Cabins and Chapels

Following up on an earlier post about cabins…

Some years ago, I saw that The Royal Institute of British Architects had an exhibit “Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture” which included a full-scale model of Le Corbusier’s Cabanon. That is a micro-cabin he built in Cap Martine on the French Riviera in 1952. He supposedly designed it in less than an hour with the goal of simplicity and minimal materials. It is a classic log cabin.

Though he also designed many incredible large-scale buildings and homes, Cabanon is small (16 square meters or about 172 square feet). Cabanon de vacances was the only building Corbusier built for himself.

Corbusier was proud that “not a square cm of space was wasted.”  The interior was a laboratory for his ideas of buildings as machines for living, and it was also a place to spend summers and paint. Summers on the Riviera are probably not exactly the “roughing it” that I associate with cabin life.

see for photos and more information

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 – 1965) was known as Le Corbusier (“the crowlike one/”) He was a Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and one of the pioneers of what is now regarded as modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930.

It has been said that “a cabin is a sanctuary” and that living in a cabin – even for a short time – should be about the restoration of your sanity. That idea makes sense to me.

Le Corbusier also built a “chapel of our lady of the height” which is a sanctuary and a pilgrimage chapel on a hill above the village of Ronchamp.

It is a much larger project than Cabanon. But much of the stone used in the Chapelle Nôtre Dame du Haut’s walls are from its predecessor – a chapel that was destroyed during WWII – so it also follows the idea of simplicity and using minimal materials.

The walls are thick and curved and the concrete roof gives the chapel a form that resembles sculpture.

Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp – CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Cabin Fever Dream

Readers of this blog will know that I have a long time longing to own a cabin in the woods. That longing probably started when I was a teen and read Walden and imagined myself a Thoreau in my little cabin in the woods writing something great.

Over the years I have written here about cabins in different forms – building a cabin, living in one (or in a tiny house or even a treehouse) or just living in a much simpler way. I also recognize that you shouldn’t need a cabin on some mountain to be a writer – but I stillthink it might help.

So, I had to read n article that I came across titled “I Moved to a Remote Cabin to Write, and I Hate It.

It is a cautionary tale for all of us cabin dreamers. I especially get my cabin dreams in spring and autumn. Though a snug cabin with a fireplace surrounded by snow seems Romantic, it’s not my dream.

From the article, Blair clearly was feeling some cabin fever. That term describes a state of mind that can develop when a person is confined to their home (cabin or not) because of the weather or whatever and unable to have social interaction.

She writes “I haven’t written anything. I’m bored with the little trail by my house, and the only wildlife I’ve watched are geese. I don’t know anybody here. My plan was to be self-sufficient, a one-person retreat, but I didn’t plan on the kind of loneliness that would make me want to text my ex.”

Cabin fever involves feelings of restlessness, irritability, or loneliness. None of those things are what I associate with my dream cabin in the woods. Maybe I should just keep writing from the deck by the garden and the couch.

Photo: Johannes Plenio

Building in My Dreams

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan has two subtitle versions: “The Education of an Amateur Builder,” and the one I used for a previous post in 2010, “The Architecture of Daydreams.”  That this book has sat on my bedside book stack for all these years is not an indication of the quality of the book or my enjoyment of it. I bought it 7 years ago, started it, put it aside, and then started back into it again last spring and have dipped into it on and off and between other readings. I finally finished it on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t want it to remain unfinished into the new year. A small, doable, New Year’s resolution. It works reading it in parts as a story and as instruction. Think of the chapter as courses in a very long meal, or as occasional visits to Michael’s little place for another lesson. His place wasn’t built quickly, so why read it all in a weekend.

I was attracted to it because, like Pollan, I have long wanted of a room of my own. Okay, not a “room” but a separate building, albeit a small one. For me, it has been a small log cabin that has been in my head and sketched on many sheets of paper ever since I read Walden and a host of other books where people escaped and wrote in some cabin isolation. You should not need a cabin to be a writer, but it still seems Romantic (capital R) to me.

In the snow…

He wanted a “shelter for daydreams” and I identify not only with that, but also with his lack of skills needed to build such a place. Pollan writes that “Apart from eating, gardening, short-haul driving, and sex, I generally prefer to delegate my commerce with the physical world to specialists.”

So,  I read the book for both of its subtitles, as instruction manual about how to actually build such a structure, and as an armchair-dreaming builder. As instruction manual, it had its limitations. I’m not in a place where I can hire a real architect and custom builders to make my cabin. Plus, my plan has always been to do it myself. I also don’t have the land to build on, so it is astill “armchair building” for now.

But as an armchair building adventure tale, the book is kind of a Moby-Dick reading experience to me. I learned about building a little place and how to place it on a piece of land, and also about the history and meaning of all human building. It is about finding your place in your environment in the same way that you need to place your cabin to take advantage of views, sunlight, and to deal with drainage and winds and weather. In Melville’s book, you learn about whaling, whale and the sea, and about your own place in and away from this world.

In the spring

Will I start building this spring? Well, I still don’t have that piece of land or all the skills to build a place on my own or a set of blueprints that I would use yet. But over the years, I have learned some of the building skills by repairing my home, building a rock wall and a garden shed. I have collected plans for cabins and one-room sanctuaries, though none feel like “the one” that is floating somewhere in my brain.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year the daydream gets built.

