Cave Envy: The Rockhouse Retreat
Dubbed a ‘proper hobbit home’ by Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud, The Rockhouse Retreat was built in 2015 from a cave in the Wyre Forest, Worcestershire. Owner Angelo Mastropietro – which fittingly translates to ‘master of the stone’ – and his self-build journey featured on Grand Designs, followed by a guest appearance at Grand Designs Live last week.
Being of Italian descent, Angelo got his idea from a city in Italy’s southern Basilicata region called Matera, where less than 70,000 years ago 15,000 people were still living in limestone caves that date back to the city’s pre-historic era. Angelo’s cave is thought to be an amazing 8000 years old and sits within the sandstone cliffs that inspired Tolkien and his imaginary land, Middle Earth. Costing 62k, which according to Kevin is a ‘bargain for a cliff with a hole in it’, it’s situated within 3 acres of woodland and has its own stream. Whilst it had been occupied as a home up until 1962, when Angelo found it - believe or not in a local property magazine - it needed complete renovation.
Renovating the cave was, quite literally, a shot in the dark. Angelo had the primitive job of hacking away at the stone to carve out more living space but as there’s not exactly a guide out there on how to convert a cave, he had no idea if what he was doing was right. The labour involved was intensive, even with the help of power tools – for example, every cable for the electricity had to be dug and hidden into the rock. Sometimes just drilling one hole would take an entire a day. But 96k and lots of hard graft later, Angelo has ended up with a place far more appealing than the rough, damp dwellings of Matera’s past. The Rockhouse Retreat features underfloor heating, a woodburning stove, a range cooker and lots of clever lighting to create a warm ambience. Outside on the terrace there’s a fire pit overlooking a handsome woodland view.
But what makes this renovation particularly inspiring, and probably why it made Kevin McCloud’s top 20 Grand Designs, was that Angelo was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008 whilst running a successful recruitment company in Australia. He says this diagnosis, along with a lapse that left him temporarily paralysed, was the catalyst to reviewing what his life plans were. And whilst the stress and manual labour involved in the renovation was a big risk in terms of his health, Angelo wanted to push though his diagnosis and create a lifestyle where he could move from the corporate scene to a slower paced, natural landscape.
Angelo hopes to make The Rockhouse Retreat his permanent home at some point, but until then you can book a stay at this unusual getaway on Airbnb or through the website. To keep up to date with Angelo’s ventures, follow him on Instagram @ angelomastropietro.