Serious Luxury

Glamping has evolved with a fresh focus on alternative building

Not your kid brother’s treehouse
One of the many rustic-luxe amenities offered by Asheville Glamping.
(photo by Joanna Cahill).

Some people search for an outdoor experience but can’t find ease on the cold, hard ground. Enter glamorous camping. Branded a decade ago, “glamping” prompted surreal images of chandeliers hung in tents. But the idea is no longer a contradiction in terms.

Today, glamping is all about the possibilities of alternative building. 

Joanna Cahill, creator and co-owner of Asheville Glamping, first got interested in Cobb building — “a primitive technique using earth, clay, and straw,” as she describes it. 

But the movement’s labor-intensive aspect wasn’t practical. So Cahill moved on, researching different structures until she finally crossed paths with a yurt — a circular tent made of felt or skin draped on a collapsible framework — and built one of her own. 

Meanwhile, she was running a commercial and residential cleaning business, and got inspired by clients who rented out their homes to vacationers. An avid outdoors enthusiast, she had to find a way to keep the bills paid while enjoying her own time in the wild — so she began to monetize her yurt.

Before long, it was booked every night. “My dog and I were homeless, living in my backpacking tent,” Cahill stories. She showered at the gym and got her coffee at the local Amish store, where the owners became concerned about her apparent plight. 

After seven months sleeping outdoors on her small piece of property, she began researching vintage trailers. Soon, her new home became a gutted Airstream. “It was so gross that I set up my tent inside of it,” she discloses.

Slowly, though, her business grew. At first, she rented out pre-setup Coleman tents for $30 a night. “I reinvested every penny I made back into the company, so it took a few years before I was able to shut down my cleaning business.” Now, seven years later, and with Cahill’s fiancé Patrick Lovett as business partner, Asheville Glamping claims about 3,500 visitors a year in two locales — a 15-acre rural spread north of town and a 3-acre urban property in West Asheville. (The couple is gearing up to buy 20 more acres.)

The company’s geodesic domes are inspired by homegrown inventor Buckminster Fuller.(photo by Joanna Cahill).

Cahill and Lovett rent Airstreams, spartan trailers, safari tents, a treehouse, and impressive geodesic domes inspired by late inventor Buckminster Fuller of Black Mountain College, an experimental institution that thrived last century. 

“It’s a local theme,” says Cahill. “The company that made these domes are inspired by him, so we have one of Fuller’s quotes framed here.”

Assembled by Cahill, Lovett, and friends, the domes are made of metal frames bolted into concrete and covered in clear PVC skins, offering a view of the night sky from within. “Based on the ergonomics, they are actually rated for hurricane-force winds and do better than a normal house would,” reveals Cahill. One of them has a loft inside, which the couple recruited a local builder to construct. The domes house comfily appointed beds and mini refrigerators, and come heated and cooled.

The treehouse, meanwhile, “was a year-long epic project,” reveals Cahill. Its construction required two suspension bridges to pull off — one of them 30 feet high.

After the hard part is done, such sustainable alternative structures are meant to make minimal impact on the property. They blend in with the environment, and can be taken down with no disturbance to the land. When the lights go down, the wildlife still ventures out.

It may be glamorous camping, but Wi-Fi isn’t among the amenities. “That’s intentional,” says Cahill. “We want to offer an offline experience.”

For more information, visit ashevilleglamping.com. 828-450-9745.