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Family Small Cabin Compound: Possible Tiny House Community Design?

Four friends brought their resources together to create this two-story small cabin family vacation compound.

This communal lakeside cabin compound is nestled on the Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada.

Take a tour of this new-type of communal living.

See how these families live simply on vacation and imagine what it would be like doing it full-time.

Two-Story Small Cabin Compound

View of Entire Vacation Compound: Each Family gets a Small Cabin

Family Small Cabin Vacation Compound Tiny House Community

Gathering Area in between Cabins for Eating

Small Cabin Gathering Tiny House Community

Inside Small Cabin: View of Kitchen and Loft

Inside Family Small Cabin Vacation Compound

Upstairs Bunk Bed Sleeping Loft

Images: Lorne Bridgman for Dwell Magazine

Would you take your family on a vacation like this?

What do you think about a tiny house community designed similar to this?

Would you enjoy having the gathering areas for neighbors and friends?

Or opt-out for separated more private small cabins?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below 😉


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Andrea has lived simply in small spaces for more than 7 years and enjoys sharing her space saving (and space multiplying) tips from experience.
{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Kevin
    February 22, 2014, 1:19 pm

    No pics inside the bedroom?

  • Avatar Cahow
    February 22, 2014, 2:42 pm

    From the article: “Four friends brought their resources together to create this two-story small cabin family vacation compound.”

    ~sigh~ Ya know, one of the sadder things in life about growing old is losing that “Shiny/Happy Glow” where you believe ALL things are possible and nothing bad will ever/ever happen to you and your relationships with others. ~sigh, again~

    But first, let’s start with the Positive: How wonderful that four friends of like mind could coordinate this effort! I have two friends that have this kind of relationship with some of their other friends, whereby they bought land or a condo together and have shared it amicably for decades. It really takes knowing yourselves to pull this off.

    I can’t tell from any of the photos if ALL four friends have their own 2-story unit, complete with lounge/kitchen/private sleeping areas. But, what I do see is charming. I adore that they take their meals together but there’s still a kitchen (or four) where you can go to if you’re hungry or just want to be alone.

    Now, for reality. WHAT happens when one of the four wants/needs to “split”? Do the three remaining friends buy out that person’s share? And how do you agree upon the NEXT person coming into the compound? What if YOU want friend X to buy into the place but both of the remaining two friends ALSO want their friends, Y & Z, to be part of it? What if you or your friends do not LIKE the prospective new person?

    And what happens down the road? Everyone age or dies, that’s the straight fact of it. If one or more of these friends is childless but the other two have kids, WHAT happens to the property when the childless couples can no longer climb the loft, get divorced or just plain die of old age? How does the building and land get divided up?

    Because of my long life, I’ve seen arrangements like this that had their Glory Days for decades, but once everyone started to age, a huge rift developed between the interested parties because everyone had their own agenda. My husband and I even had the delight and pleasure of staying at one of these communal compounds several times, in the ’80’s. It was built and owned by 4 brothers; we were friends with one of the brothers. It was on the banks of the Mississippi River, outside of Galena. The brothers created a wonderful compound of small buildings with a central one that held the kitchen/lounge/loo and massive wall-to-wall-fireplace and they achieved their goal by 30 years of age. Two twins, both 30, and a 27 and 25 year old, to be specific.

    That incredible space, on 60 acres, was the setting for more incredible life experiences than just about anywhere else I’ve stayed. We’d all spend Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter and many Spring/Summer/Autumn weekends up there; the boys used it to hunt, fish, snowmobile and ski. But, now that the fellows are 60+ and barely younger, there was HUGE infighting about “What to do with it?” One brother moved with his family to San Francisco and hasn’t been back for a decade. Another brother has had both hips replaced and a quadruple bypass on his heart so he can no longer climb up the straight ladder to the sleeping loft nor hike around the hills. The third brother is on his 3rd marriage to a much younger woman who wants nothing to do with that rustic place and the last brother, the youngest, is the ONLY one who continually goes up there. Even ourselves, we haven’t been there in over 10+ years, not for lack of an invite, but because running two companies doesn’t allow us the leisure of a 6 hour drive to Galena, one way.

    So, three of the four brothers wanted to sell it and gather the massive amount of money that the property would sell for; the youngest brother couldn’t afford the taxes to keep it “in the family.”

