It’s within nature that so many find inspiration, or at least find the downtime to pursue their most creative, most ingenious ideas. Designers on Holiday (DOH), an off-the-grid vacation destination for designers and artists, offers this rustic respite, and encourages visiting residents to “reintroduce themselves to the natural and playful side of design.”
Founders Tom Gottelier and Bobby Petersen (both designers in their own right) set out to build a sustainable community in the Gotlandic countryside, with a focus on simplicity, minimalism, and a symbiotic relationship with nature. When the pair originally bought the 15-acre site on Sweden’s largest island four years ago, it consisted of little more than fractured limestone bedrock, juniper bushes, a small wooded area, and a large field.
Using the collective power of the visiting residents, DOH built nearly every item in the camp—including modern micro cabins, A-frame tents, a symbiotic hot tub, showers, saunas, a well, and a waxed cotton sailing boat—using little more than solar power, batteries, and handheld tools. Each micro cabin can be easily moved around the campsite, and the tents have a flatpack design to allow for easy storage over the cold winter months.
The team designed a herbal distillery and a terracotta kiln, as well as paint pigments made from the natural land and soap from the local flora. Now in their fifth year, the group wants to open their artistic, earth-based community up to the public, rather than remain an exclusive retreat for designers.
Julia Georgallis, an industrial designer and founder of The Bread Companion (a London-based company), prepares the daily meals for visiting residents. Julia designed the camp’s on-site bread oven, which has since become a focal point of the site. “We sit around it for warmth on cold nights, we bake bread in the morning and we cook in and on it at night,” she tells Culture Trip.
Julia refers to Gotland as “really very dreamy” and says the local community has been “friendly and generous,” welcoming the visiting designers and popping in on the campsite occasionally. However, although DOH has built several “luxury” amenities on-site, the camp still lacks something essential: toilets.
“There is a level of comfort that a group of people designing and building out in nature will put up with, and a different level for other people,” Julia says, referring to opening the camp up to the public. “It has been a little embarrassing when it has come to the toilets, in so far as we don’t have any. [But] once we build our own toilets, we will be a completely self-sustained site.”
The residency is virtually cost-free, with DOH asking for just £20 (around $28) per day if attendees want to partake in excursions and daily meals. Over the course of the two-week stay, guests can attend a variety of workshops, ranging from wood carving and ceramics, to more out-of-the-box workshops that utilize the individual talents of the visiting residents. “Last year we had a Mycelium workshop where the raw material was donated by Ecovative,” says Julia. But the most beautiful example of handmade designs is the pottery, which are fired on-site using a kiln built by a previous visiting family. In general, schedules remain flexible so that artists can focus on communing with nature and creating new work.
By opening up their Gotlandic retreat to the public, DOH hopes to show what is possible with a “little bit of design, appreciation for nature, and a more sustainable way of living,” says Julia. “We don’t want to be a closed off little group of designers in the bushes. We want to share what we have learned.”
Designers, artisans, and artists can apply for the Island Residency on the DOH website every year before the summer event. Applications for 2018 close at the end of April.