Sketch of a cabin in the woods.

Custom Residential

What to Think About When Designing a Cabin

When designing a cabin, what should you think about? What happens behind-the-scenes during the design process that results in a cabin that simply “feels right”? Read on for a bit of a peek at what guides us when collaborating with clients on a cabin project.

June 11, 2019

Here’s what we think helps create an inspiring cabin.

Collaboration, collaboration and collaboration!

Strong collaboration between the client, design team, and contractor is a key part of all projects. You have probably heard the saying, “the work is only as good as the client” — a critical component of that is thoughtful communication from start to the finish. (And even a post-occupancy check-in after the project is completed and has been lived in).

Understand the site and inspiration.

At the start of a cabin project, during the as-built and pre-design phases, the Board & Vellum team rolls up our sleeves and jumps right in. We walk the property, and weather permitting, it can often even make sense to camp at the project overnight to develop a feel for the place. We start understanding your dreams for your project and the nuances of your property. We talk it all through with you: how will the cabin be used, what are the minimum spaces needed, what are the adjacencies, and so on… then we get into the details. In summary, we understand the big picture, the site and environmental conditions, and, over the course of the design phases, we zoom into the refined details with you. All the details matter: from where the sun rises/sets, to what will the hardware be and can it be locally made?

Photo montage of rustic building details.
Rustic Details on Rural Sites

Photography by Lance Hayes.

Consider the genus loci.

Genus loci… what? (Read all about this in the book Genus Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, by Christian Norberg-Schulz.) What gives us meaning and what gives the places which surround us meaning? Creating a “sense of place” is something we all aspire to attain — you see it in Neanderthals’ cave paintings, our creation of primitive shelters — it’s part of our past and present. Simply, we search for meaning and seem to enjoy the places which have meaning.

Here are a few ways we flesh out how to create that sense of place for a cabin project.

  • Artwork and craft. Can we incorporate pieces that mean a lot to you? How about from local artists and artisans?
  • Sustainable materials imbued with history. For example, would you consider using lumber reclaimed from an old local barn being retired?
  • Connect to the exterior. Whether it is a small yard or ranch, connect to the outdoors!
  • Celebrate the seasons. If the structure is in a snowy climate, design with the understanding of how that snow will shed and how you will enjoy it at the same time!
  • Lighting. Design lighting not only for function, but for ambiance.
  • Gathering spaces. Create places for family/friends/neighbors to gather both inside and outside. Don’t be afraid to think small, cozy is good!
Photo montage of rural spaces and towns.
A Sense of Place

Photography by Lance Hayes.

Think “green” and think pragmatically.

How can you maximize “chill time“ in your cabin? Well, by making it as sustainable and durable as possible. There is no such thing as a “maintenance free” cabin, but there are ways of reducing maintenance needs while also minimizing the carbon footprint.

Here are a few ways to reduce your cabin’s impact.

  • Reputable green products. Use products that have stood the test of time and are as green as possible so they can be reused over time. Study the surrounding places and towns: use materials that have stood the test of time and are still in use. Is it standing strong after 100 years? Yup, that material should be on the list to consider!
  • Insulate insulate insulate. We recommend green insulation, like wool insulation installed continuously on the exterior. We also recommend installing the best cold roof assembly with generous eaves in snowy cold climates.
  • Ecologically responsible systems. Think of the simplest and greenest ways to provide water, heat, and electrical to your cabin.
  • Think local. Consider the location and prioritize locally-sourced materials and sustainably-harvested materials.

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

How To Set Up Your Space to Work from Home

Never worked from home? Setting yourself up for success can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to be productive from a space you’re used to relaxing in. Don’t fret. We’re here to help with some tools for how to turn your cozy pad into an effective office — hold the actual office.

Is Exterior Shading Right for My Home?

Though still more common in Europe, we are finally starting to catch up across the pond, as it is becoming more common to add exterior shading to homes. The science is sound, and there are plenty of clear benefits. So how do you decide what type of exterior shading system would be great for your home?

Designing for Fire

Gathering around a fire is an ancient human activity that maintains its magnetic attraction, even now. As a feature that so viscerally attracts us and so often is the backdrop of our favorite memories, why not design more than one location in your home or yard where you can encourage the comfort of a fire.

Considering a project? Or, just curious about something?

Send us your questions about design, architecture, interiors, landscape, third places, LEGO rooms… Anything, really. We’re always eager to meet new people, and we’d love to get to know you, your project, and your goals.

Get in touch.