So we've been thinking of building a cabin up in the high hills of New Mexico. Through happenstance, we stumbled upon the Sacramento Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. Originally, we thought we'd build R.M. Schindler's log cabin; however, given the lack of windows and head-knockingly short ceiling heights (and an unwillingness to build something simply inspired by his design), we drifted toward prefab, specifically Rocio Romero's LV Home. We thought prefab anticipating the lack of willingness of a local builder to tackle a modern design in the upper hinterlands. Therefore, we approached Cloudcroft looking for lots/land to accommodate the LV.
Because we were looking for a lot to possibly build a Rocio Romero, our lot looking was biased toward lots where a Romero would work. This is bass ackwards in that one should find a cool lot and then design a house to fit the lot; however, the Romero, with it’s privacy protecting facade and uninhibited backside, is a readymade design for a scenic rural space along a roadway.
While the Romero would be a great place, there are several things that work against it: (1) it’s not designed specifically for the location; (2) the design forces some functions, namely the kitchen and the bathrooms, particularly the windows, to work within the footprint and aesthetic concept of the building (not that we are opposed to that); (3) the realization that, outside all odds, there’s a builder there familiar with contemporary architecture; and (4) wouldn’t it be fun as hell to build something custom? These are enough things to consider building from scratch and keep the Romero as a Plan B.
Indeed, there is a builder in Cloudcroft (married to an architect) that builds contemporary homes as well as retail buildings: Green Mountain Construction. This removes one primary concern: a builder that understands and is willing to build modern. So the next question is, what does this custom cabin look like?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible design of this cabin. Helps me sleep at night (’cause I sleep like a baby when I dream of architecture...). Although I had sincere hopes of just letting an architect run loose on the project, I’m finding that I can’t. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe its not. We'll see. But here are my thoughts nonetheless.
I’ve been thinking about three morphologies (if that’s the proper term): (1) a minimal mass, (2) three volumes connected with bridges, and (3) three distinct volumes huddled together. I’ve seen precedents of all three, so perhaps they are doable. In all cases, the street-side of the cabin is private (and holds service space) while the far side is open to embrace the forest. One key thing that I mentioned to an architect friend is that we want someone passing by it to think "What in the hell?!?!"
the minimal mass
The cube appears in many projects I’ve seen over the years, the concept being: start with a cube and then subtract volumes to achieve programmatic goals. Pros for this approach is that it minimizes foundation area (cheaper), minimizes impact on the lot, and keeps things cozy. Cons are that there may be programmatic compromises to maintain the cubic purity, it would require stairs (not a deal killer, but could limit our use of it as we age [although one could argue that if we cant walk up a flight of stairs, maybe we shouldn’t be up in the mountains anyway...]). A simple geometric volume checks the same boxes as a cube.
Not a cube, but a simple geometric volume.
Minimal. A treasure box cracked open...
Longtime favorite: a small house in Houston. Love the material choices.
Three volumes connected by glass bridges comes from seeing a cabin with multiple volumes (all of them cubes, it just so happens) and talking about the project with an architect friend (who suggested a bridge to the house). In this concept there are three volumes: (1) entry/kitchen/dining/living, (2) guest/bath, and (3) master. Each volume is connected by a bridge that follows the private/open stance of the volumes. Pros include that the volumes are not volume restricted and can reflect the program (and in fact look better if each one is different: a big one for the entry/kitchen/living/dining, a small one for the guest, and a medium one for the master), the volumes are somewhat isolated from each other (better sound control), and each would have its own private terrace/deck to the forest/outdoors. Cons include a more complicated foundation (higher cost), more articulation (higher cost), higher utilities. Another plus on the Bridges concept is that I haven't seen an exact precedent yet. The examples below are masses connected by external hallways (or simply walkways).
I had been thinking about this morphology when spookily an almost exact representation of the street presence of what I had dreamed about appeared on my Facebook feed. This calls for three abstract volumes glommed together in an orgy of abstract objects. This fulfills a “requirement” that the cabin invoke a “What the hell is that?!?” response from passersby. Pros include not having all those dang bridges and having the volumes respond to the program (as long as the program doesn’t interfere with the abstractness of it all). Cons include a more complicated foundation, more articulation, more attention to detail and smooth surfaces on the front, and listening to people hooting and hollering from the street (”What in Sam Hell!?!?!!).
I dreamt about this house before I saw it...
Freakin' love this, probably more because of the Schindleresque aesthetics than anything.
Huddles on steroids!
At this point, of the three, I’m favoring Bridges, probably because thats the most recent one I’ve been thinking of. It could be that budget ultimately decides, although it may be possible to design in a way that other costs are minimized to make any of these possible. We shall see...
Another thought we had was to have an architect develop a master site plan that includes a separate and self-contained guest cottage. We could build and use the guest cottage in the short term until we can pull off and build the cabin. And we could live in the cottage while the cabin was being built, say, after we truly retire.
So many possibilities and options. We can dream, can’t we?
We found an intriguing lot that is in town but on a corner such that it backs up to National forest on two sides:
Possible view from "the back porch".
Looking up the hill toward the street entrance.