The challenge is to utilize and economy of space and resources- to design a cabin that seems larger than it really is with galley kitchens, narrow bathrooms, traditional lean-tos and low ceilinged-sleeping lofts. Common concerns include storage- just containing the sprawl of everyday life-and the simple art or learning to cope in a small space. Some solutions? Banish clutter, build outside spaces-tiered desigking and screened in porches-and take advantage of space-saving design concepts and technology, like compact, stacked washers and dryers or playform beds with built-in drawers.
Across the country, there’s been a real revival in cabin craftsman ship in general, and smaller log structures specifically, that follows a revival of the spirit of ruggest individualism-feeling closer to the land and just a bit further away from civilization. Netled under a forest canopy or open skies, beside a mountain stream or overlooking a placid lake, cabin living with its cozy nooks and intimate spaces, is an intensely personal world, one offering peace, fulfillment and a deeper sense of well-being.
Why would someone who builds log cabins for a living want to shoehorn his own family into a log cabin with only an 18×24 footprint? “It was an exercise in trying to build small and live small,” says Giles, owner of Hearthstone Homes. “That was important to me. I wanted to say, ‘Yes, I can build a livable cabin that is this small.’ And for 15 years, the Giles family made it work, even as the family grew to include four children
Giles looks back fondly at the good times the family shared in the cabin. In fact, he and his oldest son both write songs, and Giles said many of his songs originate from the memories they have of life in the cabin on the lake.
“I don’t know whether living in a log house makes you feel outdoorsy or whether people who enjoy the outdoors are drawn to cabin living,” Giles says. “The kids weren’t intent on sleeping in a bed every night.”
Because of the small kitchen, the family ate many meals out on the porch, something they relished but might not have done if they’d lived in a larger house.
“The smaller the house, the more important the porches are,” he says. “Porches create extra living space.” Every cabin built in the 1800s had at least a porch out front. With an economy of interior space, outdoor living gained importance, and in the summer, a shaded porch in the path of a breeze was a comfortable place to work and rest.
Giles experimented with placing the fireplace in the middle of the room, rather than saving space by relegating it to an outside wall. An outside chimney would have allowed more living space but would have lost some heat to the outdoors.
What Giles sacrificed in space, he made up for in quality of materials. Because he had less square footage, he could spend more on antique heart pine, and he used it liberally throughout the cabin.
Speaking as a builder, Giles cautions homebuyers to rethink conventional notions of what a house should cost on a per-square-foot basis. A small house has all of the expensive, fixed-cost spaces – a kitchen and baths – and fewer inexpensive, discretionary spaces, like hallways and large rooms, to offset the cost-per-square-foot price.
Living as a family in a compact space yielded some unexpected benefits: Everyone felt less inclined to buy more things, and more motivated to keep the place tidied up.
“A small house has built-in brakes on clutter,” Giles says. “Where are you going to walk if you have stuff everywhere?”
“The small cabin worked amazingly well for an amazingly long time,” he says. “A small house is more livable than you might think.”
Looking back, Giles is satisfied that his exercise in living small succeeded.The family’s little 1,200-square-foot cabin now sits beside their new 4,000 square-foot model and serves as a guest house.