A Compact Prefab Cabin Draws In Spectacular Valley Views

This economical and eco-friendly 725-square-foot cabin is a cozy retreat in rural New Zealand.
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During a drive from Auckland to Wellington, Ainsley O’Connell and Barry Copeland spotted the perfect piece of land for a rural holiday cabin. Set high above the remote town of Taihape in the the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, the 1,000-square-foot plot was a former vegetable garden for the local market, sporting captivating views of the rural landscape and town lights below.

The AB Cabin is set in the middle of high country with Mount Ruapehu to the north and the Ruahine Ranges to the south. The building takes inspiration from the surrounding timber-framed houses and metal-clad farm buildings.

The couple, both architects, camped on the site to immerse themselves in the "constantly changing light and atmospheric conditions" before designing the cabin—a process that involved the creation of over 20 models before they settled on the design of a tiny prefabricated cabin inspired by the local rural vernacular.  

Set on a southeast-facing slope, the AB Cabin is fitted with double-glazed windows that frame views of the town of Taihape and rolling hills beyond.

"One of the biggest challenges was the distance from Auckland," notes Copeland of the five-hour journey. "We decided to design a prefabricated building to reduce the build time and thus make the process easier to control from a distance."

With the help of local builder Daniel Crimp and his team, the couple also used the project as an opportunity to experiment with cross-laminated timber panels for the first time.

Concrete blocks lead up to an elevated timber deck with a sliding aluminum entrance door.

"The project became a prototype for using this system for future multi-unit housing projects," explains Copeland of the AB Cabin project. "There is a great shortage of affordable housing in New Zealand at the moment. An attraction was that the timber is all locally grown and then made into cross-laminated panels in Nelson, which is in the north of New Zealand’s South Island."

AB Cabin panel construction diagrams

The precision-made, pre-coded XLam panels were delivered flat-packed to the site and assembled on site in just two days atop a grid of supporting timber posts. After the aluminum windows were installed, the weatherproof shell was ready for internal finishing and cladding in just over a week.

Designed to sleep eight, the flexible cabin can be used as a quiet retreat for the couple or a gathering place for family and friends.

To keep focus on the natural surroundings, the couple opted for a simple mono-pitched form clad in corrugated metal siding. The inclusion of a double-height living room, large projecting windows, as well as minimalist yet cozy interior decor make the light-filled, 725-square-foot cabin feel much larger than its size suggests.

The focal point of the living room is the large southeasterly projecting window that frames views of the town, Hautapu River, and the Ruahine Range.

A wood-burning stove keeps the well-insulated cabin warm in winter. To the right is the alternating tread staircase that leads to the mezzanine.

At the heart of the cabin is an open-plan living room, dining area, and kitchen. Above is the mezzanine with the bedroom and a flexible loft space with an observation turret that faces southeast.

Pallets, packing fillets, and cross-laminated timber factory offcuts were repurposed as joinery fittings, including the doors, cupboards and countertops in the kitchen.

The simple kitchen is located beneath the mezzanine. The dining tabletop was made from a cross-laminated timber off cut, while the bench, which was designed and built by O’Connell, can be transformed into a double bed.

Although the cabin is five hours from their home in Auckland, O’Connell and Copeland have made frequent trips to their getaway, which has also hosted their three adult children. 

A glimpse inside the main bedroom. Cross-laminated timber lines the walls, ceilings, and floors to create a "solid, warm enclosure," shares the couple. "The use of exposed structural panels significantly reduced the number of components and waste from finishing trades."

The loft space includes a raised area that can be used as a desk or a platform for a double mattress. The observation turret lets in natural light and frames views of the town to the east.

From their cozy abode above Taihape, Copeland shares: "We see the lights at night, hear the trains on the main trunk line, and the neighbors share walnuts, quinces, peacharines and hospitality."

"When we bought the property it was so inexpensive that we had naturally assumed that it would be off-grid," says Copeland. "But it turned out that some wastewater drainage had recently been installed by the local authority and that powerlines were close by."

AB Cabin site plan

AB Cabin floor plans

AB Cabin form design diagrams

AB Cabin sections

AB Cabin section


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