Magazine article Sunset

Small Wonders; Cabin Living in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet: Ideas for a Space-Efficient Weekend Getaway or Home

Magazine article Sunset

Small Wonders; Cabin Living in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet: Ideas for a Space-Efficient Weekend Getaway or Home

Article excerpt

Island retreat

For the past 14 years, Paul and Phyllis Caisse have used their 5-acre plot on Orcas Island, Washington, as a retreat. In the beginning, their only shelter was a tent. Now they relax in a recently completed 556-square-foot cabin, but they feel just as close to the land. "As we drive to the cabin, we can feel our city nerves fading away," says Phyllis.

The Caisses have great childhood memories of tiny cabins in the Sierra foothills and in Montana, and they hoped to re-create those happy times for their family. "We wanted a feeling of warmth and cozy interaction," says Paul. "Plus, we felt its small size would make it easy to take care of." And they wanted to disturb nature as little as possible. A larger cabin would have meant cutting down some of the old madrone trees surrounding the site. "After spending so much time there, we knew which trees the eagles like to land on," says Paul. "We didn't want to take those away."

Seattle architect David Vandervort helped them design a little cabin that seems larger than it is. Simply put, it's a great room flanked by a galley kitchen and a narrow bathroom and topped with a low-ceilinged sleeping loft. The cabin was constructed with as many green materials as possible, including recycled wood and nontoxic stains and paints.

DESIGN: David Vandervort Architects, Seattle (206/784-1614)

GREAT IDEAS

* Get to know the site. "Before we started construction, we studied the way sun and shadow fell on the land," says Vandervort.

* Patio paving is used indoors to create a hearth and blur the distinction between inside and outside.

* Loft windows are 2 feet from the floor. They make it easy to see outside from the sleeping platform and give the low-ceilinged space a feeling of roominess.

* A simplified materials palette-fir for the floor, the cabinetry, and the trim; black sink and appliances, and cream-colored walls--contributes to the unified and restful look.

The smallest cabin in the West

Denver architect Jim Smith went looking for a remote area to build a cabin. He found it in Cotopaxi, Colorado, three hours southwest of Denver. I wanted a place to get away from it all," he says. "And this is about as remote as you can get."

For Smith, designing the cabin was an experiment in seeing just how much space was needed for living. For him, it turned out to be 186 square feet. And it has no electricity. "The small scale of the space pushes you to experience the land," says Smith. "You come up here to be outside--you don't need more space inside." The design is based on the old settlers' cabins in the area. Nature was a big influence as well. "The shape of the roof and overhangs mirrors the shape of the bristlecone pine trees in the area," says Smith. Inside, a single room contains a small kitchen and living-sleeping space. A smaller area acts as a mudroom and a bathroom. Smith used simple, inexpensive, durable materials--plywood, cedar, and galvanized metal.

Smith says that, as an architect, he had to restrain himself from overdesigning the cabin. The effort paid off. "It's a completely different feeling up there," he says. "The simplicity of the design and materials encourages you to live in a simple way, much like the early settlers."

DESIGN: Agency for Architecture, Denver (720/359-1416)

GREAT IDEAS

* Large glass doors open a wail to nature.

* A futon saves space, acting as both sofa and bed.

* What Smith calls his "chandelier" is actually two suspended kerosene lamps.

* Logs are stored outdoors in a sheltered box. Smith positioned it so he can open up the door and grab logs from the doorway in the cold winter months.

* A small chemical toilet goes in the mudroom. Many camping supply stores carry them.

Cabins to go

Kristin Anderson and partner Dennis Roberts of Thompson Falls, Montana, have made a career of building cabins to go. …

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