It started with a chance comment from York hotelier Simon Cowton during an interview. “I was getting depressed in lockdown,” he said. “I realised I had to have a project.” Simon’s solution was to start a building project. He set about redesigning his hotel garden as a magical support bubble-friendly outdoor restaurant.
When I got off the phone, Simon’s words were still in my head. His enthusiasm and energy had fired me up. I, too, needed a project and knew what I wanted for my lockdown sanity … I wanted to build a beach hut.
I live nowhere near the sea. And I have never built any freestanding living quarters since I bodged together a treehouse when I was 12. But why let unsuitable geography and lack of experience hold me back? To me, a beach hut means escape. It means travel, in wide-open spaces, without restrictions. It was precisely what I needed.
Only then did I pause and consider. What makes the ideal beach hut? Thinking back, I recalled a few classics: the bar on the beach at Ao Nang in Thailand that had been constructed from driftwood tied together with broken nets (an architectural triumph long since bulldozed to make way for larger, less imaginative, establishments). There was my friend Sean’s hut on the North Yorkshire coast with its collection of fishing rods, fossils and driftwood. There were the wooden huts on stilts built by the inhabitants of the Bismarck Islands in Papua New Guinea. And there was the boatbuilder’s cabin on Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island.
Airbnb cabin on the Danish coast near Hirtshals. Photograph: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian