Decorating with Maps
From sea to shining sea, life's an adventure when you try
Published: November 1, 2007
What puts your cabin on the map? Mighty peaks? Glacial lakes? Feisty fish? Old growth forest? Whatever the backdrop, cabin life is always “oriented” to outdoor fun. And whatever your passion, there’s a map to help you indulge it: quads for hikers, charts for boaters – even migratory flyways for birders. If you’re like my husband, Haldor, and me, your cabin is a treasure trove of maps.
An inlaid wood compass gives a spin to a ceiling.
Photo by © dreamstime, Inc.
We pore over them in anticipation of the next outing. Tattered from refolding and exposure to the elements, we stuff ’em in pockets and stow ’em on board. And when we’ve had our fill of mountaineering or jigging for walleyes, we sink into the hot tub, gaze up at the Milky Way, and … Hey! Anyone bring a star map?
Maps reveal the lay of the land – and the heavens. They show us where the wild things are, be they animal, vegetable or mineral. Some of them, though, are as much about places in the heart as geography. These are the real treasure maps. Instead of a lost gold mine, they lead to the mother lode: what’s near and dear to us.
Take, for example, the yellowed trail map on the wall that’s guided generations of cabingoers to a secret waterfall. Or the distinctive outline of your lake, given pride of place above the hearth. We know of one cabin owner so fond of his New Hampshire setting that he papered the walls with adjoining topos of the area. For a history buff, it could be a sepia-toned survey that shows John Wesley Powell trekked through here en route to the Grand Canyon. It could be an ancestral map featuring the part of the world that your family came from or a world map bristling with push pins representing every place that your family has traveled. Maps can hold memories of the past, as well as the promise of adventures to come.
Though most commonly made of paper, maps as décor aren’t limited to that medium. Marjorie Merriwether Post, the cereal heiress, incorporated a wood inlay of Upper St. Regis Lake in the floor at Topridge, her Adirondack great camp. Inlaid maps also make stunning tabletops. Maps can also surface on stone, bark, glass or ceramic tile throughout the cabin.
How do you map out the right spot in yours? Start by exploring the interior. Point your design compass to walls, floors and tables. These large canvases can transform a map from mundane to masterpiece. But you don’t have to draw the line there. Virtually any flat space – backsplash, door, transom window, headboard – can host a map. All it takes is a little imagination.
North, South, East or West: there’s no place like the cabin. It deserves an interior that's equally unique and personalized. Whether on a small scale or grand, cartography adds visual interest to your décor and sparks conversation.
So let a treasured map be a window onto your world. Out of town guests can see where you've been and where they might like to venture.
Frequent contributor Frances Sigurdsson, who finds her way into most issues of CABIN LIFE, admits she would be lost without her Adirondack maps.
Resources for mapping out your place|
USGS Quad Map – The United States Geological Survey is the source for 22 x 27-inch large scale (1:24,000) topographical maps (aka “quadrangles” or “quads”) that use contour lines to show both elevation and shape of the terrain. On their Web site, choose Enter USGS Store. Choose 1:24 K Topographic Maps and search by state and town. Also, by choosing Go to Product Line in the left window, you can check out some of the other map series like national forests or parks. And under Miscellaneous you’ll find items like the Panorama from Point Sublime Grand Canyon. Under Maps of the USA, you’ll find a map of the major routes of explorers from 1501 to 1844. www.store.usgs.gov, (888) 275-8747.
National Geographic Custom Wall Map – Of course, we know your cabin is the center of the universe. So don’t take offense if it happens to be in a corner of a USGS quad map. However, National Geographic, in partnership with AdventureStation, has the means to put your place right where you want it. AdventureStation produces custom wall maps derived from USGS cartography – a work of art that will enhance most any cabin. Once at their Web site, select Custom Topo or Photo Maps. You can choose laminated or plain paper in sizes from 18 x 24 inches to 42 x 72 inches. www.adventurestation.com, (775) 787-6777.
Wallpaper – Let your mind roam with map motif wallpaper. A couple of our readymade favorites: trail, lake and ocean map patterns from American Blinds, Wallpaper & More. On their Web site, select Wallpaper & Fabrics under the Products tab, then search by typing in trail maps, lake maps or ocean maps. www.decoratetoday.com, (800) 575-8016. Or follow your heart’s desire and personalize wall coverings. Have the map of your choice transferred onto rolls of wallpaper or a mural. To locate companies that do this type of custom digital printing, consult an interior designer near you or search for custom wallpaper on the Internet.
Customized Lake Art – Is your lake the focal point of your cabin? LakeMaster agrees. The company’s 23 x 35 inch maps are printed with archival inks on high-gloss photographic paper suitable for framing. The prints display lake contours, colored depth images, and labeled roads. “Our product is unique because we survey many [of the] lakes, so we can produce maps that no one else can,” says Connie Wood, co-owner with husband Mike. The Woods live year-round on a lake, so they know how special yours is to you. Lake Art can be further customized with a digital picture of your “Shangri-la”, or a log cabin icon marking its precise location. You can also add the established date of your cabin, its name, or your family’s name. Visit www.lakemap.com on the Web and select Customized Wall Art, (800) 540-5747.
The Classic Rose Inlay – The compass rose (direction symbols printed on maps) is a traditional inlay for entry floors, both stone and wood. A variety of compass rose designs can be found at www.majesticmedallions.com, (815) 206-5891 and www.inlays.com, (877) 464-6529.
Painted Floor Map – But if you really want the world (or at least your neck of the woods) at your feet, check out the painted floor maps by Suzanne Dalton, www.suzannedalton.com. Dalton, an artist with a degree in geology, painstakingly draws and paints antique maps onto 3/4-inch thick medium density fiberboard. The detailed map inserts – she did a 4-foot square 1835 navigational map of San Francisco Bay for a kitchen floor in Palo Alto – are set into existing floors. Dalton uses a water-based polyurethane over a special spray finish to protect the painted floors. Dalton’s 1755 French map of the Great Lakes canoe portages measures 8 x 6 feet.
Map on a Mat – Guests at your cabin can get acquainted with your lake or river right at the threshold, as an imprinted welcome mat greets them. These polyester, rubber-backed mats can be used indoors and outdoors or even mounted as a wall hanging. www.lakemats.com, (651) 429-5155.
Tables with History – Trace the Corps of Discovery’s epic journey from the Mississippi to the mouth of the Columbia River on a map table from the Yellowstone Shop. If your cabin lies anywhere along the 8,000-mile Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, this sofa/hall table topped with a hand-tinted replica of the 1804 map drawn by William Clark will lure you off the sofa and onto the trail. Also available, a coffee table featuring a replica of a 1907 Yellowstone map; www.yellowstoneshop.com, (866) 500-5050.
Lighting the Route – Shed some light on your maps with a surveyor’s tripod lamp in classic colors of red and white. Like the fifty-year-old originals, they are made in wood and brass; www.tradingstories.com, (866) 207-0789.
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