Architect Jim Cutler and
his 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, recently built this tiny cabin 30 feet from
their main house and were delighted to discover just how much a part of their
family’s daily ritual this bunkhouse/design studio/family room has become. Working together on weekends, Cutler, FAIA,
principal of Cutler Anderson Architects
on Bainbridge Island,
Washington, and Hannah began building the cabin in September 2015,
when Hannah was 10, and finished it in June 2016.
Made of rough-sawn Douglas fir two-by-fours milled at a local sawmill, the cabin measures
approximately 80 square feet, which is roughly
size of the old toolshed it replaces, and is clad in hand-cut, 22-gauge Cor-Ten steel shingles. Inside, the cabin serves as a bunkhouse for Hannah’s sleepovers,
with two twin bunk beds
(one is shown here) that easily fold up and down on traction struts that Hannah
can handle herself. The space is also Cutler’s design
studio. After years of doing
work for clients from his kids’ playroom in the basement, Cutler designed this
cabin in part to give himself a water view and a more palpable connection to
his natural environment. Although Cutler and Hannah built
most of the cabin themselves, the drafting
desk, drawers and cabinets were crafted by Kory Mathis of Korben Mathis
Woodworking. A cast iron wood-burning
Salamander Stoves that measures 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep by 16 inches
high keeps the cabin toasty on cold winter days, and a 2.2-cubic-foot refrigerator keep drinks cool. In case the
power goes out, there is a 4.5-kilowatt backup power system for the cabin,
consisting of four golf-cart batteries and related equipment, which Cutler and
Hannah wired themselves. The cabin could easily be converted
to solar power, although
Cutler says there is not enough light filtering through the surrounding woods
in winter to power the cabin during that season. In the evenings, the cabin
becomes a family room where Cutler draws at his desk while his wife, Beth, and
Hannah pull down a bunk bed and read or watch movies on the 32-inch computer monitor/TV
screen. And, at some point, this cabin
may even have a fourth use as a poker
room for Cutler and his friends.
The front door, which is made of Douglas fir, includes a door lever designed by Cutler.
I recently sat down with Cutler and asked him more about the project.
What was it like
designing and building this cabin with your daughter?
“There’s nothing like being
67 years old and having an 11-year-old to build a building with. Designing and
building this tiny cabin together was as much fun for me as designing a federal
high rise building in Portland. One endeavor took 1,000 people to make it happen;
the other took an 11-year-old and a semi-skilled laborer—me. I want to expose
Hannah to all sorts of things, I want her to make things.
Hannah and I hand dug
the foundation, and Beth and Hannah dug the footings. I precut the forms in the
garage, and Hannah screwed them together with a screw gun. She also liked tying
the steel. When we poured the foundation, we did it in a bucket using bags of ready-mix
Hannah wasn’t so good at pouring, but she enjoyed screeding all the forms.
Hannah was also good at laying the subfloor. Basically, we built the building
inside out with the studs exposed, carried sections to the site from the
garage, and Hannah screwed it all together and bolted it down.
I didn’t let her
on the roof, which took two months on weekends to do, but she helped with all
the metal siding by holding it level while I put the screws in or vice versa.
We installed Appleton junction boxes, and Hannah pulled the wire through on all four of them. I
don’t want to exaggerate, I did the lion’s share of the process, but she was
”What tips do you have
for other parents who want to build a tiny cabin with their kids? What’s on
your Dos and Don’ts list?
“If there is anything my children have taught me, it’s
patience. Even when your kids mess up, tell them they’re doing a good job. Everyone
makes mistakes. Hannah drilled my hand once, and we put a Band-Aid on it and
got right back to work. She’s thoughtful and accepting of her own failures, and
I think that’s because we’ve taught her that mistakes are the way you learn.
And now she knows that you can build something and the result is something you
What do you enjoy most about the
cabin? Is there anything you would do differently if you had it to do over
“I like the whole place and how well it functions for my
family. The way everyone uses it, which was unexpected. I also like the
details—the new, rough-sawn
Douglas fir, the giant sheet of glass and the way the beam sits behind
the glass. There are little bits of craft that I’d do differently, such as the
rafters are on eight-inch centers, but there is one that is off by one-half
inch in one spot, and the chimney isn’t Cor-Ten steel, so it won’t last as long
as the shingles. The only real negative I see is that our living room doesn’t
get used as much now.”
you’re building a tiny cabin with your kids or a full-size home, Cutler offers
a word of advice about choosing exceptional rather than average. “While an average house might make you
conform to its structure, an exceptional house organically becomes a part of
your family’s daily life,” he says.
All photos courtesy of, and by, Art Grice.
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