*As seen in The Logbook, January 2019.
Twenty-two years of designing and building playgrounds, cabins and home furniture for various contracts has served Wild Hart co-founder Nick Sneller very well. Working alongside his wife Colette Hudson, the pair officially entered the glamping market in 2016 and the interest and feedback for their business has been fantastic.
Offering crossovers for glamping site owners looking to cater for families, Wild Hart create accommodation for guests such as pods and cabins and also the sorts of engaging playground areas that will keep children enthralled for hours. And probably make grown-ups green with envy.
While many camping sites offer playgrounds for children, these are usually stand-alone areas that do not add much to the aesthetic of the place. Specifically serving as a means of staving off boredom.
This flies in the face of the glamping values of combining nature and the outdoors, where the aesthetic of a place is very important. With this in mind, Nick has called upon his furniture design background and his love of working with natural, local timbers.
“Wild Hart was set up to fully explore the idea of developing a company to create glamping accommodations,” he says, “But the value of a unique, bespoke play area for children expands the possibilities. Children need an area to play and families need a comfortable, luxurious place to stay.”
HOW DID IT BEGIN?
Nick explains that his wife Collette has a flair for interior design and décor which he admits is not his strong suit. He is a trained cabinet maker, and throughout his career and due to his general enjoyment of working with timber, he developed strong affiliations with woodlands and woodlands management.
“My furniture is nature orientated,” he explains, “I make use of the shapes of the timber and take a lot of inspiration from nature. In 2002 I set up a business making fine furniture and sculptural designs.”
This business led to Nick making large sculptural furniture for schools and public parks and was one of the elements that led to his playground creations. A hands-on education option was given as a means to engage children and communities in building with timber and helping to create their new space.
And, as glamping became ever increasingly popular and site owners were scrambling for new ways to differentiate themselves from their competition, Nick saw an opportunity to use his skills to create the classic pods which have made the glamping portion of his business very successful. Then, he is able to add value to each site with the options of certified playgrounds uniquely designed to fit with the location and making use of the natural area.
“As a supplier into this industry it pays to be able to add extra value in areas that site owners may not have thought of,” he says.
Glamping, as an industry is still finding its feet with regards to standardization and quality assurance. However, playgrounds by necessity need to stay within a certain standard of safety. Nick explains that his aim is to strike a balance between creativity and safety.
According to him, playgrounds should not be themed but rather allowed to be environmentally dictated. Bespokely designed to suit what is available on site. His approach is to create something that is exciting and different, offering opportunities to climb, to crawl and jump and let the children’s imagination fill in the details while they play.
“What is important is that it is exciting and safe,” he says. To this end all of Nick’s playgrounds adhere to the standard set by EN1176/77, which is a guideline to suggest how to minimise risks.
“We install a playground and we get an independent officer to go and inspect it to confirm that we have done everything in our power to balance out that fun versus safety conundrum.”
GLAMPING ACCOMMODATION PRODUCTS
The Octa-Pod is the most popular seller at Wild Hart. A modular design of frame work and panels where the round pole framework is organic and natural. The paneling is insulated so can be used all year round and heated by AstecTherm. Nick explains that this design of paneling and natural framework creates an adaptable structure that maintains the element of bespokeness as no two timbers are identical.
With a main team including himself, his wife, a recently employed furniture maker and another four part time staff members, it takes roughly two months to design and create a custom Octa-pod.
“It’s a quality product,” he explains, “Our clients are looking for something that is creative and original, yet adaptable and reliable. It takes time to do the job properly.”
Creativity is very important, Nick says, “There are certain parameters that have to be followed to make an accommodation or playground safe, but everything on top of that is down to imagination and ingenuity.”
Site surveys are quite important in Nick’s line of work and he has visited a number of sites and worked very closely with clients to discuss design ideas. He admits that often, when a site visit is required it is because it’s due to specifically complex environments.
“Glamping thrives on luxurious accommodation in unique locations,” Nick says, “So there are always interesting challenges that need to be overcome in some creative and ingenious manner.”
One client, he recalls, had a steep hillside where he wanted a treehouse style cabin/pod built to take full advantage of an uninterrupted view. They had to create a structure to sit on the hill that would be completely secure. Hillsides are not famous for being considerate when being built upon and the client did not want them to landscape the entire area. Therefore, carefully shaping the structure to fit the hillside not only provided a stable structure for the pod but managed to not interfere with the natural beauty of the site.
“This isn’t an office-based job,” Nick says happily, “We go on site visits to understand the site and work with clients to manage expectations and aspirations and develop ideas. If I didn’t like challenges this wouldn’t be the job for me.”
NOT OFF THE SHELF
New clients and old can expect some exciting developments for this year as Nick and his team are creating products for new pods and fully functioning tree houses.
Their products are manufactured in their workshop in East Devon and then they assemble them onsite for their clients. The complexity of the project strongly determines the price range, keeping in mind that some clients are just looking for the bare essentials while others want full heating, insulation, plumbing and power.
“Bespokeness is what we do, and we never look at a set product,” Nick says, “We think of ourselves as a service provider instead of product peddlers because even though our products such as the Hex-Pod and Octa-Pod are premanufactured you wouldn’t call them off the shelf.”
Instead, the Hex-Pod and Octa-Pod are very adaptable. If one is purchased and it is not big enough, or it needs to be enlarged one of the panels can be removed and another pod bolted on to. Everything bolts and unbolts, from a flatpack unit and can be disassembled as quickly as its assembled.
Nick, who uses one of his own pods as an office, knows the value of research and is very selective on which companies he partners his business with. This is why he has chosen companies like Devon based AstecTherm and NuVision, which he has collaborated with on multiple occasions.
“Your supplier’s standards become your own in the end,” he explains.
For a basic octa-pod to set up in their back garden to dip their toe into glamping. A client can expect to pay in the region of £25000 for a pod that will come with basic solar lighting and other essentials.
Nick reveals that he is strongly considering a lease programme for his pods for sites who may wish to try out different styles of accommodations before settling on one.
“2019 is going to be an exciting year for us,” Nick says, “And for glamping in general.”
TELEPHONE: 44 (0) 7971 869058