3 tiny cabins that offer design inspiration and small-space solutions

8 min read

While people rarely romanticize studio apartments, a one-room cabin in the woods has an entirely different magic. Sure, it’s important to have a place to hide out when it’s raining or a spot where you can escape from your family for a while, but when the sun is shining and your setting is the great outdoors, sometimes a sophisticated little shack is all you—or your guests—really need. Here, we tour three well-designed retreats that address the bare necessities in one scaled-down living space.

’Ome Pod

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The ’Ome Pod isn’t just pretty in the summer. The flat roof is constructed out of durable 2×10 beams to ensure that the structure can support the heavy snow loads of Newfoundland winters. The cabin is powered by solar panels, it has a tankless Eco-Temp hot water system, and a woodstove provides the heat. Photo by Matt Collins

They say you can’t go home again. And yet, as comedian Shaun Majumder rose to fame as a cast member on This Hour Has 22 Minutes from 2003 to 2018, he found himself thinking about building a rental property back in his hometown of Burlington, Nfld. ’Ome Pod—a compact 256-sq.-ft. vacation retreat that became the star of Majumder Manor, a reality show dedicated to boosting Burlington tourism—is the end result.

Designed with St. John’s architect Peter Blackie, the cabin takes inspiration from an unlikely spot: the old fishing shed across the bay. “It’s owned by either Gordon or Melvin, I’m not sure,” says Shaun, joking. “It’s just this square box with pieces of wood falling off, but it’s simple and cute.” Keeping with that same utilitarian style, ’Ome Pod is clad in locally milled, rough-sawn spruce, with big, sliding patio doors and long, horizontal windows. While the outside matches its rocky setting with a cool silvery hue, the inside is pine tongue-and-groove that brings a golden warmth. In another woodsy touch, Shaun’s carpenter cousin Darren (who also helped out with construction) created the railing for the mezzanine loft bedroom from alder branches collected on site. “Him and his mom, my aunt Audrey, surprised me with that when I was away one summer. It’s just a really beautiful personal touch,” says Shaun.

Outside, a wraparound deck steps down to a cable-rail fence. “We wanted to avoid a big, bulky rail blocking the view, and this lures you down the rock face to get you exploring,” says Shaun. “It’s like bleacher seating for people who want to go out and have their coffee there.” While he makes his own occasional trips to the cabin, Shaun mostly rents it to out-of-province visitors getting their first taste of salty ocean air. “It’s somewhere to just be present with nature where you can see whales at your front door, icebergs floating by, and eagles landing on your deck—if you’re lucky, all on the same day.

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Shaun opted not to put a big window opposite the bedroom loft. “We want people to sleep” he says. “Then, they wake up and go down to all that glass and the views downstairs.” Photo by Matt Collins

Shaun opted not to put a big window opposite the bedroom loft. “We want people to sleep” he says. “Then, they wake up and go down to all that glass and the views downstairs.”

Sunset Cabin

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Michael built a model of the cabin before construction to fine-tune the size and spacing of the cut-outs. To go easy on the earth, the structure rests on two steel beams supported by four caissons driven into the ground. Photo by Thomas Lewandovski

When Michael Taylor (a co-founder of Toronto’s Taylor Smyth Architects) was approached by his friends to expand their cottage on Lake Simcoe, Ont., it wasn’t an addition that they had in mind. Instead, they were looking for somewhere to get away from their getaway. With the buzz of family activity often taking over their main property at night, the couple craved a standalone bunkie that would give them their own secluded sleeping quarters closer to the lake.

Eager not to disturb the landscape, Michael and his firm developed a structure that could be pre-fabricated in Toronto, then shipped to be assembled on-site in just 10 days. Essentially, the 275-sq.-ft. cabin (built in 2004) is a fully insulated glass box wrapped in cedar screens made by Toronto woodworking studio Brothers Dressler in collaboration with Yaan Poldass. The design is Michael’s spin on a “primitive hut”—a term coined by Marc-Antoine Laugier, an early architectural philosopher. “He wrote about it as the first form of shelter, which was basically put together with sticks and was just a place where someone could be protected from the elements,” says Michael.

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The floor and the ceiling are made of birch veneer plywood. One of the glazed walls is slightly angled to create enough space in between the main façade and the cedar screen to be able to clean the glass. Photo by Thomas Lewandovski

This contemporary version swaps out sticks for cedar slats. The wooden shell gradually reveals more of the water as you walk through the interior, thereby balancing privacy from the main cottage with great sunset views. “The solidity and transparency are juxtaposed,” says Michael. At the far end is a sheltered deck complete with an outdoor shower, a sink, and a door to a small outhouse with a chemical toilet.

While the owners initially heated the cabin with a woodstove, they have since converted it to gas to keep it easier to manage in the winter, when they enjoy watching animals out on the ice. Now that the cedar has weathered to a silver grey and the landscape has grown around it, the building blends into its surroundings. The bunkie also has a green roof, which means it stays similarly incognito when you look down at it from the main cottage. “It stands out most at night,” says Michael. “It becomes almost like a lantern.”

Repère Boréal

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The cabin is built with locally sourced cedar planks. They are treated on-site in the shou sugi ban style, a Japanese method of charring wood, which helps protect against insects and acts as a natural fire retardant. Photo courtesy Repère Boréal

After growing up camping on a family property near the municipality of Les Éboulements, in Québec’s Charlevoix region, Simon and Jonathan Galarneau returned to the lot in adulthood to build Repère Boréal, a rugged resort that operates a wide range of wilderness rentals. The brothers wanted to offer others the same type of nature experience that they’d had as kids—but with a bit more comfort than you’d get from camping. Their smallest type of lodging—a compact wooden cube with a unique L-shaped window—strikes the balance. “We have 18 of them now,” says Simon.

When they designed the 121-sq.-ft. bunkies, it helped that both Galarneaus had experience making the most of small spaces: along with working together on a business that customized shipping containers, Simon is a big fan of RVs, and Jonathan is a sailor. Hence the bevy of boat- or motorhome-like details: a storage drawer that pulls out from under the bed, while the dining table and the built-in benches can be turned into a second sleeping area for kids (or even six-foot-tall adults). “We’re always interested in optimization—in terms of space and quality,” says Simon.

The cabin’s most notable feature is its bedside window, which turns into a skylight as it meets the roof. “It’s a custom aluminum frame that we cut and welded together ourselves,” says Simon. The glass on both sides is tempered—making it strong enough to handle big snowfalls (although the team comes around each day to shovel it off). Falling asleep below it allows you to be totally immersed in your surroundings. “You have the comfort of the inside, but you still feel like you’re outside,” Simon says. “On clear nights, it’s all stars—and sometimes you can even see the northern lights.

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Photo courtesy Repère Boréal

Eric Mutrie is a senior editor at Azure magazine. He also wrote “The Scenic Root” in our Sept/Oct ’23 issue.

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