A Tiny Cor-Ten Steel Cabin Is in Perfect Sync With the Surrounding Woods

A Tiny Cor-Ten Steel Cabin Is in Perfect Sync With the Surrounding Woods

By Melissa Dalton
Winkelman Architecture delivers grown-up summer-camp vibes with this unassuming retreat on the coast of Maine.

The key to this project was not overdoing it. "For a long time, we actually called it the Far Bedroom," says architect Joanna Shaw of Winkelman Architecture, and the end result—the 570-square-foot Far Cabin in Mid-Coast, Maine—doesn’t stray far from the original plan with just a bedroom, bathroom, and screened porch.

The clients, a couple with two children, have a longstanding tradition of spending summers here. They asked for a modest, remote retreat that friends and extended family could also use when visiting the area. Winkelman Architecture crafted a compact cabin that treads lightly on the wooded coast using materials that will patina over time to better reflect the natural surroundings.

The Far Cabin by Winkelman Architecture is set on the forested coast of Maine.

The 570-square-foot cabin has 420 square feet of interior living space and a 150-square-foot screened porch. Cor-Ten steel wraps the building, which also has a planted roof.

Sited on a rock ledge, the Far Cabin’s screened porch cantilevers over the forest floor for a tree house effect.

The design process started with walking through the property to identify the perfect site. "One obvious move might be to find the place with the best ocean view and plop something down that’s big enough for everybody," says Shaw. "But that felt just too cumbersome on the land." 

Instead, the team noted areas that should be left untouched—the water’s edge, rock outcroppings, stands of trees—so that the owners could later appreciate them from afar. Thanks to the cabin’s large windows, glass doors, and screened porch, the forest seems to "flow through" the building in an unencumbered way.

The materials were kept simple: a foundation of board-formed concrete that reveals the wood grain of the boards used to make it, Cor-Ten steel siding that will develop a characterful patina, and rafters made of hemlock, a local species. "In terms of materials, we wanted the full exterior of the building to be something that would weather gracefully, that required very little maintenance, and that had a long life cycle," says Shaw.

Inside, there’s similarly understated material palette with concrete floors, plaster walls, and exposed hemlock rafters at the ceiling.

The window seat can also double as a bed. "It's particularly long, which was so that an adult can sleep there, or two kids could comfortably cozy up and sleep there," says Shaw, noting that it’s tucked around the corner from the bed for privacy.

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For the interior, Winkelman Architecture considered "somebody’s ritual habits of waking up, what they do during the day, and going to sleep," and devised a restrained floor plan in accordance.

Measuring 150 square feet, the screened porch comprises over a quarter of the living space. It evolved "not so much out of the original program, but out of us spending time on the site," recalls Shaw. It allows the inhabitants to enjoy the outdoors without being feasted upon by black flies and mosquitoes, and provides another sleeping area in warmer months. Views of the ocean filter through the trees.

Streamlined birch plywood cabinetry and a maple butcher-block counter forms the kitchenette, which isn’t intended for extensive meal prep. The building is a blend of "a bedroom and camping," says Shaw, which means much of the cooking and cleaning happens outside.

A pair of double doors leads to the large screened porch. At the ceiling, rafters underscore the skylight, casting shadows that mark the passage of the sun.

The screened porch "added even more flexibility to how [the clients] would be spending time there," says Shaw, and immerses them in the forest setting with providing protection from the bugs, including Maine’s notorious black flies.

From the streamlined exterior that gently weathers over time to the play of shadows cast by the rafters, everything about the cabin is designed to keep its inhabitants in sync with the natural world.

"In a place that’s so remote and tucked away, it’s this really beautiful, graphic way of being in touch with nature changing," says Shaw.

The door to the bathroom has a steel detail that recalls the exterior. "It's the only interior door in this little micro-building," says Shaw. "Therefore, we felt like it couldn't just be a door; it had to be, in a sense, like a piece of furniture."

In the bathroom, a concrete sink basin and shelf cast by a local artisan sits over a birch vanity.

The outdoor shower is in constant use and was a request from the clients. It’s accessed through the indoor shower.

The firm wanted the materiality of the cabin to be "in harmony with the site," says Shaw. "So, that over time, the building could weather gracefully and the site around it would change, and they would do so in tandem."

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