Jacob Witzling’s Off-Grid Cabins Are Straight Out of a Fairy Tale
"I get my design inspiration from cabins of the past, from the world of fantasy both in movies and books, and in that childlike part of my imagination that I’m continually trying to preserve," says Jacob Witzling.
Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design
In his last two years of high school in New Hampshire, 16-year-old Witzling lived in a 1920s cabin that was tucked away in the woods near his parent’s house. "I’d do laundry, shower and have dinner there before finding my way back to where I really lived," he says. "Inside was a wood stove that I fed and stoked through the harsh winter nights. I had my freedom and my fire. They were all I needed to be happy."
Fifteen years later, at 22, using scraps scavenged from construction sites and upcycled lumber, he built his very first cabin for just $800—and lived in it for the next three years. To date, Witzling, who is now 35, has built five one-of-a-kind cabins, and is currently driving his latest creation—a truck cabin—around the United States with his life partner, model and actress Sara Underwood.
"I started building cabins because, like lots of kids, I loved forts and Ewoks," says Witzling, who recalls being captivated by his architect and engineer father’s favorite book, Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art. "I always wanted to live in a cool-looking fairy tale house, like a hobbit."
Continues Witzling, "I read that as a kid, and imagined living in one of those houses myself someday. I would gaze at the pictures from inside my blanket fort, and daydream about building one of my own. The uniqueness and zero restriction of the handmade home is what inspires me to create these livable sculptures from sustainable and local materials."
"I realized that they were not flawlessly constructed, and that if I tried, maybe I would be able to build one of my own," says Witzling. "I just needed the property." Serendipitously, his friends purchased a few acres of land near where he lived. Witzling came up with a proposal they could not refuse—he would pay for the materials and labor to build a cabin on their property if they would let him live in it for three years after. His friends agreed, and Witzling’s first cabin project was underway.
All of his homes are built off the electric grid, with no running water, and designed to be powered by a 12-volt D/C system using deep cycle batteries. Drinking, cooking, and bathing water is collected from a well, and a composting toilet is located in a separate outhouse structure.
Most of Witzling's cabins are built as a barter for land, similar to the arrangement under which he built his first: "I provide the labor in exchange for years of access after the completion of the structure. One cabin I built with my brother just for fun. My most recent cabin I built for friends, and the Truck Cabin was built just for Sara and myself."
Right now, Witzling and Underwood are in the process of purchasing land in the Pacific Northwest, where they plan to build what they’re tentatively calling CABINLAND. "On this stunning property with trees, creeks, and views of the mountains, we’ll be building around six unique cabins connected by an intricate trail system that runs throughout the property," he says.
"It’s ironic that the surge in the popularity of cabins has been brought on by technology," says Witzling. "Social media and smart phones have made millions of people—who weren’t previously aware that these types of homes existed, or that this lifestyle was possible—thirst for a slower life surrounded by simple, beautiful things."
Below, we take a look at the whimsical cabins of Jacob Witzling.
Built with a 100-percent salvaged materials, this cabin even features nails and screws gathered from job sites, garbage piles, and a local reuse store.
Built with wood salvaged from a dilapidated warehouse, this cabin has a 200-square-foot cruciform base and a 90-square-foot loft.
This cabin has a 135-square-foot octagonal base and an octagonal pyramid roof. It was built with plenty of help from Witzling's lifelong friend Wesley Daughenbaugh.
"The roof design was an eccentric experiment that would later become the inspiration for the roof of the truck cabin. This cabin was made with help from my brother Ethan Hamby," says Witzling.
Built on a 200-square-foot base with 25-square-foot alcoves on each side, this cabin was built with help from Witzling’s brother Ethan Hamby and his childhood friend Scott Pearson.
The Truck Cabin
Built on a 1979 Ford F-250 with help from Witzling’s partner Sara Underwood, this cabin has a 40-square-foot base, and a 20-square-foot loft.