The cabin design (or back to basics)

For the last year or so, I’ve been trying to put together the interior of my cabin so I’ll know what areas need windows and where I can put the plumbing. This got to be too cumbersome, so I moved to starting the design from the exterior and moving inward. This too, as several people have taught me over email, is also a case of Doing It Wrong. (Thanks, guys. I owe you lots of coffee!)

Parallel design

The solution, it turned out, is to start both at once. The interior influences the exterior and visa versa. You need to be prepared to adjust both as necessary, however the interior cannot get sacrificed for exterior fancy. This was the biggest mistake I’ve been making so far.

And it’s such an easy mistake to make.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a trained architect and I haven’t studied structural engineering (I mean, I started studying engineering in school, but then something went horribly wrong and I ended up in computers… which I hate.)

So between the helpful email sessions and close to 20 or so drafts, I decided I’ve approached this whole thing with the wrong attitude.

Beautifully impractical

I’ve fallen under the spell of first impressions. I see a design for a cabin or tiny house that’s absolutely stunning and think, “Yes! That’s what I want!” But is it really? There are times when what seems to be such an inviting place will be a nightmare to live in.

Case in point, here’s a design that was love at first sight…

The snow really makes the picture, doesn't it?

The snow really completes the picture, doesn’t it?

Close-ups of the front left and rear right.

Close-ups of the front left and rear right.

...And in the spring/summer.

…And in the spring/summer.

As much as I’d love to live here, I can already hear the grumblings of people who have actually built houses. All that glass, while giving a fantastic view of the surroundings, would make this place near-impossible to cool in the summer and equally so to heat in the winter. It’s a magnificent piece of art meant to be looked at and desired.

But like a piece of art, it’s not really meant to be used.

Window overload

While the above cabin example has windows all around, there are others that put the majority in the Northern face for increased interior illumination and view without adding to the cooling costs in the summer. But… can you spot the issue with the design below? (via Apartment Therapy)

Olle Lundberg's "Sonoma Escape"

Olle Lundberg’s “Sonoma Escape”

I love this design. And it breaks my heart to say, I can’t live here either.

This has been the biggest dilemma I’ve had so far. I love windows. I hate lack of privacy. I’m sure the pragmatic types will say “curtains!” But it’s not so simple really.

It would be pretty silly to have all those magnificent windows all covered up.

Enter (and exit) the Flat Roofs

A flat or low slope roof on a tiny house seems to almost be a de-facto standard for “ultra modern” designs these days. You can’t even picture one without thinking of that phrase “if we’re destined to live in boxes, why not build better boxes?” But we’re not really living in boxes, are we?

You can see this in items that are meant to be stacked outside like container boxes. The weight is actually delivered to the corners, which is then transferred to the bottom. But they’re not meant to deal with things like heavy snow or solar panels on the roof.

Flat roofs, while aesthetically appealing, suffer a big, hard to ignore, problem: They need frequent maintenance. Those who say otherwise, haven’t installed or maintained a flat roof. Sure, there are new membranes and methods of installation, cool roofs etc… however these too don’t account for the increased load the structure will withstand, especially if it’s made of wood.

It's gorgeous! But will it survive 3 feet of snow? How about gusts of 60Mph+ ?

It’s gorgeous! But will it survive 3 feet of snow? How about gusts of 60Mph+ ?

There’s another issue with flat roofs that’s directly related to my own frailties (not to turn this into a sob story).

I already mentioned this in a previous post; I’ve had juvenile arthritis since about the age of 12. Something I’ve inherited from my grandmother. I’m 30 years old now, but I’ve come to accept that in another 15 – 20 years, my fingers and hands will have reached the end of their useful life. It’s already a little difficult for me to type for long at a stretch and if I keep at it for most of the day, I have to stop and gulp some Aleve before going on.

If I’m gonna build a cabin that I know will probably be the place I’d want to live in for the rest of my life, do I have it in me to follow through with its upkeep? I don’t want to end up in an old folks home. That’s the one fear I’ve had all these years so if I can’t fix the leaks in my roof myself or can’t afford to pay someone, that’s exactly where I’ll end up.

A house for me should be safe for me, functional for me and above all else, last for me. Ideally, it should last for others who copy the design as well, as I’ve mentioned previously, it will be open source.

How do people who build these for a living do it?

This should have been the question I ask myself, but when you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you know what you’re doing as I had, it’s also pretty easy to ignore. But getting down to brass tacks, here are a few examples (via Tiny House Blog).

Namekagon Cabins "Park Model" Notice how it has no frills whatsoever.

Namekagon Cabins “Park Model” Notice how it has no frills whatsoever.

Interior right as you enter the "Park Model"

Interior right as you enter the “Park Model”

...and interior left.

…and interior left.

One thing that struck me immediately is that these are designed to last not a few years — if the foundation is permanent — they’re designed to last several decades. I don’t know what the foundation is like exactly (looks like it may be surface only), but this is, for all intents and purposes, built like a tank.

The windows are few and much smaller than I had in mind, but it works in this application. So…

Back to the drawing board

After some back and forth over emails with some very knowledgeable people, it seems the foundation of the cabin is the one part I got right the last time. Some would have preferred 16″ on center floor joists, but said 24″ is acceptable provided I double the base flooring ( 2 layers of OSB with overlapping joints ). I was told this will greatly reduce or completely get rid of the “bounce” which will be critical when I install the tiling in the bathroom. Don’t need cracks in those the first year of occupancy.

I’m having another go at the ye olde Photoshop this week to see what else I can come up with. The foundation, as mentioned, was the only thing that seemed just fine so that will remain as-is. The rest? We shall see…

5 thoughts on “The cabin design (or back to basics)

  1. Pingback: MappaUno | Pearltrees

  2. hahaha, looking forward to your update of your design.
    yesterday i just found an apartment, unfurnished one. i will move in in Sep, so i will start to design soon. welcome if you have any idea, friend :)

    • Yes! Whatever you do, don’t block the windows. If you have any tall furniture, cupboards etc… keep them away from the windows (preferably on the opposite walls). This lets the maximum amount of light in.

      Also, lighter color curtains reflect light better than darker ones, so try to use heavy, but light, curtains. Darker curtains are OK if it’s not too hot.

      If the interior of your apartment is light colored, try to use darker furniture. That makes the place look bigger.

      Always keep in mind though: More stuff = more cramped. Try to only keep things you absolutely need/use.

  3. clear! it’s the first time i look for an apartment myself and first time to decorate myself, only 34 sqm for myself, but enough. and will see what it will become :) keep you posted E.

  4. Pingback: A look back at the cabin design progress | This page intentionally left ugly

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