There comes a time in everyone’s life, whether it’s just a fleeting thought, a twice-a-commute wish or even a reaction to staying in one of our spaces – you think: ‘I wish I lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.’ But inevitably, you wonder exactly how practical it would be. Are there estate agents for cabins? Do you need to build it yourself? Can you still get the weekly shop delivered? Ultimately, it feels too unachievable, too lofty, and much too good to be possible.
But, as it turns out, it’s rather more doable than it sounds. We got chatting with Samuel Glazebrook, filmmaker, photographer, musician and all-round outdoor sports enthusiast – about how he built his very own cabin, and what it’s like to be there year-round.
We often hear people say how they’d love to get off grid and live in a cabin, but you really did it. Let’s start with the hard question here – why?
Well, I've always tried to find ways in my life to simplify things. I've never really been interested in the corporate chase, or, you know, trying to get a bigger house, acquiring more things. I've always been more interested in the experience of life and what it really means to live.
I'm really interested in what ancient human practices are, I'm really into climbing and I like that feeling that you're tapping into something that humans have done since before there was potentially writing or, even language of some kind. Humans have been walking and climbing and running and swimming longer than we can remember. These are the things that really inspire me.
Surfing as well, I guess...
… I love to surf as well! And so, I think for me, I've always been much more interested in that experience of life, than kind of trying to chase down like a big salary. There’s such a big focus these days on success and what success means. And what qualifies as a successful human. Is it someone who owns a big house and lots of nice things? I suppose I've just never quite aligned myself with that personally. I also like time doing the things that I want to do, and especially since having my son. We just had a child, he's five months old now. And you really start to realise, even more so, those moments with your family. It's so precious. And so many fathers, mothers too, but I think stereotypically fathers might struggle to have a close relationship with their children, either because of work commitments, or modern lifestyle expectations… it's been interesting challenging that in myself. And with my partner Meg.
I've always been passionate about going out and having adventures, ever since I was a kid. I've enjoyed just getting out on my bike or whatever, just disappearing and going and having a bit of fun with my friends or by myself. I studied photography at Falmouth, and when I finished, I just really felt like I didn't want the pressure of moving to the big city and having to pay huge amounts of rent every month, getting myself in lots of debt and having lots of credit cards. So, I kind of just decided that I would make my life really simple and pursue the things that I found really interesting like making films and playing music.
My hobbies are surfing and climbing, and just generally being outside. I just thought, how is the easiest way to do this, and start to build my freelance career without getting myself into debt. I didn't really have any money at the time. And so, I scoured eBay, this was back in 2012, I bought an old van. An old Luton van, you can find it actually on my social media, if you go back far enough. It was just before the van life movement kicked off - there weren't the YouTube videos telling you what to do or anything. I didn't really have any experience in making anything or building anything. I just kind of cobbled it together.
But yeah, I lived in that for four years. And then basically, I got given an opportunity through a friend of a friend who's a farmer, and he just said he had a bit of land and was willing to let me build a little shack. I didn't really have enough money to do it. But I did have time. And so, I was just kind of taking jobs and working, and going away for a bit and working, and then coming home and spending all my money on materials and eventually, I built it.
What does it actually take to do this?
To be honest, when I bought my van, it was so simple. But I know people's vans now have like, electric fans, and fridges, and diesel heaters and TVs, and all sorts of fancy things. And my van was just really, really simple. It was like a little cave really. I did wire it up with power so that when I was parked up on the farm, I could plug it in. I had a little log burner and that was kind of thrown in. My kitchen hob caught fire a couple of times because I think the gas was leaking or something. The insulation was terrible, it had this big sliding glass door on the back that didn't really close. Oh and it electrocuted me once!
I mean, it was a bit rough. It definitely wasn't what you would think of now if you thought of van life. When you see people on the beach with their really nice fancy looking camper van or whatever. that wasn't me, like in this old van that I bought for like £900, and converted it for like a couple of hundred quid you know, it was just so simple.
So, the cabin was a big difference?
Oh, yeah, I was dancing around when I built the cabin, when I actually had space to like, move and jump up and down and walk around and stuff. It was just a whole new ballgame really. It took me about a year to go from nothing to moving in. And ever since then, I've been continually working on it. I think it's seven or eight years now and we’re still always doing something.
Can anyone do this?
I'm a firm believer that practically, almost anyone could do it. I had no skills really. Except for I guess, a good work ethic and willingness to learn and try. I didn't really have any major skills. I had friends who had some skills and they taught me some basic stuff. But I did find a couple of books on woodworking, timber framing and things like that. So yeah, I do believe that anyone could do it, but I’m also very aware that not everyone can do it. Finding the land, having the time and resources, it's not accessible to everyone, and our society isn't really set up to make it so.
