What is a Cabin?


Winter Morning Wildflower

Winter Morning Wildflower

What is a cabin? How do we distinguish it from a house, let alone a tiny house?

Dale Mulfinger lists four cabin characteristics. He did a speech on Cabinology 101 and he knows cabins, especially Minnesota cabins. And I suspect that anyplace that has cabins has the same four cabin characteristics.

Dale Mulfinger is a Minneapolis architect and author of 2 great books on cabins he has designed or admired: The Cabin and The Getaway Home.  He describes a cabin as a place not to live, but a place to escape to them. Which is not far from what a tiny house is; a place to escape from the demands and monies that a large home requires, to a place to escape to so we can be able to “live like giants”

1.       The site is chosen for its natural beauty.

One of the challenges is taking advantage of the views that some sites offer. With a transportable tiny house/cabin, the choice of views and directions faced becomes a non issue.  As the seasons change, the views often reveal something new and a transportable tiny house is able to enjoy all the different views. Or maybe, you are a writer, and enjoy the sun shining on the windows. Mount the cabin on a turntable as George Bernard Shaw did and spin the house following the sun throughout the day. He even named it “London” so his staff could say he went to “London” and be able to say it truthfully. Shaw’s cabin allowed him to take advantage of the sun for passive solar heat.

 2.       A cabin provides simple basic shelter. It isn’t fancy. It doesn’t try to make a social statement, as houses often do.  A small efficient floor plan is all it needs.

When I was growing up, we often saw tiny cabins dotting the roadside by farmer’s fields and along the rivers and streams. They were basic; a place to sleep, single pane windows, a small kitchen often with a water pump and small sink, wood stove, and a lofted area or small bedroom with bunks. The latrine was always outside, set back into the trees.

The tiny houses and cabins now often are quite larger than the cabins of old.  When one decides get back to the basics, a lot of space is not needed.  However, some things moved into the cabins; double and triple pane windows, insulation, and the latrine aka bathroom.

Tired of the distractions of modern living, Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to live a deliberate and simple life. He borrowed some land near a pond called Walden from friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and built himself a simple 10′x15′ shack for $28.12 and furnished it with a bed, a table, a desk, and three chairs.

Smaller cabins and tiny houses do make a social statement it seems even if not their intent;  low carbon footprint, living sustainably, I don’t need a big space to live and more. The use of cabins are expanding; they are no longer in the mountains, found is hidden nooks or valleys, but coming into mainstream life.  They are sprouting up like wildflowers in a spring time meadow as writer huts, sewing dens, garden retreats, hermitages, proverbial “dog house,” back yard offices, student dorm rooms, mother or father in law quarters, nanny quarters, or caretaker cottages.  As times change, so will the zoning laws allowing for more uses in denser population centers.

 3.       Overlapping activities take place within compact quarters.

Living small means living smart and using space for dual purposes;  great room becomes a study area, relaxing space, work space, eating space. The kitchen while its primary function is cooking – one can actually cook healthy in a tiny kitchen instead of running daily to the store, burger and noodle joints for  fast food seems out of context for living small and in a tiny house. If one does not cook in, except for the occasional add hot water, the counter space can be used as a desk top for work, writing, or just pondering why I am living in a tiny house/cabin. The loft besides sleeping is a great place to read or day dream listening to the rain drop hit the metal roof or watching out through the loft window as wildlife plays just below you.

4.       Everybody feels at home right away. A cabin furnishings are simple, often treasured family hand me downs. It is sleeping lofts, tucked under the eve, evokes memories of childhood. It fireplace or stove provides physical and emotional warmth.

Cabins are magical!  Climbing into the loft each night became comforting and cozy. The Wildflower and the loft had become my nest and “safe Place’ to rest, sleep, and relax in. My pillow was at the awning window and I could look out into the night and see creatures of the night moving about; deer ambling thru the yard and cleaning up the seeds below the feeders; the skunk that found the ground bees nest and savory honey; to the owl and mouse drama that resulted in a flurry of wings; the dancing of the shadows of the moonlight dancing across the grass;  the wind whistling around the eves at night; the rain drops pelting the roof all bring about childhood memories of sleeping in under the eaves in the old farm house of my parents.

Most of my days of childhood were spent outside the house, in the woods, haymows, and forts that I would build in secret places. The tiny house is similar to those places, a friend used the term to describe a tiny green cabins as a ‘power fort!”

For me, my cabin or cottage is about making a choice; living smaller and sustainably so that I can live large and enjoy the experiences that this new freedom form ‘stuff’ brings me.


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