Wisconsin's Secluded Glass Cabins

Inside Candlewood Cabins' one-of-a-kind Ocooch Mountains retreats
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As Thanksgiving approaches, we’re dreaming of getaways — à deux getaways, that is. Yes, we all agree that family is important. We love them unconditionally. But sometimes the idea of spending four days inside with all your closest relatives just sounds… unsavory. A compelling alternative? The Meadow House. 

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In the Ocooch Mountains of southwest Wisconsin, Norbert and Susan Calnin have lived on 80 acres of former farmland for the past 30 or so years. What began in the 90s as a way to make use of Norbert’s brother’s recently vacated cabin has since turned into Candlewood Cabins — a set of four carefully built, rustic oases dispersed among the land for optimum privacy. Want to spend a night in the Hillside Cabin, the Log Cabin, the Glass House, or the Meadow House? Well, time to plan in advance. Most of these are booked up more than a year in advance. And the Calnins are more surprised by that fact than anyone.

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"I hate to say it," says Norbert, "but this whole thing is almost like a fluke. We never anticipated the amount of traffic we have. We were just onto something without being aware of it — at least in the Midwest. People in the cities are so into being in their offices, into being online all the time, that they need a break from that part of their lives. What we do here has appealed to them. We happened to be in the right place at the right time."

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'Fluke' isn’t even the right word — we’d call it something more nuanced. Along the lines of 'organic luck,' maybe? Back when the Calnins started advertising the property as a bucolic getaway, the Internet wasn’t even a thing yet; they relied on printed brochures. The first time a guest came to stay, they hand wrote them a letter after their stay as a show of thanks for thinking of Candlewood. As word of mouth spread, there came a time when too many people were trying to make reservations for just the Hillside Cabin; Norbert and Susan had to turn people down. As a solution, they built the Log Cabin; when there were too many for both, they built the Glass House, which they listed on their website in 2009. And it took a couple years for buzz about it to spread, but when it did, business skyrocketed.

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In our age of social media, one callout about the Glass House (pictured above) on Travel Wisconsin’s website earlier this summer had the likes of Cabin Porn and Vogue scrambling for more. And then the requests for reservations started pouring in with the force of Niagara Falls. The Glass House, says Susan, is booked every day it’s open from April through November and every weekend is booked a year in advance. (A little context: in 2010, they had somewhere between six and nine weekends booked.)

And so the Meadow House, the latest addition to the Calnins’ arsenal of dream getaways, is a direct result of the Glass House’s unprecedented success.

Despite the exponential increase in business, Candlewood remains a mom and pop operation. Norbert and Susan still live on the property, as do Norbert’s parents. Susan continues to maintain and clean the cabins between reservations, and she and Norbert greet all the guests personally. Norbert built the Log Cabin and the Glass House entirely himself and was the general contractor for the Meadow House. Candlewood is very much theirs; something that's apparent in every detail.

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After all, they’re not doing any of this with the aim of making millions and having other people take care of the nitty-gritty; the Calnins started Candlewood with the simple aim of making payments for their property taxes. "We could build five more of these cabins and be successful," says Norbert, but they have no plans for doing any such thing. For them, what’s meaningful has nothing to do with money — it’s with providing people with a place where, even for a weekend, they feel like its their own. Packing dozens of cabins onto the property would detract from their draw; walking around naked in your glass-walled getaway is slightly less appealing when your neighbor is peering at you from 30 feet away. Privacy is key. Privacy, and that sense of waking up with the sun, wandering out onto your porch, and feeling like there’s no one else in the world.

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"People aren’t just reconnecting with nature," says Norbert. "Here, it’s as much about the outside as it is the inside. People are reconnecting with each other. After they stay here, we see so many comments about people having conversations again that matter. And that’s what’s meaningful."

So that settles it — you'll know where to find us next Thanksgiving. [H]

Originally Published at Huckberry.com

Words by Liv Combe. Photos courtesy of Candlewood Cabins

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