Interiors: Live a High Life and Go Underground

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), March 3, 2005 | Go to article overview

Interiors: Live a High Life and Go Underground


Byline: Colin McAllister & Justin Ryan

ALL across Europe, from Greece to Spain and Italy, people are digging in, going down and adopting tendencies more commonly associated with troglodytes. The reasons are various - and we'll discuss them later - but there's no doubt about it; cave living is gathering momentum.

Our involvement with cave living - and it's a huge involvement - started some five years back in the Dordogne when we visited the Sarlat home of friends Stephane and Carole while on route to write a magazine feature on the chateau home of French resistance singer Josephine Baker. Dead for decades, her former pile remains a perfect time warp to her frantic life. As much as we were excited to be featuring her home, it was the hillside homes so perfectly carved into the nearby mountains that really caught our attention. Sadly, back then, we didn't have time to investigate but ventured back recently while conducting research for this year's Ideal Home Show. Regular Post readers will know that at last years Earls Court show we designed a 60ft houseboat spread over three commodious levels but this year, well, we've really raised the stakes. Indeed, inspired by the cave dwelling phenomenon that is taking Europe by storm, we've designed, well, a cave!

And blimey - is it gorgeous! Constructed off site then brought to Earls Court by lorry, it's divided into four elegant rooms that possess all the form and atmosphere of the real thing. Complete with a villa frontage it effortlessly blends into its own artificial 'rock face'. It's been an arduous project but marvellous results have been achieved. But before we tell you any more we've put together a potted history of cave dwellings and their various types and are going to explain, for example, the difference between a cave HOUSE and a cave HOME.

In Spain, where there is a proliferation of architectural styles ranging from Moorish castles to glorious stone built villas and modest fincas there are also thousands of cave homes that are older than any of them. In Northern Andalusia, for example, the same region that gave us the wild and passionate flamenco, lies the tiny town of Galera where casas-cuevas are still inhabited by a proud and resilient community who eke out a living from the surrounding country side. Sadly, recent years have seen many inhabitants lured to prosperous cities and countless caves have been abandoned. As recently as 1960 there were more than 5,000 people living underground but now there are only a thousand.

Galera, however, has come up with a plan to revive its population. Spotting a gap in the market for unusual rentals, the town council refurbished a selection of caves and via a stout ad campaign unleashed colossal demand. This renewed interest led to a further batch of caves being refurbished and put on the open market. And the results? Well, they were snapped up quickly.

So what makes these homes so attractive? Well, for starters, as the European property market booms and prices continue their vertiginous ascent many people look to alternatives. And as time has passed the caves have become very much more of the moment. No more the amenity-lacking rock pods carved with naive tools by the homeless hundreds of years ago as shelter against the elements. Nowadays the average cave is linked up to electricity and water with mains sewerage a standard inclusion., They can be hermetically sealed against the elements and have an almost constant 18C temperature even though outside temperatures can drop as low as minus ten or rise as high as 40C. Imagine a solid rock thermos flask and you should get the picture. Warm in winter and cool in summer.

If you're a fan of sharp corners and right angles then you'll probably take a while to warm to the caves as their interiors are utterly irregular. Therein, however, lies their attraction for us.

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