Louise Tutelian, New York Times
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Dwight Jelle and K Hamilton's retreat in rural Pepin County, Wis., has cedar board-and-batten siding, a wood-burning stove and a stack of firewood piled at the ready. And like cabins of long ago, it is cozy (less than 2,000 square feet), casual (a lot of wood) and secluded (no neighbors). But the similarities end there. Designed to resemble a farm outbuilding, the low-slung structure is nestled into the rolling farmland southeast of Minneapolis as if it had been planted there.
A color scheme of maize, sage and red clay inside complements the grasses, trees and earth outside. The roof soars to 16 feet, supported by thick pine beams and trusses studded with 300 steel bolts. A wall of windows and glass doors runs the cabin's entire 72-foot length, allowing light to flood the whole space.
No one is roughing it. Hamilton, 51, is a trained cook, and her kitchen has the six-burner Wolf stove to prove it. Jelle, 48, a civil engineer and talented woodworker, made the couple's cherry bedstead himself, as well as the intricately carved Arts and Crafts-style lighting fixtures. The couple worked closely with Sala Architects of Minneapolis to make sure their cabin had amenities, including a slate shower wall in the bathroom and solar-heated floors.
Ditch the deer heads and moose antlers. Put away the caps with flaps. There is nothing musty, creaky, saggy or squeaky about the new cabin culture. Across the country, cabins are being reimagined in sustainable yet stylish ways. Some combine industrial materials like mesh, oxidized steel and concrete with traditional wood. Others employ reclaimed or recycled material to stay eco-friendly and keep costs down. "Turnkey" models arrive fully constructed, ready to be dropped onto a site. Still other cabins are off the grid, but with the comforts of home. And despite the advances in design, cabin owners want the same thing they always did: a place that provides an escape into the natural world.
"Given our busy, techno-heavy lives, people are seeking places where they can rejuvenate and connect to nature," said Michelle Kodis, author of "Modern Cabin" (Gibbs Smith; $39.95; 2007). "They want simple, beautiful, indoor-outdoor cabins that require little upkeep and are free of fuss and heavy, overdone details."
To look at Mac Dunstan's and Linda Grob's glass-and-wood cabin outside Seattle, you'd never guess they had originally envisioned a low-key Adirondack structure. "I thought I wanted something woodsy, with lots of logs and little gabled things," said Dunstan, 64, an investment adviser. The couple had spent time in the cabin of their friend Tom Lenchak, of Balance Associates, Architects, in Seattle, and over time came to embrace his spare aesthetic. Dunstan and Grob, 55, who works for King County in Washington, realized that a far more contemporary design suited their site best.
They built an airy, ultra-modern 1,600-square-foot retreat for $500,000 four years ago. Anchored into a steep hillside, it rests on a concrete base. Windows extend from floor to ceiling on three sides, and sliding-glass pocket doors invite in even more light. Decks cantilever off the base, offering views of the stream below and the North Cascades in the distance. "All we see is trees and mountains," Dunstan said. They use their time at the cabin to "run around in the woods, hike, bike and ski," he said. Maintenance? Very little. The concrete floors are indestructible and stand up to whatever their German shepherd, Inga, can inflict. "We wanted something real easy to live in," Dunstan said.
Jeff Shelden, 55, an architect with Prairie Wind Architecture in Lewistown, Mont., and his wife, Lois, 53, a professional photographer, also wanted easy upkeep - minus a hefty price tag. As the son of a Forest Service ranger, Shelden was determined to erect an updated version of the square, stone 1930s-era Forest Service lookouts he loved as a boy. He and a team of contractors built the cabin, in the Judith Mountains of central Montana, using only local or reclaimed materials. In doing so, they were ahead of the curve.
"One of the biggest environmentally friendly trends we're seeing is the use of local materials," said Dale Mulfinger, an adjunct professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota and the author of "Cabinology: A Handbook to Your Private Hideaway" (Taunton; $25; 2008). "Once you start shipping things long distance, that's not so friendly - there's the cost of shipping as well as the fuel costs."
Wood for the interior and the redwood decks that surround the Sheldens' tiny 512-square-foot cabin was recycled from a nearby train trestle that had been torn down. Rock for the outside came from a quarry 2 miles away. "I put an ad in the local paper for corrugated steel for the roof, and a gentleman called and said he was tearing up his barn and to come take what he had off his hands," Shelden recalled. He estimated that the cabin, completed in 1998, cost him about $55,000. For $1,700, he bought a photovoltaic system to supply electricity and to pump water for a hot tub. His utility bill is zero.
