Overlooked Cabin Design Ideas

Some new trends and some old ideas that are still popular.

Illustration by David Long

Marie and Gil Culbreth found the perfect spot for their vacation home at Smoky Mountain Retreat: a log home community in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, in the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by Gil’s boyhood memories of summer camp at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, North Carolina (where they also sent their two children during the summer), the Okeechobee, Florida, couple built a second home at 4,000 feet above sea level within earshot of a trickling stream running through the woods below. The setting brings back wonderful memories of family vacations surrounding their annual trek to Camp Rockmont. “We wanted to go back to camp,” Marie jokes. “It was important to us to be able to enjoy the outdoors and have some privacy and quietness.”

Like the Culbreths, prospective vacation homeowners are looking for peaceful surroundings with a breathtaking view and access to a variety of recreational activities. Relaxation is any vacationer’s number one concern, and there are several trends in the design of vacation homes that can add to a restful mood. One of the top priorities for a vacation home is finding a lot with a good view, and the design and orientation of the house should accentuate the horizon. Expansive windows throughout the house and strategically placed decks and porches (both open and screened) create spaces where homeowners can enjoy the scenery despite the weather.

The Culbreth home, which the family named Mountain Stream, has a 17-foot wide porch that wraps around the entire house. The wrought iron railing around the porch doesn’t obstruct the view of the mountains as they lounge in their rockers. “[The porch] is great because if it’s raining or snowing you can still go outside,” Culbreth says. “That’s one of the best things about the house. You can go anywhere and have a beautiful view every time.” And on steep mountain properties like the Culbreths’, “the porch becomes their yard,” says Scott Campbell of J. Scott Campbell Construction Co. Inc. in Clyde, North Carolina, who built the Culbreth home. While some folks build cabins for a specific purpose (primarily hunting), most builders agree that second homes these days tend to be multipurpose. Often these homes have more than one master suite; kids’ bunk rooms with adjoining bathrooms; and a loft area with extra beds.

Vacation homes tend to be less formal than a primary home, he says, with the great room, dining room and kitchen as one large open area designed especially for entertaining guests. In any home, kitchens are popular gathering spaces, and many people are choosing to design spacious kitchens where family and friends may come together to share meals and conversation. Large islands allow homeowners to entertain guests while cooking, and many vacation home kitchens are equipped with upgrade appliances, as well as wine coolers, high bars and bread warmers. Granite is a popular choice for countertops. Another trend in vacation homes is the extension of entertainment options to the great outdoors. Hot tubs and pools have long been staples of exterior amenities, but lately outdoor kitchens are the rage. These spaces are just as convenient as their indoor counterparts and may feature a full range of weather-safe appliances, such as icemakers, refrigerators, beverage dispensers and grills.

For a campy feel, fireplaces and firepits are becoming more popular, creating a gathering place where adults and children can roast marshmallows and eat s’mores. Every vacation should include time to play, and many people have their own recreational toys such as skis, rafts, fishing gear, boats and snow mobiles that will require storage space in their vacation villas. Often, storage areas are incorporated into the basement or garage, but occasionally, a homeowner will want to build a separate structure. Boathouses are popular in some areas, ranging from a simple garage on the water to an elaborate two-story building with living space for overnight guests. The design and placement of these structures are heavily regulated, however, and restrictions vary from state to state.

The horse enthusiast may consider building a barn on the property. These structures tend to be log accented, rather than all log, because of cost concerns and because horses enjoy chewing on log. With every fun outdoor activity comes the potential for a mess that can be tracked into the house. And who wants to spend a lot of time cleaning while on vacation? For that reason, mudrooms are gaining ground. They provide a spot where kids can come inside and rinse off those sandy toes or shed snow-covered boots before entering the home’s main living areas. These spaces usually feature durable floors, made from materials such as stone or tile, and are equipped with pegs, cubbies and shelves for storing hats, gloves and coats.