Everybody has their own strategy for making a success of working away from the office – whether it’s redecorating the spare room as a study, taking regular walks outdoors, or finding a new rhythm. Others have adopted a more inspired approach. Here, we meet three people who’ve transformed the concept of WFH by creating unique retreats.
Field House, Yorkshire
Located a short walk from her family’s Victorian farm near York, Field House is architect Eleanor Grierson’s first solo commission. Hinting at neoclassical proportions but rendered ‘in a rural vernacular tradition’, the larch cabin was built in 2019 as a haven for the whole family, whether for work or pleasure.
‘It came into its own during lockdown,’ says Eleanor. ‘We used the cabin in so many ways – from an office and a yoga studio to an isolation bedroom, and for endless sundowners.’
The project was sparked after the discovery of a half-buried brick plinth in a wildflower meadow, now given new purpose with the cabin built on top of it. Inspired by local farm architecture, the structure is also a modern folly: a feature in the landscape to enjoy from the house, ‘part barn, part temple’.
The cabin has windows that stretch across its entire length, affording wonderful views of the meadow and a small aspen wood. Deer and birds are regular companions. ‘We avoided all distractions,’ explains Eleanor. ‘There’s no kitchen, and no technology apart from a power supply.’
Insulated with Rockwool and cork flooring, and simply furnished with vintage pieces, the cabin has served the architect well as a workplace. ‘It’s the tiniest “commute”, but the act of walking here in the mornings separates work from home,’ she explains. ‘For me, the notion of a countryside office is intriguing. Why should projects always be designed in London? I hope that my new practice, Second Woman, will evolve in locations that feed the imagination.’ eleanorgrierson.com
Studio Drop, Inis Oírr
Commissioned last year for the Drop Everything cultural biennial, this retreat by Dublin-based designer Jordan Ralph is perched on a rocky headland on the island of Inis Oírr in Galway Bay. The pod-like, off-grid space hosts week-long artists’ retreats and offers an intimate connection to the landscape.
‘We took inspiration from native coastal forms such as clocháin [dry stone beehive huts] and Martello towers, which are cylindrical to withstand gale-force sea winds,’ explains Jordan. The designer also visited a family of traditional boatbuilders, who were restoring an old Galway Hooker.
‘I was fascinated by its skeleton, so I integrated the same construction techniques into my design,’ he explains. The boatbuilders’ timber, Irish larch, was used as cladding, and stained with seaweed-based pigment.
Accessed via boat from the mainland, followed by a short horse ride, the retreat makes for a very unconventional commute. Once here, residents are at one with nature. The landscape is uninhabited, and there’s an idyllic swimming spot at the bottom of the cliff. Distractions aside, says Jordan, this is a place ‘to think and work, a chance to go inward. The studio instils a sense of calmness. It’s womb-like’.
Inside the building, walls taper as if holding you gently, and a portrait window admits muted daylight. A circular bench around the perimeter doubles as a desk, while a solar rig supplies power for laptops. As for sleeping, there’s a drop-down bed that emerges from the ceiling. ‘This is a magical place – it feels like you’re at the edge of the earth – but it also cultivates slowness and focus,’ concludes Jordan. jordanralphdesign.com
Carrick Retreat, Cornwall
When therapist Charlotte Parkinson began to dream of a ‘special, remote room of my own’ to escape from her Cornish household, she called on Craig Bamford of London architects SASA Works. Knowing exactly where she wanted the building to be – on top of a hill above her home, reached through a pathway of ancient yews and next to a wildlife pond – she asked Bamford to create a space ‘to invite the outside in’. The resulting design, known as Carrick Retreat, has ‘feminine curves’ that fit sensitively into the landscape.
With help from Charlotte’s family and friends, every part of the building was carried by hand up the hill. The beautiful cruck frame, made of green oak, has been left exposed. Walls are covered in lime plaster and the floor is reclaimed pitch pine, while the exterior is clad in oak.
‘Sometimes it feels like a boat, sometimes a temple, or even a cave, depending on the light outside,’ says Charlotte, who has furnished the interior sparsely with functional pieces. These include a hand-carved stool by Bamford, basket-weave mats and sheepskins.
The retreat has a healing aspect that’s fed into Charlotte’s professional life, aided by the scent of pitch-pine resin that rises from the floor. ‘More than half my work is done when
I see clients here,’ she reflects. ‘They sit in awe as they absorb the beautiful shapes, natural materials and woody scents. There is a feeling of time having no hold.’ Charlotte often sleeps here, too. ‘You could be a million miles away from the stresses of the world,’ she adds. sasaworks.co.uk