An antique wood stove, a vintage Hoosier kitchen cabinet, a table and chairs occupy the ground floor. A ship's ladder leads to the second level, a large window-rimmed space with a futon, a wood-burning stove, bookcases, a couple of ottomans, and a TV and VCR. A 6-foot-square acrylic skylight in the roof's dome adds more light.
Although the space is small, the Sheldens have hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 12 on a warm November day. Their daughter, Claire, 21, has invited friends for cookouts and campfires. The cabin is close to home - only 17 miles away - so the Sheldens can visit frequently. In the winter, though, they can drive only so far. "We ski up the last half-mile," Shelden said.
Prefabs are in style
For those who want a cabin fast and with minimal effort and expense, prefab modular models are increasingly popular. They are built off-site in truck-width "boxes," driven to a property and dropped onto the owner's foundation, complete down to the microwave oven. Once derided as flimsy, modular cabins are sturdier now; companies are offering better design and more durable materials at an affordable price.
"A big trend for cabins is turnkey," said Don Butler, editor of Cozy Cabins magazine. "People don't want to do the whole thing - find the land, find an architect, put the whole thing together."
Greg and Linda Corless were two of those people. Seeking relief from sweltering summers at their home in Altamonte Springs, Fla., the Corlesses bought land in the hills of western North Carolina in 2006. After casting about for an easy way to oversee the project from nine hours away, they bought a modular cabin from Blue Ridge Log Cabins in Campobello, S.C. Greg Corless, 40, the chief financial officer for a car dealership group in Orlando, served as long-distance general contractor, knowing there wasn't much for him to do beyond preparing the site and hiring subcontractors to connect the electricity and plumbing.
The Corlesses purchased an 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom cabin for $120,000, including all appliances. It resembles a traditional log cabin but with bigger windows (and more of them) and amenities including a wraparound porch and a cathedral ceiling. The Corlesses chose to add a gas fireplace with a stacked stone front as a separate project.
"It was spooky," said Linda Corless, 39, as she recalled entering the cabin two weeks after it was put into position by a crane. "You walk in and the stove is in there, and the ceiling fans are there with the light bulbs in them." She spent over a month in North Carolina last summer with the couple's two daughters, Layton, 5, and Noelle, 4. The family makes about five visits in other seasons. "Mountain music, bonfires, s'mores, sledding in the wintertime - that's what we do," Corless said. "The minute we walk in there and smell the wood, we're on vacation."
While the Corlesses use traditional power, the most eco-conscious of the new cabinistas want to supply all of their own energy. Sam Snyder, an orthopedic surgeon in Bergen County, N.J., was a man with a mission while he and his wife, Junko, were building their cabin near Hudson, N.Y., in 2003. "My No. 1 goal was to have a zero carbon footprint, and we accomplished that," he said. Their 1,000-square-foot, cedar-shingled aerie gets all the power it needs, including the supply for baseboard heat, from solar panels and a wind turbine on an 80-foot-tall tower. There's also a solar hot-water system.
The cabin has a full bathroom, a closed bedroom and two open sleeping lofts. A little library is filled with books on various styles of cabins, collected during the research phase of the project. The Snyders found what they were looking for on a Web site for a company called Lucia's Little Houses and bought the plans for $400 from Robert Knight, an architect in Blue Hill, Maine. They built the cabin for $200,000 and spent $40,000 more on the energy system - worth every cent to Snyder. "Every time I step outside and the wind is blowing and the sun is shining," he said, "I smile because I'm making all my own energy."
Despite all the transformations cabins have undergone in the past decade, they remain, at heart, deeply personal places shaped by their owners as sacred retreats. "This is my grandmother's threshing table," said K Hamilton in Wisconsin, sitting at a sturdy dining room table where workers ate during harvest season at her family's farm. In the center rests a split plank of cherry the length of a baguette, polished to a high sheen. It's cut from one of the first logs the couple found on the site, an everyday symbol that reminds them daily of the magic of their cabin.
With luck, some things will never change.source : http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/11/18/HOST1449Q2.DTL