Play House: Boyd Tinsley’s Cabin in the Woods

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Living in a renovated eighteenth-century farmhouse definitely has its charm, but not when you want to exercise, fingerpaint, sauna, or play some rock-and-roll fiddle. And for Emily and Boyd Tinsley and their children, five-year-old Abby and one-year-old Noah, these aren’t frivolous desires–they’re everyday needs that their antique home can’t accommodate.

“Our house just wasn’t designed for contemporary families,” Emily says. “It doesn’t have a family room; it’s kind of restricted. For our playhouse, we really wanted a peaceful place in the woods, a place we could take the kids to where they could run free.”

Emily and Boyd, the violinist and occasional lead vocalist in the Dave Matthews Band, scouted a perfect spot to build this playhouse for all ages in the woods below their Virginia farmhouse, but they were adamant about preserving the surrounding ecosystem in the process. “My big thing was I didn’t like any destruction of trees and land,” Emily says. “It turns my stomach. I thought, what’s the point of this rustic, woodsy cabin if we’re going to chop all the trees down?”

The Tinsleys waited a long time for the right architect who understood their conservationist thinking. But once they found Thomas Fisher of Environ Design Collaborative in Charlottesville, they knew they could move forward. An architect dedicated to green building, Fisher scoped the mature beech, oak, and tulip poplars on the steep site and set to work. The 2,600-square-foot cabin he designed dodges the trees and pays homage to a 180-year-old beech–“a really big jolly fellow,” he calls it–to the south. “We had to stay outside of the drip line and keep all construction traffic and storage off it to preserve the tree,” Fisher explains.

Check out the March/April 2001 issue of Natural Home for more on the Tinsley getaway house, including images.