Home Away From Home – Turning a shed into a cabin

by Donna De Palma

Facing supply chain issues, the rising cost of lumber and a shortage of labor, Carol and Lou Fantauzzo needed a creative solution to building their dream cabin in the woods.

The Fantauzzos’ permanent home is a family home in a rural town in Upstate New York. Their in-law apartment in the home is great for part-time living, but they needed a private space to escape to on weekends. The couple also owns a nearby cabin they spend time in when not rented out as an Airbnb.

They took a leap when they decided to build another cabin, this time on the family’s land in Naples.

The couple shopped for sheds to find a 14- by 44-foot structure to place on the 26 acres of land owned by their family.

“We wanted to be able to live on this land during the winter. We purchased the shed when we realized how costly and slow building from scratch would be,” Carol said. “We purchased the largest shed that could be transported by road to our site. Locally, we found a dealer who was able to custom order a shed that could be adapted to meet our needs.”

At the time of construction, concrete wasn’t available for a slab foundation, so their shed sits on two feet of tamped, crushed stone. Placement on the site wasn’t even an issue with the Fantauzzos; as both are nature and sunshine lovers, they knew their home would face south. The shed looks out onto a timber-frame tree-like pavilion built from trees they harvested themselves from their acreage.

The Fantauzzos, who built eight houses together, knew that in New York State, an architect is required for a project based upon its square footage and cost of the structure being built. The couple enlisted the help of architect Robin Hargrave to maximize the use of space in the 616-square-foot shed. Hargrave met the couple in 2010 when they hired her to redesign the entryway of an old farmhouse they once owned.

“With the constraint of working within a 14-foot-wide rectangle, I collaborated with the Fantauzzos to create circulation and privacy between public and private areas,” Hargrave noted. “The goal was to see how efficient we could make a relatively small space.”

Having drawn a layout for a tiny home in the past, as well as her experience with container homes, Hargrave had a head start when designing a floorplan and layout for the shed. She also knew her clients’ priorities and design needs and listened to their concerns. One suggestion that paid off was a hallway nook with built-in bunk beds for weekend visits from their four grandchildren and hunting excursions with their sons-in-law.

Carol priced out materials and took the lead in design choices. The couple chose materials to enhance the rustic feel of their new cabin. The results are nothing short of spectacular.

“We knew we wanted the kitchen to be the center of attention. We sought help fitting everything into such a small space,” Carol said. “Because the main entrance is on the side of the shed, we needed suggestions on how to create a welcoming entry.” Windows and doors were the first to be installed, including a 9-foot sliding glass door and two floor-to-ceiling windows that serve as the entrance to their new cabin.

Next, the mechanics – including electricity and plumbing – were put in place, housed in a shed attached to the back of the cabin. The insulated utility room holds a water softener, pressure tank and hot water tank, all heated by an electric heater.
Spray foam insulation in the 2- by 4-foot structure came next, essential to keep things warm in winter.

A wood stove in the living room targets heat where it’s needed most in the primary living space. A mini-split wall unit that generates both heat and air conditioning is mounted on the bedroom wall. The Fantauzzos installed ceiling fans for air circulation and lighting.

A timber frame bracket was fastened to the cantilever roof at the entrance to add character and a raised porch was built at that entryway to welcome all who enter.

Interior finishes add value while giving the open floor plan a more luxurious feel. To face the walls in the living room and kitchen, the Fantauzzos chose whitewashed pine panels.

Carpeting in the living room and a wood finish vinyl in the kitchen echo their desire for a low maintenance and carefree lifestyle. A full-size stainless-steel stove and refrigerator in the kitchen along with sunken, farm-style sink, make us rethink what living in a tiny home means. A counter height island in the center of the kitchen doubles as a place to entertain.

What looks like a simple wall with hooks for coats is the front wall of a pantry tucked into the side of a hallway leading to the master bedroom. Another surprise are the two full-size bunk beds tucked just behind the pantry. The lower bunk is set 18 inches above the floor for added storage beneath.

To the left of the bunks, the bath with shower features the same wall treatment of whitewashed pine for an inviting, rustic look.

A 10- by 14-foot master bedroom fits a king size bed and an armoire for clothing storage. The bedroom closet contains a washer and dryer so life in the country can remain clean and dry.

The Fantauzzos have created an amazing outdoor space with a Southwestern flair that expands their living space beyond their four walls. Stone borders surround a shrub and flower garden. A raised deck in front with chairs and bench features container gardens overflowing with flowers in summer. Enhancing the exterior are miles of green grass. The only thing remaining to add to the home’s exterior is a custom cupola, which is currently in the works.

The couple advise that, if you are considering converting a shed into a living space, you ought to have a professional guide you through the conversion process. By creating a plan that identifies where important features will be placed, you can avoid costly surprises along the way. “Robin listened to us. Her expertise assisted us with our design plans,” Carol said.

This will be the couple’s first winter in their new cabin. Turning a shed into a cabin has been an adventure for a retired couple who had the experience and commitment to face the hurdles of converting a simple structure into a comfortable place they now call home away from home.

“Being here, we see our role of maintaining the land,” Carol stated. “We have a paved road leading to our house though no neighbors. We’re excited to experience the peace and serenity of this beautiful place.”

Cost: If you are considering a shed conversion, this couple estimates a total cost range of $65,000 - $85,000 (not including septic or well). A shed itself, without finishes, will range from $15,000-$22,000, which includes transportation.

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