9 “Before & After” Cabin Renovations That Will Make You Look Twice

9 “Before & After” Cabin Renovations That Will Make You Look Twice

By Melissa Dalton
From salvaged A-frames to revamped desert dwellings, these transformations will give you cabin fever—in a good way.

Searching for inspiration to modernize a rustic cabin? Let these projects be your guide.

A Couple Buy a Collapsing Cabin For $7K in Joshua Tree and Revamp it Into a Desert Oasis

Before: The 480-square-foot cabin was constructed in 1957 and had fallen into disrepair in later years.

This Joshua Tree cabin only cost Kathrin and Brian Smirke $7,000—and there was a reason for its low price tag. The abandoned 1957 structure was in a decayed state and needed to be completely gutted. The couple took on all the work themselves, from demo to framing, plumbing, electrical, design, and interior build-out.

After: The Smirkes designed the kitchen cabinets and had the boxes and doors made at a small cabinet shop in L.A. They also formed and poured the concrete countertops themselves and constructed the floating shelves with leftover clear pine and plywood.

In outfitting the 480-square-foot abode, they preserved a little bit of local history: the homestead cabin is one of many scattered throughout the area as a result of the Small Tract Act of 1938, wherein the government sold off small parcels of federal land.

A Riverside Cabin in Oregon Gets a Blindingly Bright Renovation 

Before: The previous owners had spruced up the cabin, so it was in fine condition—and the bones were there when the couple bought it.

Sometimes you just know when you’ve found the "one." Such was the case for Karie Higgins when she first visited this midcentury cabin on the bank of the Wilson River, outside Tillamook, Oregon. "I thought I was going to start crying because I felt, ‘This is the place.’ We're standing on the deck, the river was right there and I thought, ‘This is literally heaven,’" says Karie.

After: Karie and Lee, a Footwear Designer at Nike, applied several coats of "the brightest generic factory white (basically primer)," says Karie, to lighten up the interior considerably. They left the wood window trim in its natural state to draw the eye toward the river view.

The 1,057-square-foot cabin had two bedrooms, a bathroom, and plenty of deck space for relaxing riverside. The interior just needed a refresh. "The natural light was amazing in the great room, but it was really just a matter of brightening it up and removing some of the heavier elements to make it feel more spacious," says Karie. A coat of white primer and a load of stylish accessories did the trick.

A Dreary Woodland Cabin Gets a Sparkling Update for $20K

Before: The kitchen was marked by linoleum flooring and upper and lower wood cabinetry.

"We’ve always had a dream of owning and renovating a cabin in the woods," says interior designer Hope Mendes. "A place where we could take our kids when we need to get away from the hustle and bustle of our work lives." A 700-square-foot cabin in Cobb, California, proved the perfect fit for that ambition.

After: Hope replaced the upper wood cabinets with open shelving and painted the lower cabinets a shade of gray-green. The couple removed the linoleum floors and refinished the wood underneath.

Hope and her husband Tom embarked on a budget overhaul (keeping costs at $20,000 total) to update the cabin without compromising its innate charm. They power-washed the wood siding to help it blend into the forest, swapped the dated linoleum for wood floors, and painted the walls a warm white that highlights the preserved wood ceilings.

An Interior Designer Rescues a California Desert Cabin From Drab Finishes

Before: The previous renovation left the kitchen with an orange ceiling, lousy lighting, and a bullnose granite countertop.

When remodeling a 700-square-foot cabin in Yucca Valley, California, interior designer Natalie Myers sought to subvert expectations. "I wanted to get away from the rustic-chic design sensibility expected in the area," says Natalie.

After: Natalie loved the original painted metal kitchen cabinets, which she elevated with gray leather drawer pulls. She also removed the upper cabinets from the wall and added a patterned tile backsplash that extends to the ceiling. She removed the kitchen island, making room for a dining room table, and replaced the ceiling light with an Orikata Saucer pendant light from Room & Board.

