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Practice Makes Perfect : A Creative Retreat in North Devon

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Practice Makes Perfect : A Creative Retreat in North Devon

Ania Wawrzkowicz May 2, 2023

Praktyka means ‘practice’ in Polish,” explains Henry Trew. “And that’s something that we’ve been striving for in our lives: that balance between being busy with work, finding time for a personal life, and being able to also develop a creative practice, whether that’s yoga or art. It’s about finding enough hours in the day to do the things you want to do. That’s what we wanted to map onto this place.”

“This place” is a verdant corner of North Devon, where Henry and his partner, Ania Wawrzkowicz, have established a slow-growing eco retreat called Praktyka that offers holiday accommodation, workshops, and retreats.

the heartwood at praktyka, north devon. 12
Above: The Heartwood at Praktyka, North Devon.

Five years ago, the couple packed up their East London lives and went on a research trip across Europe. “We had a loose idea to find somewhere with a bit of land to make a home for ourselves and to set up a project that would bring other people together through accommodation and creative workshops,” Henry explains. “We had a vision, but we didn’t really have a detailed plan.”

Over the course of their journey—which took them through Poland, France, Spain, and Portugal—Ania took notes on the places they’d stayed, making a list of what worked in each location. “We always asked ourselves: What was amazing about this place? Why did it work? What elements would we like to integrate into our future life?” Ania rediscovered the notebook recently and found an imaginary map she’d drawn of what that life might look like. “Seeing it again, I could see how it correlates very closely to what we have created here.”

the heartwood, praktyka. 13
Above: The Heartwood, Praktyka.

In 2019, their journey brought them to the edge of Exmoor, where they found a 19th-century farmhouse with enough land to realize their vision. Work on the project began just as lockdown hit. Over the next couple of summers, when borders were still difficult to cross, the UK experienced a boom in the glamping industry: “It seemed everyone was putting up bell tents and shepherd huts in their garden,” Henry recalls. “We wanted to do something with a bit more thought behind it.”

They began in the garden, which, at the time, was more of a boggy field. Ania spent the first year clearing brambles, taking down fences and barbed wire, and planting a “jungle” of architectural plants and grasses that visitors can now hide amongst. Meanwhile, Henry cut openings in the hedges, revealing far-reaching views that connect their plot of land to the wider landscape.

the geodome: &#8\2\20;great for dancing in.&#8\2\2\1; 14
Above: The geodome: “Great for dancing in.”

Their starting point for the accommodation was a geodome the duo had purchased from Poland. “We’d already fallen in love with the magic of a dome through going to festivals,” explains Henry. “They’re great for dancing in, but they also work as a slower acoustic and spoken-word space. There’s just something special about being in a circle.”

ania has furnished the geodome with a range of natural materials, pre loved pie 15
Above: Ania has furnished the geodome with a range of natural materials, pre-loved pieces, and design classics.

The dome provides accommodation for up to four people, but the structure doesn’t include any facilities: “We were going to build a little kitchen shack next to it, with a compost loo nearby,” recalls Henry. “But we paused that plan because we knew that we needed something that would fit both the landscape and our design aesthetic.”

The couple enlisted the help of Niall Maxwell, the founder of the award-winning architectural practice Rural Office. Taking the dome as a starting point, Niall devised a plan for Praktyka that took into consideration the entire site and the duo’s gradual plans for expansion.

“when we reached out to niall, we gave him a very loose brief for a simp 16
Above: “When we reached out to Niall, we gave him a very loose brief for a simple kitchen,” Ania recalls. “Right from the start, we trusted him completely. We would have never come up with the structure he has devised.”

The pavilion—which, under Niall’s counsel, went from “kitchen shack” to “sculpture in the landscape”—is constructed from larch wood cladding and ply with wooden support pillars. It’s called Heartwood, a name derived from the oldest, central supporting pillar of a tree. Here, the center of the structure is an enclosed kitchen. This is surrounded by a flat-roofed “canopy” under which guests gather—to talk, to eat, to read, or simply to stare at the view.

the open air pavilion. 17
Above: The open-air pavilion.
a detail of the roof structure. 18
Above: A detail of the roof structure.

“When you sit at the table on the deck and look up through the flat roof, a series of cutout triangles enable you to see right through to the canopy above,” explains Henry. “When I walk around the structure, I still feel intrigued by it. It’s such a special space to shelter under. It really is a unique experience. The same is true of the dome,” he continues. “It’s exciting for the senses, especially if you arrive from the city after a long drive. Here, you can just sit in the landscape and enjoy the bats and the barn owls.”

a hot shower is tucked behind the enclosed kitchen; the compost loo is a in ano 19
Above: A hot shower is tucked behind the enclosed kitchen; the compost loo is a in another part of the garden, underneath an apple tree.
inside, the kitchen contains a fridge, a two ring induction hob, and a custom m 20
Above: Inside, the kitchen contains a fridge, a two-ring induction hob, and a custom-made stainless steel sink, work surface, and backsplash. The shelves are stocked with everything you might need for a mini break, including a carefully curated collection of glass and enamelware from Labour and Wait.
a view through the heartwood. the color matched hammock is from a shop in barce 21
Above: A view through the Heartwood. The color-matched hammock is from a shop in Barcelona.

Outside on the decking area, the table and chairs were custom made to a design by the Italian designer Enzo Mari. “He believed that everyone had a right to well-designed furniture,” Henry explains. “So he created templates for chairs and tables that anyone could put together. We always tell that story to our visitors and, if they’re interested, we share a link to the design so that they can go home and make it themselves.”

The next phase in this project is a cabin (also by Rural Office), which should be completed this summer. Ania is also expanding the range of creative workshops on offer. A professional maker, she currently hosts jewelry-making workshops for those who want to try the art of lost wax carving. Family-friendly cyanotype and lumen print workshops will also take place this year. “Because we are quite secluded, the workshops are a really nice way to invite people here from different places and different backgrounds. We have met some really interesting people through them.”

For much more, head to Praktyka.

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