A rusting wartime Nissen hut was not in the gameplan when architect Damon Webb moved from Brighton to mid-Wales with his daughter and her family four years ago. Tired of the fast pace and density of people where he lived, Webb, 52, was searching for an alternative. He wanted space to keep bees and chickens, and to pursue his interests in permaculture, self-sufficiency and the humane rearing of animals.
His daughter Bella, son-in-law James and granddaughter Olive were living near Brighton in a small flat; they, too, craved a more sustainable lifestyle, with land for their daughter to roam, but could not afford it. They decided to join forces, and found a smallholding that suited their budget in Powys. They fell in love with the farmhouse with its surrounding hills, five acres of land and outbuildings; the 1940s corrugated steel Nissen hut in the yard, used to house German and Italian prisoners during the second world war, was incidental.
Just before Christmas in 2015, the family moved into the main house, which was originally a pair of farm workers’ cottages built in 1620. To give family and guests more space, Webb decided to decamp to the Nissen hut – and found, unexpectedly, that he liked it. “I really appreciated its simple form,” Webb says, “two-thirds of a cylinder, like a vaulted church. I have always been interested in well-designed, small, quirky spaces.”
The hut has windows on three sides and cladding on the end, which Webb painted black. The walls are lined with thin hardboard, and he patched up the plastering and repainted it. He and James built a small shower room and a tiny kitchen area from marine plywood.
Webb packs a lot into his small open-plan space: alongside the kitchen is a desk area, dining table, living area and sleeping space. A waist-height bookshelf separates the sleeping and living areas, and rugs define the dining space. A wood-burner sits at the heart of the hut and plants fill ledges and hang from the ceiling.
During the long, wet Welsh winters, Webb has to get up several times in the night to keep the stove stoked. He has only left the hut once to sleep in the main house, when the temperature fell below -10C.
“It’s elemental – the hut creaks in the wind and you can hear every raindrop. As it’s in the yard, it’s close to the livestock. I can hear the ducks, and the cockerel at 5am.”
Webb commutes to work in Brighton (he co-founded the practice Chalk Architecture) every other week, and stays with his parents or friends. Bella, 25, and James, 26, run the smallholding, which includes fencing, haymaking and maintenance, and taking care of the goats and pigs, helped by Olive, four, and Otto, two. Webb maintains the vegetable patch and garden.
The three generations co-exist harmoniously: the children wander in and out of Webb’s hut in their wellies, enjoy colouring at his table on Saturday mornings, feed and collect the eggs, and check the beehives. The goat herd is growing and provides milk and some meat. The family experiments with cheese and butter-making. There are two pigs, Nozzle and Flower, and the bees provide several kilos of honey annually.
The family eats together two or three times a week and share shopping and cooking. In winter they play board games, and Webb sometimes babysits. Arguments and fallings out are rare.
Webb has grown to love the simplicity of the hut and the fact that everything he owns is visible and close to hand. He says: “We all wanted a more rural existence, and we have found it.”
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