From USA Weekend - the magazine insert to our Sunday paper...
Sometimes the inspiration just keeps coming... I'm just a trend setter, I guess...
We're out to set the footings this afternoon!! Update coming tonight, if I can move...
Enjoy! in the meantime!
Getting away from it all (without leaving)
Homeowners squeezed for space are turning to cozy "cabins" they can build in their backyards. These affordable, DIY units are extending our living space like never before.
By Jeffrey Ressner
As a single mother living in Austin with her 16-year-old son, Sydney Rubin adored the architectural style of her 1952 two-bedroom bungalow. But she desperately needed more space for a home office. Adding a new room would have run about $40,000, and at least double that to convert her carport. Either way, the renovations would have compromised the home's original design. Instead, Rubin came up with a novel solution: a tricked-out backyard cabana that transformed her garden area into an idyllic workspace.
"They're less expensive than an addition and a great way to escape from loud family life in the main house."
"I know it sounds flaky, but it's a really inviting, happy-looking structure," says Rubin, who bought the upscale cabana online after mulling over her various options. The 140-square-foot unit took a couple of workers just five days to build using prefabricated materials, including gorgeous tight-knot redwood panels. Total cost: $22,000. Now she has a home office, a garden feature and a conversation piece.
"Every time someone comes over, they ask the same question: 'Where can I get one?' "
These days, the answer is easy. Prefab cabanas, or "cabins," as people also call them, experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, and in the last few years several companies have popped up selling hip backyard lodgings perfect for art studios, meditation rooms or guest quarters. Keep in mind, however, that traditional "bonus room" additions generally are more sturdy than cool prefab modules and may deliver a better return on investment when reselling your home.
Although separate structures like these often are used for storage, they also can offer homeowners a real refuge -- a different room in which to work, play or just relax. It's almost like having a vacation home in the backyard. The units range in size (100 square feet and up) and are detached from the main residence and immobile. "A new trend definitely started in the building industry," says Casper Mork-Ulnes of Modern Cabana, the maker of Rubin's cube and one of at least a dozen firms offering the nifty single-room nooks. "They're less expensive than an addition and a great way to escape from loud family life in the main house."
Garden rooms in general have become a popular concept as homeowners seek ways to expand exterior living and leisure spaces beyond wooden decks. Some daring folks are experimenting with cargo containers; others park gleaming Airstream trailers in their yards. Jo Stougaard of North Hollywood, Calif., pitched a large canvas tent in her garden, decorated it with safari gear, framed Hemingway photos and African knickknacks and now often hosts fun dinner parties there -- that is, when guests aren't sipping martinis inside a nearby Tiki hut, which serves as yet another outdoor room.
Sometimes fun is trumped by function: Richard Cornelius of Cincinnati spent nearly $10,000 on a Cape Cod-styled mini-home that he uses to hide his swimming pool equipment.
Popular for many years in England, the too-cool garden-room trend got a spark here in early 2004 when Gen X-slash-Y craft magazine "ReadyMade" published a cover story featuring a $1,500 super-shed by California designer Edgar Blazona. With its corrugated metal siding, large glass panels and Eames-era charm, Blazona's MD100 (named for its 100-square-foot size) became an instant classic -- practical yet prudent, retro yet relevant. When "ReadyMade" began hawking the construction plans for $35 online, they quickly became a big hit.
"I call it an adult playhouse," says Christian rocker T.D. Oakes, 32, who built an MD100 on his Lexington, Ky., property over two weeks last September for $3,000, using off-the-shelf material from Lowe's and The Home Depot along with a cheap cordless power tool kit.
Candace Locklear, who lives in the East Bay hills near San Francisco, says building an outdoor room was "totally worth it." She and her husband had considered landscaping their yard, adding sod and a koi pond, but instead built a hip "modern playhouse" for their young daughter. Not only did the construction project bring them closer ("it helped us realize what great partners we really are"), but they've become the most popular parents on the block.
Blazona, a former Pottery Barn designer who offers larger backyard structures at ModularDwellings.com, thinks the market for outdoor rooms is good but says "it's hard to create a true product that can be made anywhere" because each municipality has different building laws and codes.
Dave Kimball, whose New Hampshire firm Shelter-Kit has sold prefab barns and homes since the 1970s, sees his business expanding, especially for the basic $9,975 "Unit One" mini-cabin, which can be used in backyards or combined with optional decks and porches to create larger residential structures. "Our business was exclusively in the Northeast, but now we're all over, including Texas, Idaho and Montana," Kimball says.
And why not? Single mom Rubin says the pre-fab units offer a pretty fab way for homeowners to get back to nature: "These aren't tiny trailer homes; they're beautiful objects surrounded by greenery. I'm in my little room, looking out over the garden, watching squirrels climb up an oak tree. It's far better than any other office I've ever worked in."
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HouseSmart By Lou Manfredini
The practical side of building a backyard escape
Check with your local building department to see if these types of structures are allowed, and if so, what requirements you must meet. You may need to submit a building plan and survey to show where it'll be located on the property.
Position the structure in a way that avoids problems such as water pooling down in low spots. Consider a gravel base or raised concrete slab to keep your new unit high and dry.
Make sure the design of your new cabin or shed has some kind of visual relationship with your home. Not only will it make a great companion element, it'll keep your neighbors happy, too.
Add some basic amenities to the unit. Having a few electrical outlets, some lighting and even indoor plumbing can be a real plus. (Check out the BioLet toilet, a composting unit that uses no water, at biolet.com.)
Lou Manfredini is OurHouse.com's "Mr. Fix-It" and a contributor to NBC's "Today" show.
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What's your style?
1. Cottage All that's missing from this elegant mini-home, which even boasts a steep gable roof, is the white picket fence. It's a sweet spot for overnight guests, or maybe a great pool house.
2. Pavilion This octagonal "home extension," designed by Michael Graves for Target stores, makes a great breakfast nook or library. Use more glass walls and it's an awesome greenhouse or artist's studio.
3. Modern dwelling Marketed under various brand names, such as "modern cabanas" or "metrosheds," these fun retro designs are perfect for a trendy playhouse or an urban home office.
Cover photograph by Jean-Yves Bruel, Masterfile