Niche holiday homes in the UK

Mill Farm Glamping and TreehouseMill Farm Glamping and Treehouse
Mill Farm Glamping and Treehouse

Alex Jenkins finds out more about an unusual website that promises to give your staycations a quirky twist.

Staycations have recently stepped up a gear. Instead of booking into a luxurious hotel people are starting to become a little more adventurous in their accommodation choices.

This means that converted prison cells, lighthouses, treehouses, bunkers, even a mannequin recycling yard, are all starting to be the ‘in’ place to spend a few nights’ kip.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is all about experimental travel,” explains 40-year-old Alex Wilson, who, alongside his childhood friend and entrepreneur Dawn Crawford, has set up the website Host Unusual. “People want the most unusual things to do.”

The website lists more than 400 properties all over the UK, all of which currently fit into 32 niche categories.

These range from ‘architect designed’; ‘castles and follies’; and ‘eco stays’, through to’ vintage and retro’; ‘tiny houses’; and the intriguing ‘wildcard’ category.

Interestingly it is the vintage and retro category that actually first kick-started the project.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Dawn is a 50/60s vintage enthusiast,” explains Alex, who reveals his childhood friend had ‘never fitted into working in an office lifestyle’ and had started up her own eBay shop finding and selling vintage clothes before launching a website business called Candy Says.

“About a year ago Dawn called me – she knew I work in the travel industry – and said she was wanting a website with all the vintage/retro places you can stay in,” recalls Alex. “I suggested she could make it a bit broader.”

From there the idea expanded and developed, but what was needed was a business name that would sum up what it was all about. Once again Dawn turned to Alex for inspiration.

“I was riding my bike in Hackney and came up with the name and almost fell off my bike,” he laughs. “She thought it was perfect.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Host Unusual launched in June 2016 with a relatively simple website. However, it was not long before it started gaining interest and Alex joined Dawn in an official capacity.

“I felt I needed a change in my job,” says Alex, who now lives in Brighton, “and we have got very different skill sets.

“Contracting hotels is my background as is marketing and working with tourist boards so it is easy to split the work.”

So what is it like working with an old friend?

“It is funny working with a very close friend as your relationship does change but [as Dawn lives in Essex] we communicate via Skype or Messenger so I do not see her. So when you meet up we are still friends.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There are a couple of ways accommodation owners can feature on the website, either taking the listing option or being part of the affiliate scheme.

So what criteria do the owners need to fulfil?

“The whole premise of the site is it has to have something unusual about the property,” says Alex, who admits that many of those listed have been featured on programmes such as Amazing Spaces.

“If you are looking for something that is unusual, instead of trawling through Airbnb or something similar you can go through to our site and find it.”

As I scroll through the website a number of fascinating places jump out at me.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Currently there are nine places listed in East Sussex, including the well-known Belle Tout Lighthouse, as well as four in West Sussex, including the railway carriage retreat Seabank Selsey.

So is there a particular type of property that people are drawn to?

“Off grid is very popular at the moment,” he reveals. “Everyone wants a digital detox.

“And wild swimming is very popular.

“The Rockhouse Retreat was featured in Grand Designs,” he adds. “I love the way he has done it, you get so many requests for this one. It is a bit Flintstones.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Oh and everyone wants to stay in the King Arthur’s willow tree house in Wiltshire. Everything is hand crafted, with a handcrafted four poster bed.”

Dawn and Alex are not resting on their laurels and have big plans for the future, developing the search facility and recently changing the website from to .com in the hope of expanding it worldwide in the future.

“The world is our oyster,” says Alex excitedly. “Long term we want to extend into different areas of the world and want people around the world to use the site.”

In fact Alex already has his eye on a few quirky accommodation options abroad, including a crane in Amsterdam; a jumbo jet hotel in Stockholm, and a dog house in America.

If you are looking for somewhere a little bit quirky and unique then Host Unusual may be right up your street.

Related topics: