Reader Steve Vandewalle has sent us photos of the small cottage that he and his wife AnnaMarie built. He was able to take a property that was considered “unbuildable” and carve out a building area just big enough for a compact one-bedroom home. Steve is a talented craftsman; the fireplace, the kitchen cabinets and some of the light fixtures were all handmade by him. We’ll let Steve tell you more……
After rebuilding two older homes, the idea of building from the ground up was very appealing. We bought the land at the end of our street and I set out to design and build MY idea of the perfect cabin. Building the cabin was such a positive experience that when the lot across the street from our home became available we bought it—cheap, because it was “unbuildable”—too small to install a septic system and the required 100% reserve area. But, the view was awesome. We had to tear out and move a driveway, re-arrange things, and ultimately ended up with a 20′ x 20′ building site.
The structure had to comply with ‘green building’ standards, wildland fire-resistive construction standards, seismic, wind, snow load, and slope challenges too. Toughest standard of all—the entire design had to be my wife AnnaMarie’s idea of the perfect cottage.
We did every bit of the work ourselves except for the day we poured the foundation—we needed volunteers to help push the concrete into the forms. It took about three years (working on it whenever I wasn’t at the paying job) and we paid cash for the land, permits and materials as we went along. While at work, I came across some old beams that were lying around for over thirty years. After a lot of research, they turned out to be construction cutoffs from the construction of the tall ship ‘Californian’—a wood called Jacareuba. We used it in the stairs, mantel, counter trim, and rails. Most of the furnishings were found on Craigslist—one of the best finds was the flooring, which is oak T&G someone had stored in their backyard for 40 years. The shutter doors for the closet were salvaged from a dumpster.
The hearth was formed and poured upside down out of 400 pounds of concrete right in front of its final spot. The stones for the fireplace and chimney all were dug up and set aside while hand-digging the foundation, and cut into tiles using a second-hand wet saw. AnnaMarie couldn’t find any pendant lights she liked for over the bar, so we took two hand-blown olive oil cruets she had, cut the necks to size, drilled 2″ holes in the bottom and wired them up—they go perfect.
Also in the kitchen, we built the cabinets all different depths. The one over the fridge is the deepest since it’s over the fridge and in the corner anyway. The next one is 6″ shallower, over the counter. The next one is the depth it had to be for the range hood, then the little shelf unit over the sink is the shallowest. Since they all have different depths and heights it makes the kitchen feel bigger than it is. The base cabinets are only 18″ deep in the kitchen peninsula. We made quite a few mock-up counters to decide how much the kitchen should push into the living room, and settled on that depth to make the best use of the space.
The house is only 716 ft2 (66.5 m2). Our plan is that when the last of our three children move out and we outgrow our big house, we’ll move into this one. For now it’s AnnaMarie’s little getaway. It’s great to have a vacation house we can walk to.
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Images courtesy of Steve Vandewalle. You can find more information and photos showing the construction of AnnaMarie’s Cottage on Steve’s blog.
Text copyright 2013 SmallHouseBliss. All Rights Reserved.
The work and design on the little cottage is great !
I am curious how you were able to handle the septic tank permit on a 20′ X 20′ lot ?
Nice work !
The lot is .25 acres, (about 11,000 sq. ft) the building site is 20′ x 20′. I started with the ‘perk test’, figured out how many fett of leach field I’d need (x2—here, it’s required you have an equal area set aside in case you ever have to re-build the system)…Next I had a list of all the setbacks needed for the field, from the property lines, driveway, septic tank, required parking spots, and house. Then I photocopied a bunch of drawings of the lot to scale and kept moving things around, trying parking here, driveway there, septic over there. There was a driveway there already when we bought the lot, as an easement to the guy behind us–but he didn’t build in the easement. By moving the driveway along the edge of the property I gained some area, and by putting the required parking along the rear of the property (Which was the only thing allowed right against the property line, as long as I built a 6′ fence) I gained more. With all that I ended up with a specific spot I could build a 20’x20′ structure and have a place for the septic tank between the structure and property line. I literally couldn’t move the structure 1′ in any direction. Then, after complying with the county 100%, I cheated a little and they let it go—I cantilevered out towards the spetic setbacks by 4′ on two sides. This is why the deck and bay window don’t go all the way to the ground.
Department of Planning and Land Use were actually great to work with. The lot was very cheap since it was assumed it couldn’t be built on, and the County worked with me on all the repeated visits with sketches–they never said ‘no’, just pointed out where and why they couldn’t approve this or that. Now my wife owns a house outright worth more than 3x what we spent.
Best thing to do—schedule a ‘ride-along’ with a building inspector. You become a familiar face, and see first hand what they’re all about, what they’re looking for, what’s important to them. You find out who to contact for different questions, and hear what common mistakes owner/builders often make.
What a great little house it must have kept you up at night planning it.Great job steve.
Really love looking at all these beautiful homes…..I love Cosy….
I am absolutely in LOVE with this cottage. I’m crazy about the kitchen and the overall set up. If I could design a cottage, this would be my inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you! You made my day! If you are ever in Julian I’ll give you a tour