How Heartwood Saunas is reviving Britain’s ancient sauna tradition
These stylish luxury saunas are handcrafted in a Welsh forest and can now be heated by HUUM heaters and stoves.
Oliver Davey has, quite possibly, the most enviable commute in Britain. Each day, he walks or cycles through Snowdonia National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty that is home to the highest mountain in Wales, to reach his sauna workshop in the middle of the lush Esgair forest.
Oliver is the director of Heartwood Saunas, which builds luxury saunas using wood from the sustainably managed forest around them, which is home to cedar, fir, spruce, hemlock and a variety of hardwoods.
When starting construction on a new sauna, the future owner is even invited to walk through the forest with them and select the trees that will be used.
The remote location has its downside too though, laughs Oliver.
“The internet signal isn’t great and every delivery driver seems to get lost,” he explains. “But these are small details.”
Over the past seven years, Heartwood Saunas has built not just quality saunas, but also a strong reputation for helping revive more authentic sauna experiences. They are determined to change the way Brits think about the sauna, which is too often experienced here today in small and poorly constructed rooms at the gym where bathers suffer in silence.
Oliver and his team are inspired by sauna culture elsewhere across Europe, but are also want to help revive Britain’s own sauna culture.
It’s a little known fact, even in Britain, that this island has had its own long sauna tradition. The oldest ‘sauna’ ever discovered was from stone age Britain and uncovered by archaeologists at Marden Henge, close to Stonehenge. As it happens, much of the material for these stone age sites was also believed to have come from Wales. There are evidence of other stone age saunas across Britain, as well as bronze age saunas most commonly found in parts of Scotland. There are also Gaelic saunas that survived until the 18th century in Scotland and Ireland.
Waves of international influence have also played a part in shaping British bathing traditions. The Romans developed their baths in Britain and, centuries later, Victorians eagerly embraced the successor to those, Ottoman baths. Throughout the 20th century, saunas from northern and central also spread across the UK — although with varying degrees of quality until now.
Sauna culture in Britain today is now experiencing a significant cultural revival as more people seek out authentic experiences and learn to love good leil (sauna steam). Heartwood Saunas is at the heart of that movement.
Heated by HUUM
Through EstonianSaunas.co.uk, we deliver stylish and advanced HUUM sauna heaters and stoves in the UK so we often get asked by our customers if we can recommend sauna builders too.
HUUM and Heartwood Saunas both share a passionate for quality handcrafted sauna design that perfectly compliments each other. So we’ve now partnered together and will be delivering HUUM stoves and heaters into the Esgair forest (and hopefully not getting lost).
Clients of Heartwood Saunas will now be able to choose from the full range of both electric or wood-fired HUUM heaters and stoves in their saunas, in addition to HUUM’s UKU control system that enables electric saunas to be controlled by an elegant wall-mounted controller or mobile app.
And now we want to tell their story to show you why we thoroughly recommend Heartwood Saunas for anyone considering their own sauna in the UK (or beyond).
The story of Heartwood saunas
Oliver and his partner — who happens to be a professional mountain biker — embrace an outdoor lifestyle and are passionate about outdoor sports.
They discovered their love of sauna while travelling around Europe and experiencing quality authentic saunas for the first time. Unlike at the saunas they were used to in gyms, they learnt that sauna is so much more than just a small hot room.
“They celebrated the whole experience,” explains Oliver. “That includes great views, occasional cold plunges, interesting drinks and smells, and lots of socialising. The whole experience was like nothing I had seen before in the UK.”
Back home though, Oliver was frustrated by the quality of saunas available.
“The only sauna I had access to regularly was in our local leisure centre. They had a very basic, small ‘sauna’ built into the corner of the tiled pool room. It was dark, poorly ventilated, quite claustrophobic, never quite got hot enough, and we weren’t even allowed to pour water on the rocks. The whole construction was quite poor quality and the cultural significance of the experience was lost.”
Undeterred, Oliver decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I wanted to open people’s eyes to how much a good quality sauna experience can benefit them in their every day lives. A sauna doesn’t have to be this uncomfortable room where you just endure the heat to reach the end of the timer. It’s an experience to be enjoyed in an environment that heightens your senses, makes you feel move alive, and enhances the quality of life with long lasting affects.”
So Oliver went to work on his off-grid farm to build his own sauna. Every detail was meticulously planned, especially the stunning views over the Welsh mountains.
This was the first Heartwood Sauna. It’s based on a traditional cabin design, but Oliver also wanted to give it a modern update with a large glazed window for more fully appreciating the nature around it.
“I wanted it to be directional, so you could look out while leaning back on a solid wall. I also wanted you to get a hint from the outside of what it is like on the inside. When it’s cold and frosty or grey and rainy, the sauna’s warm glow draws you in.”
This first sauna fueled Oliver’s drive to create more saunas so that more people can benefit from a quality sauna experience. He believes saunas should look good, feel good, and last a lifetime by using the highest quality materials and construction.
This is the ethos on which Heartwood Saunas was created.
The company has now been building premium saunas for seven years and Oliver has had to both expand his team and upscale his workshop to meet the growing demand for their products.
“On a practical and ethical level, making our saunas in Esgair forest means that we can carry out every stage of the build in one place. Knowing that the majority of the wood we use comes from within 5 square miles of our workshop is quite special.
“We can drive out into the forest to select a tree, fell it, mill it and dry it ready to be used in our workshop and eventually be turned into one of our saunas. Treating the wood in this way allows us to efficiently manage any potential waste aspects of forestry by cutting the tree into specific lengths for the end use with any offcuts being used for heating fuel. We also have the added benefit of selecting each tree we use for their unique set of characteristics. Normally, if you source your timber from elsewhere you get what you are given and it is much harder to control the quality of the cuts, the timber itself, and the drying process. Here we are fully in control and focus on making the best use of our environment.”
Heartwood Saunas can be both bought and rented. They’ve so far been delivered across the UK and beyond — from modest private homes to grand country manors.
Oliver is also passionate about the fact that a good sauna is just as much about cooling down as it is heating up. So Heartwood Saunas manufactures an outdoor shower and a plunge pool in a complimentary design.
Heartwood Saunas offers two distinct contemporary sauna designs of their own, their Arbor sauna for up to ten people and their Vapor sauna for up to six people.
They also build bespoke saunas. Recently, for example, a family approached them with their old hay wagon built in the 1950s, which was in need of some TLC, and asked if it could be regenerated as a sauna.
Heartwood Saunas restored the chassis and created a wood-fired hot room, a changing room, and a stunning oak porch, along with a solar powered battery system for lights. The result is incredible:
Oliver goes to his own sauna two to three times per week, often after a day mountain biking or kayaking out in nature on his days off.
“It’s still the perfect antidote to that feeling of being cold to the bone and nothing else remedies this as effectively as a good sauna session. Nothing else even comes close. The freedom to explore the outdoors here is vast, and using our outdoor saunas by rivers, lakes and the ocean has added so much to our lifestyle.”
At the same time, Oliver is constantly thinking about ways to optimise his saunas even further, which is what led him to consider HUUM as an additional option for his clients.
“I’m a big believer in creating a work environment that inspires you, enables you to focus 100% on what you’re doing and allows you to create your best work. We always welcome our clients as guests so they can come here too, enjoy a sauna, look around our workshop, meet our staff, and see the saunas being made. Each day that I walk or cycle here through the woodland to our office, I feel energised and inspired in what we are doing.
Thanks for reading
In addition to our blog, you can follow our own adventures exploring Estonian sauna culture and helping fill the world with more saunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We also have a Facebook group for Sauna explorers / Sauna avastajad.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.