Unplugged is an off-grid digital detox experience that provides a space for people to disconnect from their devices and recharge in nature. Founded by Hector Hughes and Ben Elliott in 2020, it now has 16 cabins, all one to two hours from London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool and all offering a three-night digital detox. Hector and Ben started Unplugged to help busy folk escape the city and relax without all the noise and notifications from digital devices. When guests arrive, they lock their phones in a lockbox and replace phones for analogue activities – games, books, a cassette player and walks in nature with a map and compass. Here, Hector and Ben run through the advantages of cabin living.
Unplugged cabins design - powered by nature
For the design, we build our cabins with U-Build (which runs through cabin design in greater detail on the next page) to create sustainable and minimal cabins with comfort in mind. Built with a circular economy approach, the cabins are built with low-impact carbon materials that can be used again and again. All of our cabins are powered by solar and only include USB plugs to limit the use of electricity within the cabin. Log burners are built in to keep the cabins warm and cosy in colder months, and we supply all the wood needed to keep warm for three nights.
Benefits of going off-grid for a digital detox
Going off-grid at an Unplugged cabin has many benefits to your mental wellbeing, the environment and your budget. When designing the cabins, we ensured comfort and nature were front of mind.
Environmental benefits - built with nature
When identifying the locations for our cabins – all nestled in the beautiful, idyllic countryside – we look for three main requirements. First, they’re away from roads and public footpaths to give a secluded and peaceful escape. The second is that they’re easily reached by train and taxi, so they’re accessible to everyone. And lastly, the cabin is positioned to guarantee stunning views of the surrounding woodland or rolling hills.
Wellbeing benefits of going off-grid and offline
Taking a three-day digital detox and spending time in nature is great for your brain. It gives you improved focus and productivity, better sleep, increased real-life connection and reduced stress and anxiety.
One of the main features of our Unplugged cabins is the picture window right next to the bed, which is built up a little higher than your normal bed. This means guests can immerse themselves in nature from morning to night from the comfort of the covers. When designing our cabins, this is integral to promoting a better experience. We ensured the windows provided panoramic views from the bed to give the perfect reading and relaxation nook. Being in nature is great for your brain and body – just an hour in the wilderness can reduce your stress levels by 21%.
Our cabins are a space for guests to unwind in any way they want to, whether that’s adventuring, reading a book or just spending time with their loved one over a game of Scrabble. This is why the interiors have been designed using neutral colours and are fitted with a log burner, hotel-quality bed linens and a hot and powerful shower. People love to escape to Unplugged to spend quality time with their partner, friends or family. When you’re not constantly checking your phone or scrolling through social media, you can open up the space to have deeper conversations and more memorable moments.
Taking time off-grid can improve your sleep quality too. We don’t include clocks or alarms in the cabins so your body can get the rest it needs. Using electronic devices before bedtime can interfere with your body’s natural sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep. By removing your phone and resting in nature, you’re likely to have a much better night’s sleep.
With the current global situation causing uncertainty, many people are looking to rearrange or change their lifestyles and examine different avenues to a standard of living. An option here is to downsize. U-Build has been approached to tackle this by people all over the world.
Here, U-Build shares some knowledge on what its team has learned about this movement and how it’s been able to help people achieve these changes. U-Build aims to transform how people think about buildings and how they are built by simplifying the construction process and enabling anyone to participate.
Starting at the beginning, people generally need to find or have land that is suitable for a building, is accessible and can potentially run services if required. If this is achieved, then it makes our job of designing for the site more efficient. We can suggest considerations like the position of windows and doors to allow for optimum sunlight or the best view, as well as shelter from the weather and privacy.
The ground itself is important as it may need additional foundations to help support the structure. For the most part, U-Build is a light architectural system produced using lean manufacturing principles, so it doesn’t usually require heavy concrete slabs of giant steels but rather a simple compacted hardcore shed base kit and some adjustable risers or ground screws. Once a building has no more use at a site, the idea is it can be dismantled easily, as it’s modular, then transported elsewhere, leaving a limited-to-no trace that it was there in the first place.
From a design perspective, one of the main challenges is to optimise space and create a system that works with the client’s needs. As an example, this can mean having a raised platform bed above the toilet/washroom area. Any building to be used as a dwelling will need permitted development unless you are looking to build a tiny home, which will be on a trailer or something that can make it easily mobile.
Again, being a modular system based on a set of standardised box sizes, we can work with our clients in real time with a 3D model to produce what they need and where they need it. An example of this would be a kitchen area, requiring a set of cupboards with adjustable shelving and a suitable robust worktop surface. Kitchens are commonly the ‘fixed furniture’ elements within a cabin; however, some parts need to remain freestanding and individually movable, such as seating and tables. We have developed a range of standard boxes and component parts that can interlock or individually stand, in order to achieve the desired solution. Sliding doors are also useful for saving space as they slot into walls rather than open out into usable space.
We are keen to push the idea of self-building. The point of the U-Build system is to empower people. Once the core ingredients have been produced with specialist machinery, the actual fabrication is down to you on a human scale, a low-impact architectural level that does not involve heavy machinery, complex tools and skills that take years to learn.
Once the basics are built, some specialist trades may be required to carry out specific tasks, such as electrical wiring, plumbing etc. For safety reasons, this is also important. However, 80% of the work can be accomplished without special trades. This means you can save a significant amount of money due to no unnecessary labour costs. Some people still employ a builder/contractor/project manager to help, but we offer thorough instructions and guidance when required.
It is becoming more common for folks to harness the power of the sun, rain and wind and take advantage of the energy that otherwise may go to waste. The system is geared to allow people to adapt and place other methods, such as solar panels on the roof. For this, you should allow plenty of space for the batteries to be stored safely and away from the elements. The box system allows for cables, wires and piping to run easily through the walls, ceiling and floors without disturbing the structure, often making installing services less challenging. The roof system is gently sloped, allowing rainwater to be harvested into a gutter and butt for reuse.
Materials and future planning
Depending on where you are in the world, we want to offer the system as locally as possible. This means sourcing a CNC workshop, materials and all the general components/hardware that make up a U-Build cabin. As mentioned, our entire system is based on ‘leaving no trace’. Therefore, the intention is to have a building as permanent as you need it to be, while having the mechanisms of a temporary structure built in so you can remove it without leaving any trace of its existence there. However, this doesn’t mean it goes into landfill. The longevity comes from the modular form, which can be dismantled and reused, and even reappropriated many times over.
The core of the U-Build system is a CNC-cut plywood frame. The plywood used in the construction has zero added formaldehyde and comes from FSC-certified, well-managed forests. We never use tropical hardwoods or materials where we cannot be sure of their origin. We use sheep’s wool for insulation and a butyl roof cover, as well as breathable membranes for waterproofing.
We are always searching for new materials and suppliers to improve our carbon footprint, so if you find a new product that you would like us to test and incorporate as part of a build, please let us know.