The Stoneflower Cabin
by Christine Brun (Date)
In the U.S. weekend getaway places are commonly smaller than one’s main residence. Aristocratic Europeans historically nurtured huge country estates and American nobility in Newport, Rhode Island copied with massive ocean front mansions, the typical American family owns a much more compact country place. A summer house on a lake, pond, or at the seashore is part of fortunate family legacies. Cozy cabins are the classic American genre for a vacation home that has survived for generations in every state.
First evidence of log cabins have been found in Northwestern Europe circa 3500 B.C. where they were a common building type and were brought to North America by the English, Swedes and Finns. Around 1638 the little log cabin made its’ appearance in our northeastern colonies because solid timber offered superior insulation against harsh winters in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New York. Quick shelter against the elements was critical to early colonial survival and trees were abundant.
Once mere survival was no longer dominating architecture, home styles similar to what was popular in Europe at the time began to appear along with increased prosperity of. After a new and improved version of a main house was built, the cabin often was kept on a property and was used for livestock, farm equipment and supplies. Eventually as generations progressed, the log cabin would become a symbol of homesteading and less affluence. Tree trunks and mud were as basic a building material as one could use anywhere for no cost.
These days owning a second home of any size and style is a mark of affluence. In general, the mountain cabin is viewed as a luscious departure from urban life and a retreat surrounded by nature. For my money, one of the most exquisite cabins I’ve seen can be found in Back to the Cabin written by architect and Professor Dale Mulfinger. Known as the Stoneflower cabin, designed by architect Fay Jones and completed in 1965, it was heralded in Life magazine in 1966 as a brilliant organic design. Jones was a fan of the architectural principles of his friend Frank Lloyd Wright and he aimed to blend this cabin into the land. Architect Jones combined his favorite themes, the cave and the tree house, to work on a challenging lot in a central Arkansas development of Eden Isle.
Beginning with a grotto below grade that features a pool, a shower cascading from rocks, a fireplace and living room, the lower-level offers a cool escape from the heat of Arkansas summer days. A circular staircase leads up to the tree house portion that is only 12 feet wide by 30 feet long and 24 feet tall. Filled with light from opposite ends, the kitchen, dining and sitting areas share this light filled space; overhead is a sleeping loft. The cabin features passive cooling; cool air rises from the forest floor, through the grotto, and up and out the windows just under the rood of the tree house.
Dale Mulfinger, a principal of SALA Architects, teaches a class on cabin design at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Mulfinger is self-styled ‘cabinologist” and has also written The Cabin and Cabinology, both published by The Taunton Press.
He notes that cabins speak of modestly, shared spaces for the camaraderie of family and friends, and an open, relaxed atmosphere. Basic principals that make vacation homes work can also be applied to any smaller home, as well as the retirement model of trading one large, family home for two smaller homes.
More and more San Diego Baby Boomers, faced with the reality that grown children live out of state, are creating a new lifestyle that includes part-time residence near grandchildren. As one’s family changes shape, so do spatial needs. The owner of two smallish homes needs to design with different criteria in mind. For example, consider entering a second home via a mudroom that replaces a more formal foyer. Often grand entrances are wasted space. Maybe a sleeping loft offers more of a college dormitory feel than a private bed-and-breakfast guest room, but it may function the best as accommodations for a collection of relatives. The need for a separate family room and formal living room may be replaced by one room featuring a wall mounted smart TV visible at all times. Gone are the hulking TV armoires of the 1980s that gobbledspace. A proper dining room frequently passed over for a more comfortable family dining arrangement that offers seating for large groups or for an intimate foursome, perhaps in front of the television. Flexibility and function rule the day.
Perhaps the art of living comfortably in a smaller house is based on a careful scrutiny of the most efficient uses of each room. Success is dependent upon finding the best pieces for each purpose. I constantly advise investing in the perfect sizes and quality for the smaller home. If you have few bedrooms, then why not treat yourself to the best mattress and bedding that you can afford? Trade size for quality. Replace duplication with superior products. A simple home puts things right out into the open and exposes each function for all to see. That is not necessarily a negative thing; rather, it challenges one to think more about what is safe and interesting to reveal.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Koralik/ Courtesy of the Taunton Press