Last year, Angelo Mastropietro inspired viewers with his cave-house transformation. Here, he reveals how things have moved on.
Who Angelo Mastropietro
What Turned an 800-year-old cave dwelling into a twenty-first century home
Where Wyre Forest, Worcestershire
Has Rockhouse been a successful holiday let?
‘Yes, it was booked all summer. I organised a couple of events there as well, including a festival with people camping in the paddock and a DJ set up on the other side of the stream. I had three tons of river cobbles delivered and all the people who came to the party helped carry them to the water to divert it away from the eroding bank.’
Is there still work to be done on the build?
‘I’ve already extended the flagstones on the terrace, added an outdoor kitchen and barbecue, and some timber storage to the side. I’m planning on clearing more of the site, so I can hold bushcraft festivals here next summer. The interior is pretty much as it was, although guests have moved things around, which is interesting. The only main thing I’ve changed is to update the hot-water system in the kitchen with a small thermal store in one of the cupboards.’
What was the most valuable lesson you learned?
‘When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis [MS], I went through a period when I thought my illness would jeopardise the quality of my life, but the project taught me that I’m still fit, healthy and able to cope and achieve great things. From a practical point of view, I discovered it helps to have someone else on board to source materials, fixtures and fittings, as you become time poor when you spend all day on site.’
Would you ever live in the house?
‘I would consider applying for it to be listed as a permanent dwelling. During the planning process, I learned that even though rock houses are primitive forms of architecture, they aren’t recognised as homes. I was advised that it was too much of a leap of faith to apply for it to be acknowledged as a permanent residence straight away.’
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
‘I bought another property a few miles away at auction without even seeing it. It’s also in the Wyre Forest and has five bedrooms as well as a separate, self-contained, one-bedroom garden flat. I’m just finishing the renovation now and installing a big balcony on the back. I worked in the corporate world for a long time and realised how disconnected people are from nature, so the plan is to rent this house as accommodation for bushcraft. The forest at the bottom of the garden has walking trails and the River Severn is at the end of the road. It’s a really great spot for people to come and relax.’
Any advice for someone planning a similar project?
‘Let’s be honest: you have to be a little bit crazy to take on something like this. Keep an open mind and accept that while some things are going to go well, inevitably others will go catastrophically wrong. You need to be prepared for that financially, as well as physically and emotionally.’
Would you have done anything differently?
‘If the schedule and budget had allowed, I would have liked to sculpt more furniture into the rock. Putting wood in the house was experimental, as there were risks with the atmosphere and I didn’t know how it would react. I have to shave bits off the doors as they warp, but I love the effect the timber creates, giving it a look of warmth and cosiness.’
How has your life changed since Grand Designs?
‘People certainly connected with the project. Many have got in touch to tell me that they were inspired by my story, some of whom have recently been diagnosed with MS themselves. I try to give people guidance where I can. The thing about Rockhouse is that it’s a rare and unique place. It’s very powerful and the pleasure is in seeing other people being inspired – and energised and uplifted – by it in the same way that I have been.’
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Article accurate at time of print, December 2016