    Sadly, after close to 30+ years of joy, the entire property has been SOLD to a developer, who plans on parceling off the land in 5 acre chunks.

    There ends the story of “Communal Living.” Great while it lasts, but a headache when it comes time to divest yourself of it.

    • Avatar Sally
      February 22, 2014, 6:58 pm

      Once again, Cahow, you nailed it. Success or doom of a project like this rests solely on the dynamics of all those people and their relationships. Someone splits up, someone files for bankruptcy and can’t pay their share of the taxes, someone flees to the Cayman Islands with another one’s wife. And let’s not even talk about the next generation and their potential for lousy marriage choices to really screw things up…my own rural community is almost all over 50, and a visit from the I-pod Twitter-fixated generation grandkids is rare. We all look out for each other, and have no quarreling about whose kid did what. I can’t imagine living with other young couples with young children and keeping my mouth shut over varied parenting skills. There’s a reason everybody smoked pot in the communes in the old days with all those toddlers running around. In my opinion, everyone needs a place to retreat to, and a big glass cube isn’t it. This building might get around the codes, but I’d rather have my own tiny house with a community center, if you will, much like the RV parks have. My sister and I have discussed setting one up on our property, with a laundry room, an area for people to stretch out with hobbies like quilting, or to watch a movie with a group. Lots of ways of handling group living, but that glass is a little too revealing, in more ways than one. The legal documents to cover every possible scenario would cost a mint.

    • Avatar JD Tew
      February 23, 2014, 7:42 am

      I agree completely with your take on the problems of joint ownership. The 60’s and 70”s are littered with failed communal projects, albeit a few successes. I suppose some of the problems can be anticipated by appropriate legal work at the outset, and perhaps some form of insurance for ‘key man’ buy out, but I don’t know if that is available, and most likely would only be useful only upon the death of one of the joint owners. My wife and I are in our late 60’s; we like the idea of a tiny house compound, but only within the family, and even then we worry a bit about how our three kids will be able to deal with it after we’re gone. I’ve seen some very close heirs/children forced apart by real estate inheritance. Tends to bring out latent sibling issues, even in the best circumstances. Thus, we’ve decided that if possible we will sell all our real estate (three small (not tiny) houses in very different locations) and move to a ‘group home’ in the latter stages. It’s easy to divide up money, far more difficult to divide a house. I hope we have the opportunity to do that.

    • Avatar Paul
      February 23, 2014, 12:58 pm

      I would say the glass is mostly full if the benefits rather than a little empty due to the ending.

  • Avatar john
    February 22, 2014, 4:19 pm

    I think it’s a brilliant idea.
    One of the problems with setting up on your own land is the cost of bringing utilities out like electrical, roads and maintenance…sharing these costs would pave the way for many who would otherwise have to shell out the big bucks or wait to save for it.
    There’s quite a difference in being a part of such a community versus living in an apartment complex, in an apartment you can’t choose your neighbors…they’re chosen for you.
    It’s not an easy thing all the time to have close neighbors, but when it works, it works really well. I’ve had beautiful neighbors that i am glad were in my life, but mostly i’ve had neighbors who were ghosts, ignoring me for the most part, and that’s ok too. Only rarely have i ever had a neighbor i disliked immensely and that had to do with drugs, alcohol, and drama. That kind of thing can be screened for.
    You face the same issues buying a home or renting an apartment, who you live near is going to affect you no matter where you live unless you go for a large lot out in the country and go it alone.
    I owned a condo for ten years, 9 of those years were peaceful and fun, the last year was tough because a neighbor moved out and rented her condo to a family with teenagers who did the loud music, parties, police visits, etc etc.
    It’s a risk you take living anywhere…
    I think that tiny house folks, downsizers, and the like are going to be a much different kind of people, we’re all going to have some things in common. Most won’t have teenagers living in a tiny home, and those that do won’t be hosting raving underage drinking parties.
    There may be a few pot smokers, some wine and beer folks, but more likely just folks living right, growing vegetables, with an unproportionate amount of disposable income thanks to living in a small/tiny house community…i think we’d probably be the more creative, more able to communicate, more able to relate and be kind of empathy minded than any other kind of neighbors.
    I do think anyone buying in to this type of community should expect to lose quite a bit when deciding to move on…face it, you’re investing in a community, not in real estate. As a member of that community you reduce it when you leave, and you are in turn reduced by it. Those who have nothing to lose have no reason to put in the effort required to make it all work.

