How a Talented Architect Makes an RV Look Like a Charming Cabin in the Woods

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exterior photo

The tiny house movement has become a big thing as more and more people try to live with a smaller financial, environmental and physical footprint. As Alek Lisefski noted in his Tiny Project, it's about less house and more life.

Park Model RVs and the Law

It's also about laws that regulate what can go down a road, what can go on a property under zoning bylaws, what code it gets built under. That's why so many of the tiny houses are under 8'-6" wide and weigh less than 10,000 pounds so that they can go down the road towed by a private car and be classed as a Recreational Vehicle, or RV. Historically, people would take their little RVs and go to RV parks, where they remain on their chassis but get hooked up to water and sewer. But they didn't move very much, and people would put down roots and need a little more space. So a new standard was developed, the Park Model RV, that could be up to 400 square feet in the USA, with an ANSI standard specification for safety that makes it harder for the self-build types to qualify.

porch photo

Escape/ Canoe Bay

Cottage Inspired RV

400 square feet doesn't sound like much but it's bigger than many one-bedroom apartments; you can build a really nice little house at that size. Architect Kelly Davis, Principal Emeritus at SALA, who has been doing stunning little cottages and cabins for years, designed the ESCAPE for Dan Dobrowolski, owner of a resort in Wisconsin called Canoe Bay, and who is offering it for sale starting at $79,000. It doesn't feel at all like an RV.

living room photo

Escape/ Canoe Bay

"ESCAPE was conceived as a high-quality cottage, not an RV. Inspired by All-American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated attention to detail and appreciation of nature, every element of the ESCAPE has been finished to the highest quality standards, featuring cedar lap siding, LED lighting, Energy Star appliances and much more. With remarkable architectural detail and beautiful furnishings, this is hardly your standard RV, but rather an object of repose that enhances the beauty of any natural setting."

escape plan image

Escape/ Canoe Bay

There are so many trade-offs a designer has to weigh when putting something like this together. The 14' width permits a nicely designed bathroom beside the bedroom but limits the length to 28' if one is going to stay under the American 400 square foot limit. This pretty much eliminates the possibility of a kitchen other than a linear unit along the wall, but it feels spacious and the kitchen is certainly adequate.

escape bedroom photo

Escape/ Canoe Bay

All the interior wood finishing is standard, as is the cathedral ceiling and all the other nice architectural touches. The builder blurbs:

"Become one with nature with virtually no carbon footprint: The ESCAPE is an incredibly green and environmentally friendly living solution. It is constructed entirely of recyclable or sustainable growth materials and consumes very little power."

Update on Insulation

In the original version of this post I complained about the level of insulation and questioned the size of its footprint, but in fact, the information on the website is out of date, and the unit actually has R28 walls, R40 floors, and R48 ceilings, and it is pretty much heated by its sealed combustion fireplace. This is a very high standard in such a small unit. The website is being updated appropriately. Dan Dobrowolski tells me that:

"The unit at Canoe Bay is heated by a sealed combustion, high-efficiency fireplace....there is no furnace. No one has opted for a furnace. The fireplace is rated at over 90% efficient and even through this brutal winter - our temps have consistently been -20 to -35 below zero - the fireplace has easily heated ESCAPE and saved us plenty of money. Remarkably better than even we expected."

Smart Senior Living Option

The owner of the eco-park where the Sustain MiniHome has landed loves this thing and pointed it out to me as a great design. He says all these designs we show with lofts and ladders don't work for a lot of people, particularly older ones, and that the wider and shorter dimensions make it seem much less like a trailer, and more like a cabin. I have to agree.

escape kitchen

Escape/ Canoe Bay

For both downsizing boomers and young people starting out, the Park Model RV in the appropriate park is a real alternative to conventional housing, an alternative to sprawl. in her article How the trailer park could save us all, Lisa Margonelli writes about their use as seniors' housing:

"Among seniors’ living options, there is one we overlook: mobile homes. Time-tested, inhabited by no fewer than three million seniors already, but notoriously underloved, manufactured-homes can provide organic communities and a lifestyle that is healthy, affordable, and green, and not incidentally, fun. But in order to really see their charms, we need to change a mix of bad policies and prejudice."

Kelly Davis has designed the un-trailer that anyone could love. Put it in the right place and we are really on to something.

winter photo

Escape/ Canoe Bay