Meet the furniture designer at the forefront of the tiny house movement

When Rupert McKelvie said he was going to get away from it all, he really meant it.

Living and working as a furniture designer in London ten years ago, Rupert decided he wanted to escape the hustle and bustle and relocate to Devon, where his family is from.

But rather than trendy Topsham or charming Chagford – famously home to Chagstock music festival – Rupert chose the corner of a huge field on the edge of a wood in Dartmoor as his new home.

A mobile signal-free zone, it had no internet, no power, no water and no drainage – it would be his chance at living completely off-grid.

‘I had spent the previous summers restoring an old timber-framed barn into a workshop, travelling down from London to get a workshop ready on my mum’s farm.

Once that was up and running I realised I didn’t have anywhere particularly permanent to live,’ he says. ‘I had been following the cabin and tiny home movement for a while and there was a good spot in one of the fields, which seemed like a good place to build my own.’

Living in cabins in the middle of nowhere is no longer the reserve of people called Billy Joe who live off barbecued squirrels – there are currently more than 2.3million posts tagged #tinyhouse on Instagram and even a book on Amazon called Cabin Porn: Inspiration For Your Quiet Place Somewhere.

With many young people being priced out of London and other cities, the tiny house movement has been gathering momentum in the UK. It offers a way to live mortgage-free for many, with low or almost non-existent bills and an eco-friendly, often self-sufficient way of living.

With carpentry skills but no experience in building a house before, Rupert relied on a lot of YouTube videos to build his dream property, honestly named Oak Cabin.

In just six months he had built a smart and innovative off-grid home where he could escape the stresses of modern life and immerse in nature.

Nestled among trees by the valley of the river Teign, it is crafted from oak and clad in shou sugi ban – charred cedar – and topped with a corregated metal roof.

Its dark silhouette makes it modest from the outside and blend with surrounding woods. But if you were expecting a spit bucket and a couple of bottles of moonshine for an interior, think again.

Within the wood fibre insulated walls is a bright and airy interior that is filled with luxury touches.

The woodwork has been treated with whitening oils to channel a lime-washed, Scandinavian feel, while floor-to-ceiling windows bring in swathes of light and connect the living space with the nature outside.

In the corner is an Indian lounge chair and hanging above is a stylish pendant lamp by Steptoe. The minimalist kitchen is hewn from solid ash and oak with custom brass handles, and the shower completed in luxurious Carrara marble.

Despite the occasional luxury fitting, cabin life had a profound effect on Rupert’s approach to materialism.

‘The minute you go into a these small space like this you look at the extent of your belongings and realise they won’t fit so it’s a process of paring back to what is important to you. That decluttering process is good for the mind and soul. I didn’t have too much stuff, but going into the cabin you choose your books very carefully, you curate the things you have around you.’

Because it was off-grid, Rupert had no TV, no DVD, and no computers after he chucked out much of his technology. ‘Being without mobile phone signal was a bit of a challenge. When I needed to message or call people I would have to
go up a hill. But you get used to it pretty quickly.’

Self-contained and solar-powered, water is drawn from a nearby well and
a wood-burner at the heart of the space provides heat. ‘I tried to make sure there was no compromise to living off-grid.

It’s lovely watching the batteries get charged up when the sun is out, you feel more connected to the rhythms of nature. It’s an amazing feeling of being autonomous and non reliant. The feeling of that is very liberating – that moment of lighting the fire for the first time, providing warmth into the space, it becomes cosy and warm.’

But while cabin living energised Rupert’s downtime, it had an unexpected effect on his career.

In 2015 he created a furniture range inspired by cabin life and was showing it at a design show in London. Oak Cabin was used in pictures to illustrate its usage.

‘The cabin got a lot of interest,’ he says. ‘People started asking if I could make them a cabin and it just ran from there.’

Rupert’s business Out Of The Valley was born, specialising in designing and building a range from Nomad Cabins – prefabricated, moveable wooden cabins – to bespoke tiny houses, handling everything from architecture to timber framing, joinery and cabinet making.

Prices range from £35,000 for the smallest cabin to £250,000 and Rupert says that with the right maintenance they could last more than a century.

‘I think this movement and awareness in a different way of living is essential,’ he says.

‘It is only since the Industrial Revolution that we have seen a vast array of steel and glass living – a living environment that is very detached from the natural world it is built on. The natural world pays a heavy cost for those processes and it can’t last. We need to radically readdress how we build, our building footprint needs to be much more efficient. Expanding the off-grid idea means people becoming more autonomous and re-pooling resources, food, energy water and waste.’

Both the interiors and exteriors are designed with low footprint, clutter-free living that is good for the environment and the soul, firmly in mind.

Every part of the construction process is considered; for example, locally-sourced timbers to create a natural carbon lock and upcycling materials like jute and hemp for incredibly effective insulation.

‘Spending time living in cabins offers immediate insight into what it means to live with less, it’s simply not possible to carry all of life’s possessions into a small space,’ adds Rupert.

‘You take time to consider what really holds value and in doing so create an environment that enhances your sense of peace and wellbeing.’

From tranquil city studios and garden rooms to cosy retreats in the wilderness and a sauna nestled on the waters edge within a decommissioned quarry, Out Of The Valley has helped realise many cabin dreams.

Here, Rupert takes his pick…

Holly Water

‘Nestled by a wooded bank on a patch of Devon farmland, Holly Water was such a joy to create as a bespoke cabin, built for two.

‘This cabin swells its footprint beyond the walls out onto a timber verandah, which in essence forms another open room, connecting to the lush surrounding countryside.

‘The copper roll-top bath, perched on the verandah, really makes this one memorable. Lying in a bathtub under the stars is pretty special.’

Estuary Cabin

‘Our clients, who were carefully restoring a Dutch-style merchants’ house for their retirement, wanted to create an artist’s studio in their waterfront garden that could also be an open-plan space for dining and entertaining.

‘We drew inspiration from the bitumen-painted hulls of boats that bob nearby using a Japanese technique called ‘shou-sugi’, which gives that beautiful textured black finish. One of my favourite features are the cornerless doors which dissolve the indoor/outdoor divide and frame a beautiful view across the water in Topsham.’

Cedar Cabin

‘What makes this cabin in Salcombe, built on the site of an old Wendy House, even more special is the owners’ thinking differently about how to create additional space for their growing family.

‘Instead of extending the current house, which sits on the same land as the Cedar Cabin, they enlisted us to design and build a playful escape at the bottom of the garden.

‘Referencing the main house, the cabin is clad in local cedar. One of the key considerations was ensuring the cabin could be enjoyed in every season. In the summer, the doors open right up, so the inside seamlessly merges with the rolling green of the garden and is the perfect haven to enjoy drinks and entertain.

‘Once the cooler months set in, a wood burning-stove and underfloor heating transform the cabin into a cosy nook for reading and playing board games.’

Find all of these cabins and more at

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