First, the designer needed to reverse the results of an uninspired flip, which wasn’t doing the cabin any favors. Myers introduced personality with a patterned tile backsplash and terrazzo counters in the kitchen, and stripped out laminate flooring to reveal the concrete beneath, which brings everything together.

An A-Frame Cabin Boasts Serious Scandinavian Vibes  

Before: Before the remodel, the kitchen was significantly smaller.

After Kara inherited an A-frame cabin built by her grandfather 30 years ago on 20 acres near Utah’s Uinta National forest, she gave the structure a loving makeover for the next generation. To do so, she relocated the kitchen for better function and flow, balanced the abundance of wood with white paint to brighten up the interior, and chose furnishings that give off a more airy feel.

After: Light streams through the full-glass frontage to brighten the lofted lounge area.

"A-Frame Haus is an homage to my grandfather, and a second home to all who enter through its doors," says Kara. "We took the incredible work he had already put into it, and did our best to improve."

A Rundown Cabin Is Reborn as a Chic Residence and Retreat

Before: The dining area was very dark and cramped.

This 1970s-era, cedar-clad cabin in Whistler, Canada, was in such dire shape that its newest owners thought it would need to be torn down. However, Stark Architecture had a different idea.

After: Floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, with interesting views from every angle.

The firm suggested renovating the original structure and building a new addition— a "modern box"—which would be connected to the original home with a double-height, window-wrapped vestibule. The firm kept nods to the old, like angled wood ceiling beams, while binding everything together with a standing-seam metal facade.

A Creative Couple Revive a 1950s Cabin in the Catskills

Before: The original living room was very traditional with a wood stove that felt too large for the space. The previous owner had tried to open up a wall, but the intervention was shoddily executed. "It was a deductive process of stripping things back to see what was actually needed," says Lauren.

Upon purchasing a neglected 1950s cabin in the Sullivan Catskills, an NYC-based creative couple—Lauren’s a design director and architect, and Michael’s a creative director—got to work. The petite cabin needed structural repairs, insulation for better energy efficiency, and an updated kitchen and bath.

After: The team leveled the floors and brought the stairs up to code. A NextGen-Fyre wood stove by Lopi feels much more appropriate for the room’s proportions.

They removed drywall and integrated painted tongue-and-groove paneling to make the interior more cohesive, and fine-tuned other elements, like the wood stove and kitchen, to let the 700-square-foot space sing. "People looking for second homes usually want something larger, but small spaces speak to us," says Lauren.

Two Interior Designers Spruce Up Their Canadian Cottage

Before: After purchasing the property, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan realized they’d essentially bought what they refer to as a "slanty shanty"—part dilapidated cottage, and part petting zoo complete with mice, squirrels, beavers, and raccoons living in the quarters.

When interior designers and TV show hosts Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan realized how much work their 1987 cottage in Haliburton, Ontario, would need, they gave it a nickname: the "slanty shanty."

After: New glazing allows light to penetrate the interior.

The cottage was dilapidated and populated with an assortment of pests, so the couple gave it a top-to-bottom overhaul that involved replacing the roof, lifting the home, and digging a new foundation. Now warm wood lines the ceiling and floors, and a timeless black-and-white scheme shines throughout.

A 1970s A-Frame Cabin in Big Bear Is Brought Back to Life

Before: A look at the dated interior.

This classic A-frame in Big Bear, California, was a 1970s time capsule when Courtney Poulos bought it. With only five weeks and a $40,000 budget, Courtney was determined to give the home a modern refresh. "We wanted to create a handsome space full of butterscotch and whiskey undertones, dark woods, and light accents," she says.

After: Thanks to a coat of paint and new appliances and furnishings, the 880-square-foot space maintains its cozy cabin vibes while also feeling fresh and new.

Courtney did just that, balancing the preserved structure with new fixtures and furniture—and she learned a valuable lesson along the way. "You don’t necessarily need to limit your creativity to a conventional cabin design," she says.

Related Reading:

36 Stunning "Before & After" Modern Home Renovations

101 of the Best Modern Cabins

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