Inspiring Cabins and Cottages

Explore the nuances that make cabins and cottages inviting places to vacation or live in year-round.

| June/July 2006

  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Hinckley, Minnesota
    A cabin in Hinckley, Minnesota.
    David Duncan Livigston
  • cabins and cottages - interior view, Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota
    This 12-by-18-foot cabin is near Sturgeon Lake, Minn., and cost about $2,000 to build. The owner built it with local lumber and incorporated used windows, flooring and roofing material.
    Photo by Duncan Livingston
  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Camden, Maine
    A cottage in Camden, Maine.
    Brian Vanden Brink
  • 216-084-Pictorial-5-CMYK.jpg
    Cottage interior in Lopez Island, Washington.
    Craig Wester Photography
  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Whidbey Island
    A meeting of natural and man-made geometry in Whidbey Island, Washington.
    Craig Wester Photography
  • 216-084-Pictorial-7-CMYK.jpg
    Decorative wood carving mimics the contour of a tree in this Petrolia, California cabin.
    Carrie Grant

  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Hinckley, Minnesota
  • cabins and cottages - interior view, Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota
  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Camden, Maine
  • 216-084-Pictorial-5-CMYK.jpg
  • cabins and cottages - exterior view, Whidbey Island
  • 216-084-Pictorial-7-CMYK.jpg

For many of us, the archetypal image of the cottage home comes from storybook memories of our childhood: the diminutive dwelling glimpsed through the trees at the end of a winding trail, smoke rising from the chimney, roses rambling over a trellis and up onto the thatched roof, leaded windows, an inviting entryway ... There's something ineffable about this image, something that makes the idea of cabins and cottages so appealing for so many people, but it's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

After all, also implied in this picture are cramped quarters, a dark interior and a lack of modern amenities. In attempting to define the enduring appeal of cottages, words such as comfort, coziness, charm, simplicity, intimacy and romance readily spring to mind, suggesting that the idea of cottage is as much a state of mind as it is a tangible presence.

To try to capture the essence of cottage appeal, think back to those most special places of your childhood. In your mind, revisit that snug hollow hidden under dense lilac bushes, the ramshackle fort cradled high in the limbs of the maple tree, the attic closet and its secret passageway winding under the stairs, or the bunk bed at the lake cabin draped with thick blankets. What do these places have in common? What did you feel like when you were in them? And what do these places of your childhood memories have to do with cottages?

I'll answer the last question for you — everything. To me, these hollows, forts and closets all evoke the essence of what the cottage house must be for us. In our childhood, we found or created spaces to fulfill an essential, unspoken need to feel safe and secure from an overstimulating and dangerous outside world. (If you think about it, none of these spaces would have felt this way had they been larger, more open to the outside or more fancily built.) We may be all grown up now, but these needs are still essential to our sense of well-being. Those who understand this also understand the appeal of the cottage house: a magical, almost mysterious place that holds us closely within its lovely boundaries, warming and soothing our work- and world-weary souls.

What seems to be constant is the idea of the cottage as a retreat, the place to go to get away from it all, be it a beach cottage overlooking the ocean, a mountain hideaway, a pastoral retreat nestled in the woods or even a thoughtfully built cottage in town. It's a place for lounging, for curling up with a good book or for doing absolutely nothing. It's small enough to personalize and make your own: If you want to hang lobster pots from the ceiling or carve snail shells for drawer pulls, who's going to stop you?

The cottage as a weekend/vacation getaway is only one aspect of the contemporary cottage. There's also the cottage as a permanent residence — a perfect home for young marrieds, empty nesters or retirees. The appeal is a house that's easy to live in and easy to maintain; a house that encourages informal living while offering unpretentious comfort; a house that's small enough to allow you to spend more on fine details, quality materials and craftsmanship; a house that's expressive about who you are and how you like to live your life.

8/26/2013 1:35:37 PM

Great cabins and cottages I would love to spend one week there in my life.

8/18/2013 11:31:31 AM

I love cabin building is there some who is looking for a recent construction degree graduate, who be willing to mentor in all aspects of cabin building. I live near the Ashville north carolina area. Please contact me through mother earth news community or facebook Richard Wehrstein services

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