Building a Cabin in Paradelle

Cabin with Northern Lights

On a chilly night that opens December here in Paradelle, I catch the scent of wood fires in the air tonight and when I step into the front porch of my house I smell the pine branches my wife is soaking to make a wreath.

It is not winter officially and the weather is still flirting with autumn, but my mind has turned again to the idea of building a cabin in the woods.

When I first started this website, I had been reading a series of articles by Lou Ureneck about him building a cabin in the woods of western Maine. In the one called “Building a Home for Another Life,”  he had not finished the foundation and he had already had two snows.

walden sign

I have wanted to build a cabin since I read Walden in eighth grade. I had sent for plans, read articles on it. I had even sent away for brochures about buying cheap land in Montana that I saw in the back of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. All this was before I had graduated high school.

But, I never bought the land – I probably should have back the late 1960s because it would have been a good investment – and I never built a cabin.

I agree with Ureneck that you build a cabin for “the satisfaction of making something with your own hands and the joy of living simply and close to nature, even if it’s just on weekends.”

In my adult home-owning life, I built a stone wall along our driveway. It took me weeks to do. From clearing away piles of dirt by hand with a wheelbarrow hauling crushed stone and fitting together the stones one by one to fit correctly.  I enjoyed it very much. I especially liked figuring out how to make the squares and rectangles form a smooth curve as it neared the house, and building two stone steps. I stared at those stones and that imaginary curve for hours. Very pleasant.

Other people have chronicled this kind of cabin dream online. I found another site by Mark van Roojen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, who teaches  ethics and political philosophy who was building a timber frame cabin in the Sierra Madres.

Mark’s site directed me to Bob at who was beginning a timber frame cabin project in Montana and another in Idaho that was well on its way.

Everyone seemed to be building a cabin but me.

Some people call these photo site “cabin porn” and I find it is easy to fall into these sites on a cold winter night. A cabin in green leafy woods is very nice, but there is something about a cabin with a wood fire on a snowy night…

I concede that I don’t see myself doing any chainsaw milling, and the more I look online, the more complicated this gets. Check out Timber Framers Guild ,and, or the more ambitious Housebuilding Illustrated, Cedar Ridge Farm, this Bungalow Blog and the Massie House Timberframe blog.

Maybe all I need is just a little 16 x 24 Michigan Cabin

I wanted this as a way to help me simplify my life, Thoreau in those Walden woods. My real weekend escape to go with this virtual escape. Not a retirement home. Not fancy.

My friend Steve told me years ago that I should think more about a tipi and had sent me some  links for them and some look bigger inside than the first floor of my house. Or maybe I should buy a yurt.

But I don’t want portable. I want permanent. And part of all this is that I want to build it, not assemble it.

What would a modern-day Thoreau do?

Living Tiny

Cabin-Like Tiny Home in the Woods

If you were resolving in this new year to clean things up, simplify, and maybe downsize your life, then living small might be of interest.

I first looked at this topic concerning home back in 2010, and since then this trend has continued to (ironically) grow bigger.

You can start simplifying by exploring tiny homes.  Perhaps, not even living small, but living in a tiny home.

This not the same thing as my still-active cabin dreams stoked by thoughts of Walden Pond and such.  At this point, living tiny probably seems more like fairly well-off hipsters surrounded by walls of reclaimed wood than Thoreau.

There is no shortage of examples to check out. Look on Instagram.  Watch Tiny House Nation. Check out Pinterest.

Even better, stream this Tiny movie and watch some people build one. I found it fascinating. This is one sweet “cabin.” There are tiny homes and people in RVs, converted buses and re-purposed shipping containers.

After a decade of travel, Christopher Smith buys a 5-acre plot of land in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of building a home in the mountains of Colorado. With the support of his girlfriend, Merete, he sets out to build a Tiny House from scratch despite having no construction experience. Tiny: A Story About Living Small is a coming-of-age story not only for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied down than ever, but also for a society that is redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate.  Dream big and imagine living small.

You can also see “living small” as the flip side of “living large” (“living with an extravagant or self-indulgent lifestyle”). We all do some of this every year: getting rid of things we don’t need, having a smaller environmental footprint, spending less (on rent or a mortgage).

No matter where you build or drop your tiny home, you still live in a not-tiny world, so there will be issues with things like zoning laws and other big realities.

Further Reading
The Big Book of Small Home Plans: Over 360 Home Plans Under 1200 Square Feet
Living Small: The Psychology of Tiny Houses
Living Small | The Atlantic
Living Small, With Money Left Over | WSJ

Tiny house, Portland

Build a Log Cabin for $100

Oh, if only it was so…

The article was titled  “Build a Log Cabin for $100.”  That would be a worthy summer project. It has been a fantasy of mine ever since I read Walden. An Oregon couple combined love of the land, native materials, traditional hand tools, and hard work to build a log cabin for $100.


“Living in a cozy little cabin nestled in the woods is part and parcel of the classic Thoreau-inspired lifestyle most folks dream of now and then. But the romantic vision of log-home life is shattered — for many people — by the sheer cost of such structures, which can be as high as that of equivalent conventional homes.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however. My wife and I kept down the cash outlay for our “Walden” by gathering most of the materials from the land where our house was to stand, and then building it ourselves, using only hand tools. As a result, our small home cost us only about $100 to construct … and the project was so simple that we’re convinced anyone with access to a few basic implements and a good supply of timber could build a log cabin too…”

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