Life has a weird way of connecting the dots. I had the good fortune of befriending the masterful Canadian craftsman Peter Long via our Instagram page. He's the face behind @VagabondPapa and @CabinTherapy. Pete's skilled hands and friendly demeanor has lead him to creating a slew of AirBnB cabins that are off the grid, breathtaking and designed to reset you.
I had the pleasure of taking a moment with Pete to ask him some questions on the cabin build process. Once you're done with me picking his brain, check out his Instagram accounts for yourself and see the wonderful world of carpentry. He also has killer sideburns.
1. How did you get into building cabins?
I had been involved in building custom energy efficient/eco homes, often big beautiful places with fat budgets. It was great work, lots of variety. But I never felt that thrilled about the end result. They were lovely, but often soulless. Then, around '09, I took a job building a relatively small house far out in farm country. It was off-grid, on a gravel road a few miles from the closest town.
I opted to live on-site for almost 5 months. It was summer, and the air was great. I was hooked: the open air, living very simply, building this beautifully designed, small off-grid house. It all clicked. Cabins are the purest form of simple living away from the gravity of modern cities I can think of.
And, I like the challenges inherent in working off-grid, of creatively solving problems without being able to scurry off to the box store for help.
So, here I am.
2. What materials are your favorite to work with?
That depends on the design style of the project: North Americans tend to think of cabins as being warm and woodsy, with lots of exposed, clear-finished, warm-toned wood, the most iconic being a dark log cabin. Scandinavians on the other hand tend to like their woodwork to be lighter, often painted. European tastes are somewhere between.
For warm-toned, clear-finished work, I tend to lean toward the west coast natives: salvaged old-growth Douglas fir and western red cedar are so beautiful, and great to work with, but can be hard to find excellent quality wood these days. Eastern spruce and eastern white cedar are their counterparts locally, so that's what I count on using if exposed materials are in the plan. For woodwork or walls that'll be stained, whitewashed or painted, pine or spruce have many advantages.
For myself, one of the keys to making small spaces feel larger is to use beautiful materials and a variety of surface textures intentionally, to be features that engage people through sight, touch, smell, even sound. Smooth wood. Rough wood. Steel. Bronze. Slate. I've used all of these.
3. What cabin design is your favorite?
The next one.
4. You said your sister-in-law is an architect. Has her profession influenced your work and design?
We have very similar tastes in architecture, so I suppose Lisa's greatest influence on my work has been to prod me away from mediocrity: As a builder, it's especially tempting to design something that you know will be simple to build, and that simplicity typically ends up looking really conventional. I get bored easily, so I try to avoid conventional if at all possible.
6. What is a style of cabin that you want to work on that you haven't yet?
Even though I'm generally drawn to more contemporary/modern designs, I have dreamed of doing a fire tower cabin. I've got pages of sketches and doodles of them. The logistics of building one would be a fantastic challenge, too.
7. What is it about fire towers that are so enchanting? Is it the limitless views? The 1940s architecture? The history?
Yes to all. There's so much going on in one place, basically covering the wish-list for the almost-perfect cabin: huge views, tons of natural light, remote, small but self sufficient, out of reach of bears or zombies or irritating neighbors, a really exciting place to be in a thunderstorm.
8. Boxers or briefs?
9. What is the most challenging aspect of building these cabins?
There are lots of challenges, some less fun than others. Squaring the available dollars with the dreams of the client is the first hurdle for some, for others its simple indecisiveness that idles the process. Once the ball is rolling, though, and I'm on site, there's not much that isn't enjoyable in some way, even if it's just solving problems. Being creative and flexible goes a long way to not getting bogged down by the multitude of things that pop up in your path along the way.
10. When are you getting your US green card and going to build me a cabin?
Talk to me in 4 years....
11. Bonus Question: What advice can you offer to someone thinking seriously about building a cabin of their own?
To not wait for the right time. Figure out a way, and do it. It’s always going to be hard — in some ways that’s the best part about it all. To focus on what you are willing to give up to make it happen. Be brave. Push yourself.
The experience and the memories of the process are the ones that reward us and stick with us as gifts in life