Billie Muraben reflects on the key attributes necessary to create an idyllic hideaway from everyday life – from ditching technology, to embracing small pleasures
Earlier this year, when summer felt less like a distant memory, I drove with two friends to their cabin in the Redwoods just north of San Francisco. Set beside the Russian River in a thicket of trees, the cabin was a haven of calm, Formica and soft furnishings; an ideal setting for snacking on watermelon in the sun, gulping pink prosecco from a jar whilst floating downstream and enjoying the best sleeps of your life.
This brief sojourn to the dream world of cabin life convinced me that it is possible, even imperative, to inject an element of serene solitude into one's everyday life. With that in mind, here is a list of essential components for escaping to the wilderness, both literally and figuratively, drawn from both my own experience and Zach Klein’s aspirational new book, Cabin Porn.
Make it a Fixer Upper
Our Reddwood retreat had been owned by the same family since it was built in the early 20th century; it got dressed up for the 1970s, and had never fully recovered. The Redwood floors were laden in thick carpet, and the furnishings seemed to be straight out of a Tiki party.
Similarly, Lisa Sitko and Douglas Armour, whose admirable ambitions are profiled in Cabin Porn, found their bungalow in California’s Wonder Valley, “[with] no front door. Inside, everything was covered with a think layer of sand and dust. The burgundy shag carpet was stained and sun-bleached. The bathroom sink overflowed with pink bunnies and teddy bears.” Nevertheless, they took it on, working with materials that came their way. “A lot of people get wrapped up in thinking things need to be more grand than they have to be. If you keep things really basic, you can start to enjoy the place sooner.”
Go Low Tech
It’s no good escaping to an idyll which has the same all-mod-cons approach as your everyday life. The joy of getting away from everyday life is in playing cards, listening to records, waiting for the hot water supply to click into action, and only being able to access what is directly around you.
Zach Klein, who instigated the building of Beaver Brook, a camp in upstate New York, is similarly minded. “It’s a place of remarkable haves and have-nots: trout just big enough to eat; an international convention of fireflies every summer; in the winter, countless tracks of squirrels and snowshoes over the frozen brook," he says. "There’s also no plumbing or electricity or insulation in most of the buildings. A total lack of cell service... and deafening quiet on some days."
Embrace the Small Pleasures
Along with the hikes, swims and utter abandonment of technology, it’s wool blankets, sofas you can sink into and massive bath tubs which truly make a cabin retreat; plus really nice soap, decent coffee and wine that you put on a pedestal. It’s also the luxury of time with the people you want to spend it with. Of the early days of Beaver Brook, Zach recalls: “That evening we braised lamb shoulders in Dutch ovens smothered with coals. The cooking took longer than expected, and we ate by headlamp after sunset. Later, we piled into the one-room cabin and lay beneath wool blankets while listening to our friend read aloud. I was pleasantly warm from the long soak in the tub and looked around the cabin to all my friends. That weekend touched off what have become the happiest years of my life.”
Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere by Zach Klein is out now, published by Little Brown.