Dale Mulfinger is a cabinologist. The word isn’t in the dictionary, and you won’t find a cabinology department next to the biology department at a university, but trust us, the man knows his cabins. He’s the founding partner of SALA Architects in Minneapolis, has designed cabins all across North America, and has written best-selling books on the subject. Mpls.St.Paul Home & Design spoke with Mulfinger about his new book, Back to the Cabin: More Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway, and current cabin design trends.
Mpls.St.Paul Home & Design: What was your inspiration for the book?
Dale Mulfinger: It’s kind of a logical continuation, or very much a sequel, to the one I did called The Cabin, and it’s formatted similarly in the way it features 37 cabins. I just see all of these fun cabins—old and new, borrowed and blue—and I love to tell the world about them.
MSP: What can readers expect from the book besides a lot of beautiful cabin photos?
DM: There is quite a range of ideas about your basic log cabin—from different ways of building cabins to ideas about how the space gets used. I try to make everything in the book appear to be quite attainable, meaning the cabins are not necessarily for wealthy people. They’re all modest in scale and scope, and therefore might be something you seek to do yourself.
MSP: The full title of your book is Back to the Cabin: More Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway. Why do you think people need and value cabins as “getaways”?
DM: We work really hard, and I think the cabin represents a place of repose where you can go daydream or jump in the lake. Also, I think the cabin suggests something very small, and therefore grants you a rather intimate relationship with the people you go to the cabin with.
MSP: The cabin, as you said, has always been thought of as an escape or place of repose, but have you noticed any changes or new trends associated with the classic cabin?
DM: Well, the price of land has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, and the level of investment being put into the cabin has changed quite a bit. You’re not going to put a 10-cent building on a $500 piece of land. I think a lot of people imagine that they are going to retire someday at the cabin land, so the cabins are bigger. They have a master bedroom suite. They are beginning to no longer look like the traditional cabin. They might be called a “lake home” in this area, or a “mountain home” if they are in Big Sky, Montana.
MSP: If people are starting to view cabins more like second homes, how does that affect the design aesthetic of the classic cabin?
DM: Rarely in the cabins we create are we concerned with resale. We can put a lot of personality into it because we generally imagine the cabin we create as a legacy building phenomenon. Whereas if you have a home in Plymouth, you might be more concerned about reselling it 15 years from now, and you’re not going to take quite as many risks.
MSP: What tips do you have for someone who wants to redesign a room or two in their cabin?
DM: Step outside and look at the colors you find at your site. If I’m out with a client exploring a raw piece of land we are going to design on, I’m often pulling pieces out of nature that will influence the colors. What really is the color of birch bark? It looks white in the forest, but when you actually pull it off, it’s an off-white color or a silvery gray. The twig of sumac, which is a beautiful deep-red color, might be used for a window treatment. Also, hang on to the charm that your cabin has. Don’t lose that sense of history. A lot of cabins were designed to only be used in the summer and, therefore, have no insulation on the walls. I love to walk into cabins with those raw walls where the studs still show. That’s where you might want to add the insulation on the outside rather than the inside, so you can leave that charm. And, finally, use recycled materials. People will accept that not all the doors and windows match in their cabin because it adds funkiness.
MSP: Using recycled materials is a huge trend in home design right now. Besides old windows and doors, are there other ways people can design their cabin in an environmentally-friendly way?
DM: I think the use of local wood is a big one. If you’re building in northern Minnesota, a lot of wood is harvested right there. That may not be the wood you can use as raw studs, because it's not structural wood, but it's wood you can use to sheath both the inside and outside of your cabin. If you use any stone, like around the fireplace, it can be harvested very locally almost anywhere in our region, whether it’s fieldstone or quarried stone.
Mulfinger will be signing Back to the Cabin: More Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway at several local bookstores this month.
Nov. 12, 7 p.m. The Bookcase, 824 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-473-8341, bookcaseofwayzata.com
Nov. 30, 4 p.m. Valley Bookseller, 217 N. Main St., Stillwater, 651-430-3385, valleybookseller.com
Dec. 7, 2 p.m. Common Good Books, 38 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-225-8989, commongoodbooks.com