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Starting Point: 10 Steps to Making Your Cabin Dream Come True

Is your New Year's resolution to stop dreaming and start doing something to bring your dream cabin to reality?
by Country's Best Cabins staff

The property you purchase will play a factor in both the cabin's interior and exterior design. The cabin should be designed to suit the surrounding area, which will affect layout and the exterior materials used. Credit: Shiyan photo

These 10 steps break down the main phases of the planning and building process so you know where to start and what to do next.

Nothing says Americana quite like a cabin. From Abraham Lincoln to Davy Crockett, cabins have long been a part of our history, not only as a form of housing, but as a creator of family memories and good times spent with friends. Cozy yet rustic, the cabin is truly an American icon.

But the thing is, although we’re all familiar with the nostalgic feelings inspired by cabins, the definition of the word is different for each of us. For some, a cabin is a tiny Adirondack abode, nestled in the dense woods of the Northeast. For others, it may be a Rocky Mountain ski retreat or a Southern cottage, complete with a wraparound porch. After all, a beautiful setting and good company are all it takes to fit into the cabin category.

No matter the shape or size, the function of a cabin remains the same: a warm, welcoming retreat where you can relax and get away from it all. But how do you create such a place? From location considerations to design must-haves to proper furnishings, there’s a lot to think about before building the perfect escape. That’s why we’re here to help with our tips for creating your ideal cabin.

In this buyer’s guide, we provide ideas on where to build, how to design your ideal cabin and what options are available to you in terms of materials, financing and finishing touches. A custom-wood project, though, is unlike any home-buying experience you’ve likely had before. To help you more easily navigate these waters, here’s a 10-step snapshot to give you an idea of what the entire process will entail:


1. Arrange your financing.
As the saying goes, don’t plan for a castle when you can only afford a cabin. You will have three distinct areas to consider: the loan for the property, the loan for construction and the mortgage on the finished home.

Make sure you work with a lender that has experience with the type of construction you plan to use. You’ll also have to decide if you’ll be building a permanent home or an investment home to be rented. Although many companies will finance rustic homes, there’s a big difference between financing a home and a rental property.

2. Acquire your land.
Most people today start their search for property by surfing the Internet, but using a real-estate agent is another source for identifying sites, especially when your search covers an area far away from your current residence.

During the land-acquisition phase, you may want to assemble a small team. It would include a real-estate agent, whose responsibility is to inform you of material facts such as easements or highway improvements, and a real-estate attorney, who can search titles and draw up a contract with appropriate contingencies. Another option is a landscape architect to suggest good building spots.

3. Research your options.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you narrow your choices. You can find tours, contacts, links and more at Attending a Log & Timber Home Show ( allows you to meet with company reps face to face, look at plans, examine styles up close and get decorating ideas. Shows also offer seminars that will give you valuable information on the process of building your cabin.

Another excellent idea is to keep a binder with room-by-room ideas. Clip photos and floor plans of each room, as well as exteriors, from any magazines you can get your hands on. Pointing out the features you like to a designer will help you both visualize your dream cabin.

4. Choose your materials.
There is a range of elements you’ll have to consider: the style you’re looking for, the type of roof system and the system used to assemble the home. Look through your binder to determine which styles you like best. Then find companies whose products match your interest.

Comparing materials lists can be tricky. There’s no standard for what is included in a “full” or complete package, and different building systems require different materials, so items necessary for building one cabin may not be required for building another. Some companies offer very complete packages, including windows, doors, interior framing, trim and even roof coverings. Others focus only on the unique log and timber components that aren’t available through building-supply stores. The main advantage of a complete structural package is convenience, especially if you are building in a remote location; everything you need to build your home can be delivered at once, eliminating delays caused by waiting for separate deliveries.

5. Create a design.
How big should your cabin be? The company you select will be able to help you by looking at your budget and showing you standard floor plan offerings in that price range.

To help you maximize the space, understand where your money is going. Traditionally, the final cost of the home is calculated as a factor of square footage. A nice cabin can be built for anywhere between $150 to $175 per square foot.

Although that range is useful for quick estimates, it is not a true indicator of price, however, because it doesn’t consider two other critical size considerations: lineal footage and cubic footage.

