Weekend Warm-Up: One Year Renovating Two Stone Cabins in the Italian Alps

If there isn’t already a word for the “person builds a cabin” genre on YouTube, there needs to be.

It’s ideal content for the platform: The vids are heavy on scenery and natural sound and skimpy on dialogue and music. That makes them the perfect thing to throw on in the background while you answer emails and daydream about buying some acreage of your own in some gorgeous little corner of the globe.

This example, a video by Dutch long-distance adventurer Martijn Doolaard, is a perfect manifestation of the form (no wonder it has seven million views). Yes, it’s three hours long. Yes, there’s very little to it besides watching Doolaard tackle construction problems with aplomb, elbow grease, and ingenuity — that’s the point, ya’ll.

The video begins with Doolaard arriving at his recently purchased cabins: two ramshackle stone buildings that fell into disrepair many years, if not decades, ago.

With his flat-brimmed hat and neatly trimmed beard, Doolaard gives the impression of a hipster about to get out over his skis. But Doolaard know what he’s doing.

a man wheels a wheelbarrow

Photo: Screenshot


First steps

Step one: Wheel supplies and tools down to the construction site.

Step two: get some electricity going for cooking, lights, and other necessities. Doolaard achieves this with solar panels placed in the clearing around the cabins.

a man installs solar panels

Photo: Screenshot


“The first months I focused on the electricity, water connection and creating comfortable space to live on the land, while I was waiting for the building permit,” Doolaard wrote in the video’s description on YouTube.

Without a permit, Doolaard can’t begin construction on the cabins themselves. But there’s plenty of preliminary work to do, starting with cleaning the underbrush that’s encroached on the cabins over the years. It’s wonderful to watch the stonework emerge from under plants and leaves as Doolaard reveals the past, one handful of detritus at a time.

As time passes, other details take shape. A handsome wooden structure to house the solar panel batteries and generator. A hand-built stone pathway. An outhouse.

a man sweeps a stone pathway

Photo: Screenshot


Wall and roof work

A whopping two hours into the video, Doolard’s building permits finally arrive, and he can begin construction in earnest. Most cabin builds involve leveling land and fitting timbers as a starting place, but these buildings have stone walls that Doolaard wanted to preserve. To that end, Doolaard and his friends begin with a scaffold.

a man builds a scaffold

Photo: Screenshot


Next, they tackle the roof, which in its original incarnation is heavy slabs of stone laid over perilously thin beams. Addressing that takes removing the slabs, installing thicker beams in an A-frame rather than a flat configuration, adding a supportive system of planks, and preparing to move the roof stones back into place.

two feet stand on a roof that is partially constructed

Photo: Screenshot


As the video ends, that’s roughly where things stand: With plenty of work left to do to get the cabins livable. That was seven months ago.

But Doolard’s YouTube channel contains a handful of videos he’s made since then that update viewers on his progress. He gets the stones on the roof, battles ferocious storms that wreck his camp, builds a chicken coop, and more.

Start with the video below, then catch up on the rest.

You won’t regret it.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).