Page B1.2 . 01 October 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
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Rustic Cabin Essence


Of necessity, such a cabin must be a very modest affair, affording merely the most compact sleeping and living space. Required economy will compel the omission of toilet and bathing facilities. Naturally, centralizing such facilities will reduce the cost of a cabin group. If provision is made for preparing meals in these modest cabins, the kitchen must be truly of kitchenette proportions merely compact cabinet, closet, or shallow alcove.

A possible alternative to the modest kitchenette is an outdoor camp stove, preferably with sheltering roof. If strategically treated, the camp stove may be a multiple unit, and the kitchen shelter thus made to serve several cabins. Desirable as a fireplace may be, it is scarcely within the economy of the simplest of cabins unless climate makes such a feature an absolute necessity.

Case for Spaciousness

Larger cabins might contain a kitchenette, a bedroom, and a living room to serve also as a sleeping room at night. The kitchenette tends to be something more than the simpler cabin type permits. A fireplace is an allowable feature, since the larger cabin will probably have a longer season of use. If a nearby central recreation building is not provided as a gathering place, the cabin is forced to a greater self-sufficiency.

Of cabins that might be termed "first class," distinguishing features are toilet and bath facilities, along with perhaps added spaciousness and more privacy in sleeping quarters.

Variety in the number of persons to be accommodated in the several cabins of a group should be given consideration. The American family group averages somewhere between four and five persons. It would, therefore, appear reasonable to plan perhaps a majority of cabins to sleep four people. There will be some demand for cabins accommodating two, and a sprinkling of six-cot cabins would not be amiss.

An example is a cabin in the Cheaha Mountain State Park in Alabama. The 18- by 25-foot (5.5- by 7.6-meter) plan represents a compact grouping of all the essential elements. Apparently limited in sleeping accommodations to two persons, this could well be increased using removable cots in the living area.

Extending Space with Porches

In most localities, some form of porch will be a serviceable feature of a cabin. In certain climates a simple terrace may serve, but in a majority of cases a roof will add greatly to usefulness. It will generally be necessary to screen in the porch if its full benefits are to be enjoyed.

When a screened porch is provided, a wide opening between it and the living space is a space-saving possibility. Such an opening about 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide, framing sliding doors or three or four folding doors, throws together the limited space allotments of living space and porch and makes for a roominess very useful on occasion.

An example is the cabin at the Scenic State Park in Minnesota. The 15- by 29-foot (4.6- by 8.8-meter) plan accommodates four, thanks to use of bunk beds. In this case, the porch was not screened.

Density within the Park

It must be admitted that the need in some parks for cabins in considerable numbers presents some very real problems, one of which is the spacing of them. A cabin, when occupied, along with a certain ground area bordering it, is in effect privately leased, for a night, or a week, or longer, as the policy of a park may dictate.

It becomes virtually private property serving an infinitesimal portion of the park-using public, and the greater the spacing between the cabins within a group, the greater the area that is withdrawn from the use of the public at large. For this reason the spacing of cabins dare not be determined entirely on the basis of a splendid isolation for each cabin.

Frequently observed in connection with cabin groups is a tendency to spread the effects of their presence over a needlessly large area. In groups composed of the simplest cabin types, wide spacing either compels a multiplication of toilet installations or renders access to central facilities difficult.

Even in the case of cabin groups equipped with toilets and with running water, wide separation means added road construction to make them accessible and longer runs for electric service. After all, it seems fair to assume that, where cabins are erected in parks, their purpose is to facilitate enjoyment of the park itself, and that complete seclusion during the hours when they are occupied is not the supremely important goal it is so frequently assumed to be.

Spacing cabins far enough apart to satisfy fully the desire of the occupants for seclusion tends to encroach on the interests of the public-at-large. On the other hand, if the spacing of cabins must so yield to the interests of the public (and perhaps to the influence of economy) that the cabin area becomes row upon row of trifling, and too often identical, cabins with groundcover and shade traded for a few inches of seasonally alternative dust or mud, we have simply infected the outdoors with tenement standards and made nature an outcast.

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Albert H. Good was an architect hired as a consultant by the National Park Service in the 1930s to expand the responsibilities of the NPS to include the development of state, county, and metropolitan parks.

This article is excerpted from Patterns from the Golden Age of Rustic Design: Park and Recreation Structures from the 1930s, copyright 2003, available at



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Cabin in the Cheaha Mountain State Park in Alabama, front elevation.
Image: National Park Service

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Cabin floor plan.
Image: National Park Service

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Section through a cabin in Alabama.
Image: National Park Service

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Rustic cabin at the Scenic State Park in Minnesota.
Photo: National Park Service

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Floor plan, Minnesota cabin.
Image: National Park Service

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Side elevation, Minnesota cabin.
Image: National Park Service

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Section through a rustic cabin at the Scenic State Park in Minnesota.
Image: National Park Service

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Patterns from the Golden Age of Rustic Design.
Image: Roberts Rinehart


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