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How to Build a Cabin Debt-Free

With a bit of ingenuity and patience, this Washington woman shows us how she was able to create her dream cabins on a budget.



Over the course of five years, beginning in 2012, Rebbecca Abair has been steadily designing and building her own complex of cabins and outbuildings on Curley Creek, just outside the Puget Sound town of Port Orchard, Wash.

“I had a plan to build as I could afford it,” says Rebbecca, “because I wanted to stay debt free through the process.”

She started really small, with a cordwood pump house for her water system; then up popped a tiny cabin, she named “Owl,” that she lived in while she crafted her larger one, named “Squirrel.” The fourth structure to take shape was a garage with a storage loft.

Rebbecca is a master of repurposing materials. “Finding the products for building and furnishing my cabins was a fabulous treasure hunt for me,” she says. Numerous flooring materials, plumbing fixtures, lighting and hardware items were given to her or simply discovered during Rebbecca’s endless hours of bargain hunting. She implemented brilliant design solutions into her cabins, e.g., old dressers were used in the knee wall area of the Squirrel cabin’s sleeping loft for storage.

Not everyone could dwell in the tiny houses Rebbecca has built, but a sense of spaciousness belies the houses’ actual square footage. The open room concept and tall ceiling height amplify the space in both the Owl and Squirrel structures. “I used vertical space to make the cabins seem larger,” points out Rebbecca. “Tall furniture, like the grandfather clock and bookcase in Squirrel, along with the ladders, lead the eyes up to the exposed-joist ceilings.”

See also Tour the Tiny Cottage in the Woods

Squirrel cabin’s main floor living spaces wrap around a central storage closet, which helps to separate and define the areas. A ladder to the bedroom loft is positioned against the closet wall, requiring just a few inches of floor space.

Originally intended for storage once Squirrel was completed, Owl cabin has become a perfect guest suite, complete with toilet room, kitchen, seating/office area and its own small sleeping loft.

Solid tongue-and-groove pine boards were used for interior walls, instead of drywall, offering increased insulation to the cabins. “My energy-efficient Kolbe wood windows are built for extreme weather conditions,” says Rebbecca, who knows all about the Puget Sound’s climate. Nontoxic paints and stains were used for all finishes.

A wood stove in Squirrel provides the heat for the cabin, utilizing downed trees from Rebbecca’s own property for fuel. Locally harvested cedar and fir logs were milled for her cabins’ siding.

Rebbecca splurged on fine vertical grain fir for her windows, casings, trim and doors. The integrity of the wood mirrors the detailed craftsmanship of her cabins. She decorated with patterned antique rugs and upholstered furnishings to interject color and interest.

Household artwork includes needlework, wood carvings and furniture built by Rebbecca or family members. Fine woodworking detail graces the cabin spaces as well. “I hand-built the floor-to-ceiling bookcase in Squirrel and the medicine cabinets and loft ladders in both Owl and Squirrel,” says Rebbecca.

Contemplating the results of her effort over the years, Rebbecca says she is happy with the cozy home in the woods that she has made for herself. “It’s far more than just the sum of its parts,” she says. “It’s really all about the parts, each one special. It’s been a complete labor of love creating and assembling them all into this place I call home.” She won’t be leaving here any time soon, at least not for long.

See also Cost-Effective Cabin Ownership