If you go down to the woods: Gizmag’s Top 10 forest retreats
January 12, 2014
From children’s fables to cheesy horror movies, the archetypical cabin in the woods has long provided inspiration for storytellers. This makes sense when one considers the unique experience that living isolated amid nature offers. With this in mind, Gizmag gives a nod to 10 outstanding forest-based retreats.
Below, we'll cover family homes, weekend getaways, holiday destinations, and a couple of less-practical concepts, too. Whatever its overall form, each building has the same basic goal in common: to offer its occupants a secluded and relaxing experience away from the stresses of urban life.
The Espinar House, by Spanish architect and architectural photographer Miguel de Guzmán, embraces the classic theme of an isolated cabin in the woods, but adds a modern (and affordable) twist. The home features a kitchen-dining room, living room, four bedrooms, roof garden, and a greenhouse – the latter offering additional heat in winter months. Steel cables are also affixed to the facade to eventually produce a green wall as plants follow their path.
In a bid to keep construction costs low, the Espinar House was built using inexpensive materials, such as a translucent polycarbonate facade and chipboard interior walls.
The upstate New York-based Tower House, by local architectural studio GLUCK+, is a single-family weekend retreat that features a glass facade and a very unusual design. Comprising four floors, the top floor of the house rests horizontally atop the main tower structure.
Interestingly, GLUCK+ says Tower House's unusual design helps reduce energy use. By placing the "wet zones" of the home – that is, the bathrooms, laundry room and kitchen – into an insulated central core, the architects claim a 49 percent reduction in energy use. During colder weather, a south-facing glass stairwell encourages warm air to rise into the central living zone.
Luminair Tree Tent
With the assertion that camping off the ground offers benefits like less bugs and removing contact with potentially cold and wet ground, several firms now offer tents that hang or perch above the forest floor. The Luminair Tree Tent is an example of this, but arguably stands out on account of its excellent design and ample home comforts.
The Luminair Tree Tent sports a hybrid aluminum and steam-bent green ash frame, with a waterproof canvas skin. Able to accommodate two adults, it supports two folding side benches that become single beds, while optional extras include underfloor water storage tank and pump, battery pack and solar charger, and a bio-fuel stove.
Black Magic House
Located on the edge of a Budapest forest, Black Magic House, by T2.a Architects, has a few tricks up its sleeve. The prefabricated structure was constructed in just two days, and the time elapsed between sending off the digital plans and the structure’s completion was only a week.
Like the Espinar House, the interior of Black Magic House looks barely finished, though this abode also sports a black UV-resistant membrane added to the exterior. The membrane is waterproof and helps protect the home (and its occupants) from the elements, as well as lending the home its moniker.
Tree in the house
The Kazakhstan-based Tree in the house, by architect and designer Masov Aibek, is a house both in the woods, and of the woods – literally. Slated for construction in an exclusive area in the mountains that surround the city of Almaty, the unusual home is a simple structure consisting of a cylindrical glass shape and four floors accessible via spiral staircase. Its main feature, though, is undoubtedly the living tree placed directly in the center.
Though one can’t help run down a mental list of practical concerns regarding the Tree in the house project, it shows so much promise that we’re keen to see it completed later this year.
Tree Snake Houses
The Tree Snake Houses, by RA Architectural and Design Studio, are a pair of identical units installed in the Pedras Salgadas Spa and Nature Park, Portugal. The prefabricated getaways boast a degree of sustainable-cred thanks to the use of natural building materials where possible, and steel support beams that allow the dwellings to be positioned with relatively little impact on the surroundings.
Inside, each Tree Snake House sports a snug, open-plan living area with kitchenette, bathroom, lounge and raised double bed shoehorned in for good measure. Solar panels, energy efficient LED lighting and a graywater system also make an appearance.
If connecting with nature is your goal, then Pierre Stephane Dumas’ range of transparent bubble-based dwellings may well be what you’re looking for. This particular iteration, the Bubble Hotel, has been rolled out in several locations by the French Attrap’Rêves hotel in order to offer customers a more memorable sleeping experience than a conventional hotel room.
The bubbles measure 4 m (13 ft) in diameter, and sport a ceiling height of 3 m (10 ft), so are definitely large enough to stand up in. An airlock and silent blower keeps the space inflated, and ensures that the air inside is constantly recycled. The bubbles are equipped with a king-sized bed, table and chairs and related furniture, plus electricity and sink/shower area.
Named after a Native American Swinomish tribe, the Sneeoosh Cabin is all about living in harmony with nature. Based within the Snohomish Indian Reservation in Washington State, the attractive home by Zeroplus Architects is located right on the shoreline of a local fjord.
Since destroying the local environment to create a cabin in the woods kind of misses the point, Zeroplus Architects used eight concrete disks, which serve to raise the cabin off the ground and disturb the wildlife less than standard concrete foundations. Additionally, the local Douglas fir and Cedar trees were left as undisturbed as possible, helping to make the site feel unspoilt.
Roost and Inhabit concepts
While most of the forest retreats we've covered here blend into their surroundings successfully, Antony Gibbon's Roost and Inhabit concepts are envisioned as actually becoming part of their surroundings.
As the more ambitious and unusual of the two, Roost calls for several pod-like living capsules to be affixed directly to a tree using a nondestructive bracing technique that allows for the trees to live and grow. Inhabit, meanwhile, is more spacious and luxurious (and probably more practical), and has enough room to house up to six occupants in style, with additional touches, such as a wood-burning stove and soft rug furnishings.
Located on the border between Poland and Germany, the Kulturinsel Einsiedel (or "Culture Island") is a lovingly handcrafted fun park set amidst the forest. The five hectare (12 acre) park first began life as a farm and grew from there, over the years becoming filled with hand-carved oddities (watch out for the cars impaled on tree branches), rope bridges, and underground tunnels – all of which must be navigated to gain access to one of the treehouse hotels.
Each treehouse is styled differently, and while it's seldom wise to throw out phrases like "genuinely unique experience" without good reason, we believe that in this particular case it's warranted.
What do you think?
That rounds out our pick of forest-based retreats. If you have any other favorites, or you reckon we've missed something glaringly obvious, please let us know in the comments.