Cabin Dreams for Today

A More Affordable Vacation Retreat

A few years ago Sunset Contributing Editor Peter Whiteley and I came up with a new twist on the cabin idea: “A  Getaway That Grows.” Peter’s ultimate design is really a deconstructed vacation house: you start with a compact, permanent, lockable kitchen-bathhouse and add tent bedrooms and storage on a 2,500 sq. foot deck as needed. Here’s how the Sunset Summer Retreat looked in the magazine’s parking lot then (visit Sunset’s Celebration Weekend at their headquarters in Menlo Park, California — annually in May) to see the great home design ideas they have come up with every year):

cw_retreat_final_pw birds eye view

It’s a strong idea that seems even more relevant today.’s Stephen Williamson, Nicholas Lee, and I have a further refinement: Use one of our small house designs as the centerpiece, like William Turnbull’s Sea Ranch cottage Plan 447-1, below:

web_landing_intr turnbull interior

The 650 square-foot structure puts kitchen, living, and sleeping area in one open space.


Only the bathroom is enclosed.

Or consider Plan 23-2289.


It packs a lot into a mere 400 square feet.


Plans like these give you a head start on the heart of the design (see our Cabins Collection for more ideas). Then add the tent structures (what could be greener?) with or without a deck. Sunset used tents from Sweetwater Bungalows.

FireShot settwater bungalows frame

Their tent structures are based on simple wood frames, like the one shown below:

full_10x12_12x14 tent cabin frame

Sweetwater tent bungalows come in various sizes including 10′ by 12′, 12′ by14′, and 14′ by 20′.

The “inside-out approach” is just one way to rethink the cabin. Here’s another I saw on a recent trip to the Rio de la Plata delta town of Tigre, near Buenos Aires:

Buenos Aires 097

It’s the Sarmiento cottage, a national historic monument where Domingo Sarmiento, the 7th president of Argentina, lived from 1855 to 1888. The house is enclosed in a glass box to protect it from the elements: now the outside is inside! Something to think about for winter, perhaps…

One response to “Cabin Dreams for Today

  1. I’ve searched for “cabin plans” and found your site. Thanks for your post ^_^

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