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Mom and Son in a 650-Square-Foot Cabin: “It Exudes Cozy and a Whole Lotta Love”

7/14/2011 12:00:00 AM


Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnail“Fancy homes are lovely, but absolutely not necessary,” Victoria Gazeley says—and she walks her talk.

Victoria and her then 5-year-old son, Jonah, were living in a 1,300-square-foot townhouse in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2008 when she made a conscious and well-researched decision to move into a 650-square-foot heritage cabin on 7 wooded acres. “It seemed a logical choice for a home as we began our foray back to a rural lifestyle,” she says. “Not only did smaller make sense for us—I’m not a great fan of spending hours every week on housework—but it actually turned out to be an almost perfect amount of space.”

Built by a Polish homesteader from old-growth fir and hand-hewn cedar in the late 1930s, Victoria’s cabin was decrepit—falling down and covered in moss—when she and her father came across it in the late 1990s. After she convinced the owner to sell it to her for $150, she and her parents took it apart, numbered each log and moved it piece by piece to her parents’ property a few hundred feet north. “With a lot of ingenuity on the part of my dad, we managed to bring it back to life,” Victoria says.

Before reassembling, Victoria and her family removed rot from the logs with a chainsaw. “Remarkably, there were few of these spots to remove–a testament to the amazing resiliency of our native western red cedar,” Victoria writes in her blog, Modern Homesteading. “We had to replace only the very bottom logs that essentially had been sitting on the dirt in the original building–the rest of the logs were almost entirely sound.” They rebuilt the cabin on a platform, which allows a crawl space for storage and creates air circulation that keeps the cabin cool in summer—but can be problematic in winter.

The home is heated with a woodstove and fueled by wood—mostly alder and maple blown down by wind—gathered on site. “We can keep ourselves more than warm enough even in the coldest winter, strictly from fuel from our own property,” Victoria says. “That’s a great feeling.” The home’s location in a small hollow and its square-hewn logs keep it cool in summer without air conditioning. Doors on either end of the cabin and windows in the loft keep air moving.

While she and her family were restoring the cabin’s structure, Victoria got smart about homesteading. She spent nearly a decade participating in hands-on gardening and self-sufficiency workshops, interviewing experts and reading books late into the night. Her goal: “a tiny haven of style and self-sufficiency.” She has arrived.

With help from family and friends, Victoria has built a greenhouse, temporary cold storage for harvested fruits and vegetables, and a raised-bed vegetable garden. She’s planted a small blueberry patch, refurbished a raspberry patch and cleared the way for food-bearing trees and shrubs. This season she plans to add an underground root cellar, more raised beds for vegetables, a fruit orchard and chickens. (All the while, Victoria has kept her homestead-based business, Peace of Mind Web Design, thriving.)

“We’ve had to be efficient with the space, not collecting things we don’t need and only having the things we really use on hand,” Victoria says. “There are no closets in this antique house, so we utilize armoires and trunks to store all of our things. Living in a small house really forces you to get real about how much ‘stuff’ you really need. We’ve got a few things in storage (like all of our big furniture, which wouldn’t fit through the doors!), but not a whole lot.”

Lack of storage space and real bedrooms are the only drawbacks to Victoria’s small home. This year she plans to add a small addition that will create two small bedrooms, and she uses baskets and built-in storage units to contain clutter. These are small issues, Victoria adds, compared with the satisfaction and joy the cabin brings.

“It’s been an incredible gift for our entire family, our friends, and everyone who sees it,” she says. “There’s just something about this building that exudes ‘cozy’ and a whole lotta love. Maybe it’s all the handwork that went into it, both originally and in the rebuild. Maybe it’s the location. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s a blessing, and I absolutely love living here.”

To learn more about Victoria’s journey, check out her blog, Modern Homesteading. 

gazeley cabin 

The original homesteader cabin, built in the late 1930s, was falling down and covered in moss when Victoria discovered it. 

 gazeley exterior 

Victoria and her family took apart, moved and reassembled the cabin on its current site. 

 gazely door 

Victoria repurposed the original cabin’s front door, complete with the owner’s initials, as the bathroom door. “I love the additional sense of history it brings,” she says. “The whole building is a conversation piece, but that door is in a whole other category. I simply adore it.” 

 gazeley tub 

Victoria describes her bathroom, with its clawfoot tub and nickel rainshower showerhead, as “a tiny oasis of heritage and modern convenience.” 

gazely kitchen 

The cabinets in the galley kitchen were built using scrap wood and old louvered doors. 

gazely kitchen 2 

The kitchen has a hand-built spruce countertop and an antique cast iron sink and drainboard. 

gazely living room 

Victoria painted a dark oak table with glossy white paint and installed white tabbed curtains that she found at a thrift store in the living room. 

gazely fireplace   

A small woodstove heats the entire home. Victoria plans to replace it with a more efficient model soon. 

gazely storage armoire 

Because the antique home has no closets, Victoria relies on armoires and chests. She painted this one black to match the curtain rods, dark beams and metal. 

 gazely stairway 

Victoria makes use of every inch of space. This stairway landing also serves as a gallery for her art and family photos. 

gazeley victoria and jonah 

Victoria and Jonah love modern homesteading. 

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