Of all the homes I’ve visited and documented for Natural Home magazine over the past decade, ranging from grandiose to grass roots, I’ll always hold a place in my heart for Denise Franklin’s 280-square-foot cottage in the Okanagan mountains near Oliver, British Columbia. Denise’s simple, solidly built, brilliantly designed home, aptly named Quietude, provides her “a place to pray, meditate, prepare my food and entertain my friends, and a warm place to lay my head at night.” She built it for $28,000.
Denise has a long-term lease on a half-acre parcel of land that’s perfect for growing herbs and vegetables. Her simple house—four equal sides supporting a vaulted roof with a skylight in the middle—is designed as a mandala. Built around an open center with structural members that contribute equally to the whole, the shape evokes wholeness and order. “A mandala is a resolved space that’s at peace with itself because it’s complete,” explains architect Henry Yorke Mann, who designed Denise’s home. “This complete, regular geometry helps one be at peace.”
Mann, who has been designing and building houses in British Columbia since 1962, believes that a home is a failure if it doesn’t enhance the human soul. “Even with an extreme budget, it’s possible to build an environmentally sound home that enhances the joy, life and soul of humans,” he says.
“The simple eloquence of Henry’s design made for inexpensive material costs in both construction and finishing,” says Ken Silbernagel, who built Quietude almost single-handedly, using materials sourced within 100 miles of the site.
Silbernagel built Denise’s home with inexpensive lodgepole pine, the Okanagan’s most prevalent wood. He used boards remanufactured from the culls of larger boards (wood that would otherwise have been thrown away). Because all four sides of the house are identical, he also cut costs by having all the boards and beams cut together.
Mann used the following techniques to keep costs low:
• Kept the size to 300 square feet plus a 100-square-foot basement for storage.
• A simple, small propane fireplace is more than ample to heat this home.
• All building supplies were obtained locally.
• Kept finishing to a minimum. The wood walls and framing were finished only with drying oil, and the floor with Danish oil.
• The structure is repetitive on all four sides, allowing for identical cuts on framing and siding.
• Because the house is so small, the electrical service is minimal.
• Used the lowest-cost insulated metal roofing.
• Achieved maximum storage using hiding tactics common in yacht and trailer construction.
Denise feeds herself all summer (and beyond) from her garden, where she grew carrots, beets, garlic, beans, peas, potatoes, lettuce, basil summer savory, dill, tarragon, lemon sage, thyme, mint parsnips, kale, cauliflower and more. Photo by Stuart Bish
Architect Henry Yorke Mann calls the living area the "quiet soul of a home." Photo by Stuart Bish
Tucked in a corner next to the living area, Denise's efficient kitchen provides everything she needs to entertain. Photo by Stuart Bish