Imade the floor from a 300-year-old oak tree that I found lying in a field near here,’ says designer and furniture maker Jeremy Pitts. He is talking about his latest project – a one-room wooden cabin on stilts, which stands on the fringes of the ancient woodland that surrounds his house in Sussex. He had spotted the huge trunk lying by the side of a country lane – ‘a strong hedgerow tree with a two-metre base diameter’ – so contacted the owner, made him an offer and got a truck to take it to a local sawmill. ‘They cut it into boards, which we dried in the woods for four years.’
These may seem like extraordinary lengths to go to for what is essentially a treehouse, but this is typical of Jeremy’s meticulous approach. ‘I’ve always had a deep appreciation for materials,’ he says. Jeremy spent 10 years as design director at Studio Reed, then set up on his own in 2008 and launched a range of beautifully simple furniture. His motto, ‘doing things properly’, has led him to trawl the country in search of the best woods. ‘I soon realised the only way to get interesting boards was to buy the whole log and deal with it myself.’
Jeremy and his wife left London for Sussex in 2005, looking for the space and fresh air in which to bring up their two sons. Their search led them to a light-filled wooden bungalow, which came with 14 acres of woodland. The house was ideal, but it was the oak, ash, chestnut, hornbeam, beech, birch and hazel in the woods that tempted Jeremy.
Although the house needed some work, he found himself drawing up plans for a modern three-metre wooden cube. It is not strictly a treehouse, instead supported by 10 coppiced sweet-chestnut trunks that were sourced within the woods. It is accessed from the ground via a ladder through a trapdoor, and two large sliding windows on the front and rear provide a clear view through to the woodland.
Jeremy’s now teenage sons love the cabin, which acts as a guest room and quiet space. A bunk bed doubles as a sofa, and there is a wall-mounted folding table made using a single board of oak from the same tree as the floor. Of course, it is also an example of what the designer can create for a client. ‘I wanted to demonstrate how many functions could be accommodated in a small volume,’ says Jeremy. He is currently designing a cabin for Charleston, for which he will employ the same approach to materials and making.
This cabin’s interior is simple, with jute curtains and indigo paint. A tree root carved by John Surplice, a former National Trust woodsman, sits next to a workshop stove. ‘John spends hours carving old roots,’ says Jeremy. ‘Some can take him three years to finish.’ The real decoration is provided by the different types of wood, most of them sourced locally. They include pine for the interior walls and oak for the bench, bed and window frames. The cleaved chestnut external cladding was made in Surrey by the underwoodsman Justin Owen. ‘We spent hours arranging the pieces so they would flow around the box,’ Jeremy explains. Other than using electric screwdrivers, everything was assembled by hand. ‘It was like a giant kids’ construction project.’
Jeremy is not averse to some of the conveniences of modern building, and has used both traditional and contemporary methods. The sweet-chestnut trunks are supported by lightweight aluminium screwpile foundations and the cabin itself has a prefabricated shell. ‘The two approaches combine to make a sustainable, tactile building that sits lightly in its setting,’ says Jeremy. ‘I wanted to create something using current technology that was still very much handmade’.
Jeremy Pitts: jeremypitts.co.uk