It's funny isn't it, when people see it or wherever they go, they kind of get excited about it. It's not actually, compared to like a proper joiner or master carpenter, somebody who has been building houses for their whole life, it's not really that great…
No dovetails on those joints then?
I mean, dovetails, no. Definitely not. I mean, I've started trying to do things a bit better, as you grow and gain more skills you try and put more pride in into what you're doing and make things nicer. And it's kind of a learn as you go. As long as something is structurally sound and strong, and does the job, has a watertight roof, you can do a lot with that.
I was mostly thinking, ‘Okay, cool. If I put this beam here, will I be able to stand up when there's a floor in here? Like, okay, if I put my kitchen here like, well, I'd be able to open the door.’ I was just thinking about things quite simply and practically, but I'm also not a very good planner. I'm more of a kind of do it and then work it out as you start doing it kind of person.
I did kind of make a bit of a plan though. A friend of mine told me that the only technical drawings I did of the cabin, were on a napkin. I'm not quite sure whether that's true! I just kind of threw out a basic frame concept and I thought to myself, well, how much space do I really need to live? And I just went from there. I was in there by myself for quite a while. But now I'm married and got this little boy. So, we make it work.
What does a day in your life look like? Would the average person recognise it, or is it all chopping down trees?
I mean I do do those things, I do chop wood and fell trees, and all that stuff. But that's not the majority of my time. There are a few weeks a year I do that, but generally, I just hang out with my friends and family, and I work, and I travel to work and do my hobbies.
I feel like maybe I have a little bit more leisure time than a lot of people who work nine to five. But generally, I think my life is relatively normal. I mean we don't have a TV or anything. But then a lot of normal people who live in normal houses don't. I just enjoy living outside. But since I've been married and we've got a kid, I think our life does look more normal now, more than it ever has been before. Things change when you've got a wee one, they just need naps, regular feeding and things like that. So, you do find yourself being like in, and at home a lot more. I think anyone would experience that really. We get out and about as much as we can, but there's a lot that comes into raising a little one.
What are the best and worst parts about living in a cabin year-round?
The best? I still sometimes find it hard to get over the fact that we get to live there. We're so lucky. And even though, it's a simple little structure, I do feel proud of it. I feel proud that I was able to build it myself and design it myself and that it's a strong, sturdy shelter for me and my family. I feel really proud of that. It might sound a little odd, but I feel a connection to the building itself, almost as if it's like another member of the family. I felled the trees and took the wood to the sawmill and put it all together. I don't know, it's hard to explain, but it's a quite deep relationship I have with it.
Is there any downside? Is there anything that you kind of miss about conventional living?
I mean, to be honest, I haven't really experienced conventional living for quite a long time now. So, I don't really miss anything. I'm not trying to paint a perfect picture or anything, it has things about it that are really hard. But for me, there's nothing that I would change. I would way rather go out and cut some wood and put the fire on, than just turn the central heating on. I just much prefer that lifestyle, not to paint an overly romantic picture of it or anything. Some days are hard, and some days it's really cold, or a bit rainy. But put the fire on, and it's okay.
From your Instagram it feels like you’ve always focused on your passions as the primary focus of your life. You climb, surf, make art, and you’re also a musician – does living simpler allow you to focus on the things that matter most to you?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, music, for example, like my dad's a musician, my younger brother is a musician, it kind of runs in the family. And I never planned on music being my career, I was always moving more towards making films. But I've accidentally ended up working in music as a side hustle, as the last five years I’ve been working with this artist called Roo Panes. I play in his band and we've toured the states together, and Europe, and I've helped him record music. I guess, in a way, it's kind of part of my career. It's Roo’s project, but I enjoy getting involved in it. and we’ve become such close friends now.
My own music is just a passion project at the moment, and I haven't really put any energy into trying to put it out there or get any kind of promotion with it yet. I'm trying to figure out whether I'd want to do something like that at the moment. Because I have my video work, and then a bit of music stuff, and then just trying to kind of hold down the family, you don't want to be away too much or too busy doing all your own things. So, trying to find the balance.
Since Flynn’s come along, I haven't really sat down to record any music or anything like that. I've written a few songs and things, but yeah, it's definitely much harder to get things like that done. I think that’s actually one of the drawbacks of living in a very small space, you can't really find your own space, when you'd like to disappear off and have a quiet room to record something or whatever. That's not really an option at the moment.
What’s your newest work, upcoming projects, and generally, what’s next for you?
Well, me and the family are having a break at the moment, we’re driving through France and maybe Spain in our van. I'm currently working on a little short documentary for a paddleboard company. I’m also thinking about getting out there with my music and playing some local shows, and I’d love to release another EP this year.
I'm not actually sure what else after that, I have a few potential projects coming in, so we will see.
To follow along on Samuel’s adventures, and see what new music or films he’s making, check out his Instagram at @ samuelglazebrook or alternatively, his website: https://www.samuelglazebrook.com/