Lineal footage reveals the length of the exterior walls. Two homes of equal square footage can have very different lineal footage dimensions: A 900-square-foot cabin measuring 30-by-30 feet will have 120 feet of exterior wall length, while a 90-by-10-foot cabin will equate to 200 lineal feet. The latter will require a bigger portion of the budget be utilized to pay for exterior walls, which will factor into your design.

6. Select a builder.
Finding a builder with experience building your cabin’s style is preferred. A builder with such skills is more apt to figure out the nuances and pitfalls of day-to-day construction than a neophyte.

When interviewing a general contractor, trust your instincts. As in any relationship, first impressions are often the best. Meet the superintendent who would be assigned to your job, and look at the subcontractors who will do much of the day-to-day work. You’ll also want to discuss how your builder expects to be paid, as there are several variations within the construction industry.

7. Prepare your site.
During your land purchase, you probably had the lot surveyed to determine boundary lines; check with the local government on easements, restrictions, covenants and zoning. Considerations during this phase include:

Permits for utilities and access. Different governmental bodies have jurisdiction over how to get these permits, so don’t be surprised if you (or your contractor) have to make several stops to get these permits.
Access road permit. You’ll need basic road access to and from the site; allow for plenty of parking and possibly a turnaround area for deliveries.
Installation of utilities. The first utility you’re going to need is electricity. Your building permit is likely to require that you have a temporary electrical connection.
Well and septic work. This should be done before (or concurrent with) foundation work. Again, zoning is usually quite specific about what you can and cannot do.
Site preparation for materials delivery. Your package may require a staging area, and you may also need dedicated space for laying out the package materials. You may need to provide some kind of storage facility on-site for some of the finishing materials that shouldn’t be exposed to the elements.

8. Find your finishes.
Choosing the finishes for your cabin doesn’t have to be agonizing. Here’s a simple list of what you should consider.

Floors. Myriad options are available depending on how you plan to use the space for each application. Moisture-resistant options such as tile, stone or resilient flooring tend to work better in bathrooms or mudrooms, while carpet is warmer underfoot in places such as bedrooms. And hardwoods are a natural fit for any rustic abode.
Walls and ceilings. Wood is a popular choice. Regardless of specie selected, owners usually opt for lighter colors and stains to keep the cabin looking open and warm.
Windows and doors. In some rooms, you’ll want to leave a doorway open, but other cabins require a 32- to 36-inch standard door.
Fireplaces. In a larger room, natural or cultured stone is the most popular finish.
Trim work. Consider size, style, color or stain, and installation; not only will this cover up imperfections where wall meets floor, window or door, it will put a stamp of style on your cabin.
Cabinets and countertops. The kitchen is a natural gathering place for family and guests, so you’ll want to give considerable thought to this space. Bring home samples to see how they coordinate. Many manufacturers offer outstanding value and attractive finishes in standard cabinets.
Appliances and fixtures. Appliances and fixtures will need forethought. Can the refrigerator accommodate a week’s worth of groceries for an extended family? What about the size of the dishwasher? The lighting will need even more careful planning as you consider general (ambient), task and accent lights for every interior room, as well as outdoor lighting for the deck, driveway and garage.

9. Protect your walls.
To maintain a quality exterior, clean wood walls to prepare them to better accept stains and preservatives. A simple power-washing may be all you need. Then apply the proper product. Staining your wood is about more than appearance; pigments in the stain absorb wood-destroying ultraviolet light from the sun.

10. Landscape your property.
Although most cabin owners prefer the rugged, natural look to cut down on mowing, trimming, raking, watering and other yardwork, there are a few low-maintenance things you can do to dress up your cabin.

Mulching. Mulches protect plants in winter and summer, hold in moisture and help with weed control. Mulches also help cut down on evaporation, so your watering requirements are reduced.
Low-maintenance plants. Dwarf, slow-growing shrubs for low porches and low windows will pay off with minimal pruning requirements.
Rock retaining walls. Curved, hand-packed stone will complement the natural materials of your cabin’s exterior.
Flagstone paths. Natural stone walkways add to the charm of a cabin and cut down on mowing and maintenance time.

Published in Country's Best Cabins
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One Response

  1. I looked everywhere In the Magazine & you should have a sample somewhere of the lay out & design of the cabin on your cover of Country’s Best Cabins 2012 buyer’s guide.

    Melinda BrownJanuary 9, 2012 @ 10:11 pmReply

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