Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Woodsman's Cottage

Following on from my post last week on the cob bungalow, I'm sharing another house that evokes a feeling I can only describe as yearning. It genuinely looks like a fairy tale cottage.

Those of you who live/have lived in the UK may be familiar with the tv programme Grand Designs. It's been on the air for a good ten years or so, and it's brilliant. It's about people who are building or renovating their own houses, and the houses are always odd or unusual. Anyone interested in an eco-friendly self-build, I recommend taking some time to watch some of the episodes because there are quite a lot of these - a self-heating home dropped into disused quarries, a house built from local materials around an old tree which forms the centre of the circular stairway, a house built from polystyrene blogs... However weird and wonderful, trust me, there's been one on Grand Designs.

One of the best programmes of this series - and the presenter Kevin McCloud's favourite, apparently - is the house built by a chap called Ben Law. Ben is a woodsman who makes his living by sustainably managing an area of forest. At the beginning of the build, he had been living under canvas in the woods for the best part of a decade. Part of his income comes from charcoal burning so he had to stay onsite to manage the fire risk. It had taken him ages to get planning permission, and in the end it was only granted with a very very unusal condition - Ben is the only person who can legally own the house. He cannot sell it - if he leaves, the house will be torn down.


Ben builds the house by hand with the help of volunteers, using traditional building techniques used centuries ago but rarely today. The materials are local - wood from the forest, mud from the pond, strawbales from a local farm. It is entirely off-grid, with electricity generated from a wind turbine, heating from a wood-powered range, and a composting toilet. By the time Kevin goes back to visit some years later, Ben is also growing most of his food.

The magic about this house is that it is a celebration of natural materials, particularly wood, from start to finish. Every piece of wood is individually selected and prepared, and there is a huge range - wood left with the bark on, wood peeled, wood aged and weathered. Different trees, different sizes and ages, different formats. It's beautiful. So go ahead, take a peek, and also check out Ben's website.


  1. Wow. Such a beautiful build. Inspirational. Thanks for sharing the programme.

    1. It is gorgeous, isn't it? He has a company that makes and sells timber frames for houses. If I ever built my own it'll be my first port of call.



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