The Cabin

2. Design Considerations

The cabin: Left: the rear, north-east facing elevation. Top right: Side elevation, facing North-West. Bottom: Front elevation, south-west facing.

2.1 Roof Design

The two ends of the roof have been treated differently. The front end, which is seen from our house and the rest of the garden, has a hipped roof. This helps make the building look smaller as you approach it, with the roof sloping away (above right), sinking the building into the landscape. This end faces south-west so is in the sun most of the day. The cedar shingles are pretty at all times of the year.

The far end is a gable (above left), which looks much taller, but being at the back cannot be seen from the house or garden. You need to stand int he adjacent field to get this view. The extra height here provides enough space internally to include a sleeping platform: a kind of ‘second story’, with a little gable-end window. This end faces north-east and looks across the fields.

2.2 Inset Porch

The porch area with the doors set back at an angle is perhaps the most controversial design decision and at first look seems like quite an indulgence as it appears to ‘wastes space’ internally. On the other hand it makes the design far more interesting, preventing the building looking boxy. It also adds to the sense that the whole structure is lighter, finer and smaller when approached from the front. On a practical note, the porch gives you somewhere to leave your boots before going in, as well as providing shelter from the rain whilst you unlock the door. Personally I liked the look enough to not worry about the loss of space inside. In practice, because of how one places furniture, it’s not even clear whether it would make that much practical difference. Consider this…

(Left) Doors inset on diagonal creating a porch. (Right) Doors placed on perimeter. Do they provide extra space?

You can see from these two layout options that placing the doors on the face of the building (right) does indeed create some additional interior space, but it’s not clear this is particularly useful. Three things that need to be appreciated here:

  1. Getting rid of the inset porch does not actually provide much additional space for furniture without bringing it right up to the double doors. How will that look from outside? You might gain coat hanging space and a chair perhaps, but not a lot more.
  2. With the inset-porch design (left) the kitchen units have a natural side-return wall to run up to, but this is lost in the right hand layout. Not impossible to deal with, but the kitchen-in-a-nook works very well.
  3. The entrance doors need to hinge open somewhere. In the inset porch layout (left) they can fold back out the way against the side return walls. They don’t flap about in the wind, and if you leave them open and it rains little enters the living area.

How the doors open is a point worth exploring more. With doors on the outside of the building (right hand layout, above) there are several additional design implications. First, unless you place them towards the centre of the wall (which would require the kitchen to move) when they are open one of them is left flapping in the air at the corner of the building. And the other leaf would open across the kitchen windows. Not ideal. A further consideration is that space around the doors needs to be left, limiting space for planting either side of the doors. Finally, as the Cabin floor is raised 30cm above ground level these doors would be at the top of two steps. Opening a door outwards at the top of a step is rather impractical and looks pretty naff in my opinion. A neater solution, of course, would be to have them open inwards, but that just steals back the additional internal space we imagined we would be gaining.

2.3 Internal Layout

Careful design enabled me to put the space provided by this high roof to good use.

External Dimensions: 4.8 m long, 3.1 m wide, and 4 m high to the roof apex.

Despite its diminutive external appearance, the cabin is a bit of a Tardis: It can easily sleep 2 couples (we’ve had seven teenagers crash the night here) and contains electricity, running water (cold only, but there is a kettle), with a sink and kitchenette. The upper bunk is reached by a ladder, which hooks in place, but can be moved out of the way when not in use. We even have a piano and sideboard in here!

2.4 External Materials

This building is predominantly timber: black painted feather edge board and cedar shingles. The black contrasts nicely with the white used on the greenhouse. Keeping this building – which is at the end of the garden – all black helps it recede visually, increasing the apparent size of the garden. The style of the se fit the local vernacular, with similar styled buildings being seen at such places as Goodwood Home Farm and West Dean Gardens. Cedar shingles are less often seen, but they blend in really well and are a fantastic light-weight and durable material to work with. They work out no more expensive than concrete tiles, are much lighter, so do add minimal roof loading and look far more natural. Also, I like working with wood. And I don’t particularly like wet materials, for example, mortar which is necessary to finish a tiled roof.

2.5 Cost Saving

Costs were kept down considerably in this building design by using small dimension materials and minimising layers.

Posts3×3 in (75 x 75 mm)
Studwork2×3 in (50 x 75 mm)
Floor joists2×4 in (50×100 mm)
Rafters2×3 in (50 x 75 mm)

I also picked up the small window frames (for the back gable window and front kitchen windows) in a sale at a builder’s merchants, so I planned the design around them. One cost concession is that I used treated timber throughout for longevity. Above ground contact modern pressure impregnation extends the life of timber considerably, and I knew that in places structural timber would be exposed directly to the elements with just a layer of paint to protect it.

  1. Introduction
  2. Design Considerations
  3. Foundations, Posts and Floor Joists
  4. Walls and Windows
  5. Rafters and Roof
  6. Cladding and Finishing
  7. How it Looks Today (15 years on)

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