But do we really need houses? Could we just go and live, say, at the bottom of the ocean, or in a cave, or maybe just in the back of a van? It turns out you can live in all of these places, and some of them are lovely. Here we bring you the very best alternatives to living in a boring old house.
If the answer is “up a tree”, there’s a good chance you’re asking the wrong question. But treehouses have come a long way since your dad nailed shopping pallets together in the woods behind your nan’s house.
Today there are superb arboreal huts all over the world, just waiting for eco-conscious tourists to hoist themselves into. There’s a multi-storey version in Canada’s British Columbia (enchantedforestbc.com), a treehouse clad in mirrors creeping out the wildlife in Sweden (treehotel.se), and a jumbo jet lodged in a tree in Costa Rica, complete with jacuzzi in the cock-pit (costaverde.com).
If you want to live the high-life in the UK, there’s a lovely spherical orb dangling amongst the shrubbery in Cornwall available from £95 per night (lostmeadow.yolasite.com, pictured above).
These are all temporary solutions, of course: for a more permanent airborne existence you’ll need to have one built. High Life Treehouses (highlifetreehouses.co.uk) will help you to design the ideal home in the sky, ranging from Wendy houses for the kids to palatial Ewok villages that will set you back well over £100,000 and last for a lifetime. Just bear in mind that lifetime could be cut tragically short if you’re not careful.
A floating house
“You live in Kensington, you say? A townhouse? Nice. Me? Oh, I LIVE UNDER THE FREAKING SEA.” I would never tire of having this conversation, watching the crestfallen expression on the face of the person sitting next to me at a dinner party when they realise they can’t begin to compete with my submerged habitation.
The semi-aquatic apartments are soon to be available in – where else – Dubai, home of the crazy housing project (see also: flats built on man-made islands shaped like a palm tree). “The Floating Seahorse” was unveiled by Kleindienst Group at the Dubai International Boat Show, and its features include a deep-sea master-bedroom and a luxurious submarine bath, in which you can soak in lovely, bubbly water that’s free from all those garbage sea-creatures that will be perpetually floating past your window.
Only 42 of these ludicrously lavish stationary boats are being made, so expect to pay in the region of £1.4m for the pleasure of getting on board. For that you’ll get a fully-fitted kitchen, a glass-bottomed Jacuzzi on the sun-deck, and the constant threat of being spied on by pervy scuba-divers.
The Elemment Palazzo is billed as a “land yacht” and it will cost you a cool £2m. This puts it in a totally different category from the camper-van I once stayed in with my friend Stu, whose parents, in retrospect, were almost certainly swingers using us as a cover for their nocturnal activities. Anyway, the weird, dome-headed Palazzo will not be rocking up at the low rent Cumbrian campsites of my youth, but the very finest campsites on God’s green earth. Probably somewhere in Shropshire.
What could possibly make this thing worth as much as a reasonably-sized terraced house in Bethnal Green, you ask? Well, it’s got a fold-out bedroom to give you heaps of space without requiring all three lanes of the motorway to drive around. And it has a “sky lounge” complete with a canopy and banquette seats that appear like magic from somewhere in the cavernous interior, allowing you to host a makeshift nightclub on the hard-shoulder of the M4.
The Palazzo is made by Austria-based Marchi Mobile (the correct capitalisation of its name is eleMMent), who have made use of a Volvo chassis and engine, with design input from the legendary Luigi Colani.
Inside, it has specs that would put any house to shame, like a king-size bed supplied by the royal family’s bed manufacturer, a built-in wine cabinet and heated towel rails. Oh, and you can get it in gold, which was just the detail I needed to tip me over the edge. On the down-side, it’s gonna be a nightmare to park it in central London. Check it out at marchi-mobile.com.
There are some parts of the world where living in a cave is perfectly normal. If you drive through the Xi’an region of China you’ll see thousands of archways in the hillsides, each one a little house built directly into the rock. These “yaodong” are smart, basic little dwellings that stay cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter. China is, however, a little far to go, even if the Inland Revenue is finally catching up with you.
Living in a cave in the UK is pretty much a no-go thanks to stupid planning laws designed to “preserve the environment”, so you’re realistically going to have to head into Europe to sate your desire for subterranean accommodation. Thankfully, you can try out cave-life in Santorini, which is just about as beautiful a place as exists outside of Shropshire.
Nestled among those famous white verandas, pastel houses and blue domes lie loads of caves just waiting to be lived in, such as The Sea Captain’s House, one of the biggest cave-houses in the Oia region. The decor is so relentlessly white that when you wake up you’ll think you died and went to heaven, and that heaven looked like a dental surgery. Prices in the Cave Suite start at €440 a night (sea-captains-house.com).
My biggest problem with caravans is that they don’t have enough sides. Most caravans only have six sides, like some kind of idiot dice on wheels. This ceases to be an issue with the Mehrzeller multi-cellular concept caravan, which has more sides than anyone could conceivably count. Possibly as many as 100.
And the fun doesn’t end there: buyers of this sweet trailer get to entirely customise the interior. Mehrzeller does this using a “mass customisation” technique, in which you tell a computer what you want and it works out how on earth to squeeze it all in. Popular options include bunk-beds that double as a sofa, kitchen units with a built-in dishwasher, and hidden lighting borrowed from the set of Tron.
Alas, these aren’t actually in production yet, so I have no idea what one might set you back, or if they will ever come to market, although there must be enough people looking for a caravan to match their 2006 Macbook to justify at least a limited run. The Mehrzeller caravan might look like a bonkers disco-igloo, but who’s gonna be laughing when the bottom falls out of the property market and you’re the only one who invested in a funky polyhedron?
Steam through central London at a speed of literally miles an hour (seven according to Google, which is six knots, also according to Google) on a beautiful long, flat rectangle bobbing on disturbingly green waters. Of all the housing solutions proposed in this feature, this is by far the most practical, with dozens for sale in and around London, costing anywhere from £50,000 to £1m.
Be aware that no bank will support your aquatic folly, so you’ll need the full amount up-front. You can avoid mooring fees (which can be many thousands of pounds a year for a permanent spot) if you keep moving every couple of days. The downside is you’ll lose your sanity after the first couple of weeks.
Why not see if houseboats are for you by taking one for a spin – Bert’s Barges (bertsbarges.com, pictured above) offers a one bedroom luxury floating suite on Regent’s Canal in Hackney with all mod-cons for £250 a night. And if it sinks, it’s someone else’s problem.