Conversation with Rachael Fisher & Paul Gent of Hergest Lee Cabin
In March 2020, Rachael Fisher and Paul Gent were ready to welcome guests to their newly built cabin in Powys, Wales, when the United Kingdom – and most of the world – went into lockdown. It was an inauspicious start.
Four years earlier, the couple had come across a piece of land in the Welsh countryside, with an ancient barn and glorious views of Hanter Hill. Less than a day after first setting eyes on it, they'd agreed to buy it. The plan was to convert the barn into a home for themselves and build a cabin or two for the rental market.
In May 2019, Paul, a carpenter and oak framer, started by making a flat pack of a cedar cabin in his workshop, which he and Rachael, an interiors PR, then transported to its new home. Once they'd assembled it, installed Paul's custom cabinetry, and decorated the interiors, it was March 2020, and all travel plans had to be put on hold. So, Paul and Rachael moved into the cabin with their kids, taking the chance to get to know the tiny home they had just created. Then they waited for life to return to normal.
As we all know, normality has been elusive, but in late 2020 they started accepting guests. Since doing so, Hergest Lee Cabin has been wildly successful, surpassing both of their expectations, and they've now added a Lean-To cabin on the side of the barn that's also available for rent.
We sat down, by Zoom of course, to find out more about the unusual cabins and their design inspirations.
The cabins have received a lot of attention from the media, with glowing write-ups in The Sunday Times, The Guardian, and Dwell, among others. Did that surprise you?
Rachael: “We just thought, let's build something up there and have it as a holiday let. We didn't expect this reaction really, from what we created. But it's amazing.”
The original Hergest Lee Cabin, with its sweeping curves, is so unusual. I remember reading that you were inspired by architect Frank Gehry’s work. Is that correct?
Paul: "I do like Frank Gehry’s architecture, but I certainly wasn’t thinking 'OK, this is the Guggenheim…' We're obviously all influenced by everything we know and have seen throughout our lives."
If not the Guggenheim, what was the inspiration?
Paul: "I’m not sure! Because it turned out to be very similar to the shape of Hanter Hill."
Rachael: "The way that Paul designs, he doesn't do a load of drawings. I've worked with designers where they find it really difficult to talk about the inspiration because it's almost like that comes afterwards. So, the shape of the hill was obviously an inspiration, but subconsciously. And then there’s Gehry's work and Victor Lundy, and all the other architects that he really likes."
Paul: "I suppose we were thinking because it's up on the hill and there’s a hill behind it, it just felt like a curve would fit better in that landscape rather than having something angular jutting out. Also, there’s the practical consideration that to achieve a mezzanine floor with a pitched roof, the ridge has to be much higher because the height is limited much more quickly.
"Whereas, if you have a flattened-off curve, you can have a much lower ridge line and even get a double bed up there. I always try and get height into spaces I design because unless you're in some 16th-century cottage, it just feels wrong not to have space."
Rachael: "When people walk in, they often say, ‘Wow, it's much bigger than I imagined.’ It feels bigger because of the heights that Paul created."
Paul: "And there’s also the fact that the ceilings are curved so there's no corners. There are not as many visual full stops as there are in a boxy room."
How did you come up with the look for the interiors?
Paul: "For me, the interior design is as important as the overall structure. Quite often, people get a cabin and just chuck some bits of furniture in. We really enjoyed finding all those pieces. Virtually all the pieces in the Cabin and the Lean-To, we've had for a while. I mean, it's very rare that we thought, ’We need something, let's go and buy it.’ Because we'd already bought it."
So, this is deeply personal?
Rachael: "Yes. I think that's why it appeals to people on a different level because absolutely everything in there is something that we've chosen because we like it or it's interesting to us. The books, the objects, the furniture, the linen, absolutely everything."
Paul: "Someone said it was the best library, the best selection of books, they'd ever seen in any accommodation. So, that was really nice."
Rachael: "We're both really influenced by English eccentricity and those little objects that you find in pubs, but we also love French brocante and things like that. So, it's a real mixture of things."
Paul: "In the Lean-To, there’s a mirror, a hand-painted metal fire guard and an 1820s silk tapestry, but there's also a painting by a friend of ours, a local artist, and most of the furniture, if I haven't made it, is Sixties – Kofod Larsen G-Plan, Stouby..."
Did you give yourself permission just to put in everything that you love?
Rachael: "Yes. We love finding things and get excited about something that's got a real story behind it, an object or a piece of art. What does it mean? How old is it? Why did they make it in those colors?"
Speaking of color, the dark color scheme is an unexpected touch. Why did you choose that?
Rachael: "We were inspired by Edwardian drawing rooms. Because it's a small space, a lot of people think you have to use light colors, but we went for really dark muted blues and grays, and it really gives the space character."
Paul: "I read somewhere: ‘Don't paint it white just because you want to make it feel bigger. It’ll just feel cold.’ I love great big modernist houses. If you've got a big space that’s light filled, then it can take white."
Rachael: "The use of color was a very conscious decision, and it almost mimics the outside which changes so much throughout the seasons. You can pick different colors out of the walls that almost match the colors outside, depending on the seasons."
What reactions have you had from guests so far?
Rachael: "Everything's been really positive, which has been really nice. People just really love the area and being surrounded by nature. We get a lot of city people from London coming up. We had a couple in when it was raining the whole time, and they loved it. They just sat in the bath and read books, and they cozied down with blankets. It's nice to hear what everyone does, what they get up to."
So, the next project is converting the barn? Will that be available for rent as well?
Rachael: "That's for us!"
Paul: "The house will be ours."
We look forward to hearing how it turns out. To discover the two Hergest Lee cabins for yourself, click here.