been developing a corrugated roofing sheet, I look forward to using this when it’s commercially viable. We’ve also recently started exploring the possibilities on Honext, an upcycled paper fibre board. There are lots of encouraging materials coming to market at the moment, but it’s also a matter of looking back to see how things used to be done. Processes such as rammed earth and straw bale construction could hold many answers, these coupled with smart technology could become financially viable at scale.

As a matter of course we aim for very high thermal and envelope performance in all of our cabins, ensuring high breathability and internal building health. This extends through to all paints and oils, whether it be working with scandanvian paint brands or making our own pine tar resin.

Do you have a favourite brand for your cabins?

We take real joy in specifying all of the internal hardware and furniture for our cabins and work with lots of different brands. A recent favourite is a small Finnish company called Nikari, making thoughtful furniture with modest luxury, their December Chair by Konstantin Grcici captures this perfectly. Another Country has reimagined the oak farmhouse style and brought it to the everyday. Lighting always varies from project to project, but Secto has always been a favourite. Niwaki are my ‘go to’ for outdoor garden tools.

If you were to choose one style of cabin for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

It would have to be one based around our Nomad Cabin model of living, modular and portable off-grid living solutions. We designed the range to suit almost any location and requirement, from saunas and studios to fully self-contained dwellings. They have a light footprint, and can be ultimately taken with you if you ever move. It’s this flexibility, and how they draw you outside, that makes them my favourite range of cabins to-date.

Explore cabins with KOBU here.

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