Thoughtful Tiny House in the Woods Cost Under $14K to Build

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Tiny house in the woods
Politaire / André Boettcher

Once upon a time, two college students spent a school break on a fishing trip in rural Finland. At some point, the idea came up of building a small lakeside retreat of their own – an idea that morphed into a plan later than night over beers in the sauna.

Now of course this could go in all kinds of wrong directions, but in the hands of our heroes here, Timm Bergmann and Jonas Becker, the result was a marvelous minimalist cabin of 280-square-foot. And remarkably, one in which respect for nature was taken into consideration with every decision.

"We wanted to test our knowledge of the first years in university and thought it would be a great chance," Bergmann (an architecture student) and Becker (an urban design student), told Dwell.

They found a perfect lakeside site for lease; mostly forest which opened into a glade, meaning they would not have to fell any trees. There was also a distinct lack of electricity, running water, and road access – which necessitated some creative planning.

"We got inspired by various other architecture projects which treated the surrounding nature in a gentle way," the duo told Treehugger. "For us the nature, landscape, or simply the outside of the house is the most important thing."

"It is a very special place between two different kinds of forests of pine and birch trees. So our first mission in designing the house was to keep as much trees and wildlife as possible," they added.

First things first, how to get supplies to the site, given the lack of road? No problem, just build a 650-foot-long elevated pathway to the nearest road.

Building the Base

finnish cabin

André Boettcher / Politaire

For the foundation, they filled steel pipes with concrete and anchored them into the bedrock, the most eco-friendly solution they could find for building on swampy terrain. They specifically decided against a traditional concrete foundation since one of their main missions was that the cabin could be "erased" from the site if need be.

"But not only constructing the cabin eco-friendly was important," they told us. "We also designed the cabin that tearing it down (not soon gonna happen) would not leave any traces and there is no issue about renaturation."

"Building the house in such a way that nature can revive and that we are not dominating the place," was crucial, they emphasized.

Choosing the Right Materials

finish cabin in the woods
The double-layered metal sheeting for fire protection is not pictured here.

André Boettcher / Politaire

Given the importance of treading lightly on the land, they built the house off-site at Bergmann’s grandparents’ nearby farm. They constructed 17 frames of local wood, each one weighing less than 220 pounds so that they could be carried along the walkway. And we love this: They got the furniture first – from Germany (where they attended school) and from the grandparent's farm – and designed the house to fit around it.

"Wood was and is the perfect material for us to fulfill our requirements for building environmentally friendly," they said. The structure is insulated with local recycled newspaper and covered with 18-millimeter pine plywood sheets. And like good students, they made sure that the house received building permission and approval, and meets fire regulations.

Making the Right Plan

finnish cabin

André Boettcher / Politaire

The plan is beautiful and succinct, as it was designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind. The entrance leads to the kitchen, a bedroom, and a sauna. Because what else does one need? (There is a composting toilet in a separate outhouse.)

"This motto we kept in mind when we started the concept of the house. What do we really need to be happy? For example, do we really need to have two big separate rooms for eating and relaxing or can it be one combined in the kitchen? In the end, we came up with a design of four rooms on less than 26 square meters [280 square feet] which offers a comfortable feeling as it would have been 40 square meters," they told Treehugger.

"We wanted to show that a house does not have to be big," said Bergmann. "Building something beautiful does not have to be expensive," adds Becker.

Practical Costs

finnish cabin

André Boettcher / Politaire

All told, the house cost $13,449. The lack of running water and electricity helped keep the price down. Much of the cost went to the timber and double-glazed windows. A Werkstattofen wood stove helps keep the cabin toasty in the winter (there is double-layered metal sheeting for fire protection behind the stove, though it is not pictured in these images).

With the success of their initial foray into building, the two have started a design firm called Studio Politaire. When I asked them more about the firm, they replied:

"We think that especially in the building sector, which is one of the highest carbon-oxygen producer in the world, it is really important to switch to more environmental friendly materials. The trend of the last century to mainly use steel and concrete must come to an end to lower the global carbon emissions. Architects and Engineers must feel more responsible with this issue."

finnish cabin

André Boettcher / Politaire

Some may say that a lack of electricity and running water (though they do have a clean lake and a filtering system) do not make for a livable space – and of course, it isn't going to be for everyone. But the designers are thinking ahead of the curve here. "People need to start questioning themselves in eco-sufficiency," they told us. "It is not the best way to save carbon emissions by buying a new car with a more efficient combustion engine, or to buy an electric car – the best way is to use your bicycle or feet."

"We think questioning our own needs and defining what is luxury for us didn't make the cabin less satisfying," they told us. "It made it even better."

We think Henry Thoreau would be proud.