    Vacationing and full timing are very different things…that it works so well is no surprise for vacationers, the only conflicts should be who left a mess, and we wanted this weekend to be private…
    The compound they built is quite amazing, i like all the common outdoor space under a roof, the breezeways to dine in…i think it’s a model that could work well for fulltiming in a small cabin or home. Sharing the costs would certainly be worthwhile.
    Where i live in central florida there are a lot of campgrounds and rv parks that seem to follow a common design theme, it works…each member has a small space for their rv, a lot, the community shares common features such as a gathering hall, a kitchen and bathroom/shower area, a laundry facility, and perhaps a swimming pool and picnic area. It’s a lot of amenities, and they can afford them because of the large number of people who contribute financially to them. Many have weekend get togethers and some even have a band come out on a saturday…the people there don’t have a lot of privacy or space, but the trade off’s are pretty good.
    Isolation has its costs, as do communities. It all boils down to what you want and what you’re willing to give up to have it. Luckily, isolationists wouldn’t move into a situation like this, those who would are going to be more willing to be sociable.
    Lets look at living in a big city…those people live on top of each other, they have front doors almost touching, they can hear full conversations right through the neighboring walls. Would this example be any different? No.

  • Avatar Comet
    February 22, 2014, 5:05 pm

    Beautiful design would like to see more.

    And yes—the issues do arise when people age or can’t keep up or lose a job etc. On a much more personal level than in an apartment building. AS one dad–or geand dad??? here already looks a bit older than the rest—might be an issue sooner than anyone would like to think.

    And I am sure that these could be built with steps—I do NOT understand the insistance of designers/builders of these places and their obession with steep and handrail less ladders or the odd off set steps. I can just see trying to carry one of those KIDS up those when they were asleep or ill—-

    Nice idea and certainly pretty but leaves things to think about.

  • Avatar alice h
    February 23, 2014, 9:03 am

    I’ve seen arrangements like this work but rarely for long. It usually starts out well but like others have said, life gets complicated. Doesn’t work for me, I’m too much of a hermit when given a choice. I already share a house with 3 generations of my family (each with our own apartments) and there can be a lot of compromise required to make it work. Sometimes you just want to change or do things without a “committee meeting” to hash out details.

  • Avatar 2BarA
    February 23, 2014, 6:36 pm

    This is one of those ideas which sounds great in theory but rarely works out in practice. It’s not for me–I like my privacy, especially at mealtimes. When I used to camp with my kids I didn’t enjoy someone else’s kids hanging around our picnic table when we were having dinner. When camping with my late husband one time, we were having breakfast when a total stranger in dirty coveralls, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, stood against our picnic table and tried to converse about nothing. Ugh! I
    won’t go into other negative issues as they have been raised by other readers. Since you asked, I’d say “forget it”!

  • Avatar zenLoki
    October 27, 2014, 2:34 pm

    I like the concept but can see this working better if the land purchased is subdivided among the owners so everyone has personal space but can help each other in time of need. If someone wants out, then its a simple matter to sell their subdivided piece.

  • Avatar Rich
    October 27, 2014, 8:08 pm

    My Mom and two siblings (all single, on low fixed incomes and unable to work any longer) needed affordable housing, so their younger brother (my Uncle) and I conspired to design and build for them on an extra lot he owned. Fortunately my Uncle was practical enough to talk me out of “congregate” housing; I designed and he built, 3 attached 600sf ‘town-houses’. Even as neighbors they found ways to bicker and argue 🙁 They were designed to be universally accessible but one-by-one they suffered strokes, were unable to live alone and had to move to assisted living. The ‘motel’, as it was classified by archaic zoning in a resort town out-survived them and will me, and became sought-after rental units/income due to that decision early-on to build separate 1-bedroom units.

    Still, as I read the comments I thought of how spoiled and isolated we in the U.S. , especially, have become that we can’t work out peaceful coexistence with family or neighbors.

    I think this communal Canadian retreat is well done and these folks are lucky it is just their vacation place. As I now face similar choices about a residence for my final seasons of life, my intentions are to prioritize relationships (by written agreements) before building, but it takes ‘two to tango’ as the old saying goes. Found this quote just last weekend that gives perspective: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sails.” best regards 🙂

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