About two weeks ago I met with our architect for a deep dive into wall height, roof pitch, and what makes a cottage a cottage.
We couldn't figure out that last one — cottage architecture is all over the place — but we did agree on abandoning our original 10/10 plan (10' wall + 10/12 roof) and pivoting to an 11/11 approach. In short, to make the MVC more Silvernailsy.
I pulled the idea into SketchUp and I think this is where we're going to finally land. I love how this looks.
Why all the glass, you ask? The view! We want to see it as much and as often as possible. This is the front of the house. The money side. The entire reason why people pay a hefty premium for escarpment lots in Door County.
We're putting folding patio doors in the center bent to connect the indoor and outdoor spaces, and also enlarge the size of our mere ~850 square feet. If we weren't in Climate Zone 6 and at ~45° latitude and have a shit-ton of giant 🦟🦟🦟, I'd put these doors in all three bents and have them open all the time.
One thing I did discover in doing this was SketchUp's new Live Components. So cool. This feature is clearly MVP — there are so few LCs — but these windows and doors are all drawn with components built by and hosted at SketchUp, so they can be configured live and presumably updated with new features as the SketchUp team adds them. My favorite part was playing with the window and door openings to see how things look open, closed, and in-between. SketchUp team, if you're reading this, kudos and please add way, way more.
The first slide of our Google Slides inspiration deck lays out the requirements:
west-facing outdoor space
These are the non-negotiables. Without these, there is no MVC.
One of the first images pasted into our deck was Silvernails, a 5,000 sq. ft. barn-style house designed by Amalgam Studio, and built in Rhinebeck, New York.
The interior isn't really our cup of tea — nor the glazing style (skylights 😱!) or exterior cladding for that matter — but I'm deeply in love with its shape, and even after I paste something else I find cool into the deck I always return to Silvernails.
It got to the point that I needed to know *why* I find Silvernails so visually appealing. A big part of it is the clipped eaves and rakes, like most barns. But it goes deeper, and it's so simple.
The house is 22' wide, with an 11/12 roof. Based on this trusty pole barn ridge height calculator, this means the total roof height is 10' 1". Guess how high the walls are? Yep, 10' 1". They're balanced, and in harmony.
I could be reaching a little here, but I think there's even more to it. Of course every gable roof is a gorgeous isosceles triangle — which is what makes them so appealing — but Silvernails comes within a foot of *nailing two more* when you split the gable down the middle. Surely this was all thought through, and it's brilliant.
We're going a slightly different route, primarily because 22' just is not wide enough to fit three different spaces across, as we *need* to do in an ~800 sf structure. The MVC is 24' wide. Those two feet may as well be made of 🪙.
But we are (for now) adopting the core principle: 10' high walls and a 10/12 roof (on a 24'-wide volume that's 10'). We're also clipping our eaves and rakes, in order for the weather to wreak havoc on our doors and windows. As with fashion, architectural style comes with a price.
One look at the MVC floor plan and even a casual observer could see that we're doing timber frame construction. (The posts are a dead giveaway.)
I didn't get exposed to timber framing until way too late in life, and now I wouldn't consider stick frame construction for anything, even a shed. Every day I bike by all these massive new stick frame additions and new stick frame construction here in Edina and after I say, "Gross!" — usually in reference to the already dated, cheesy-ass architecture — I next ask myself, "Why?"
Even putting aside timber framing's subjective superiority over stick frame, like its clean, simple, organic, timeless, rugged, and sturdy appearance, it's *objectively* more practical and better than stick frame in three important ways:
They can be cut offsite. In a controlled environment, with precision, *before you even own a piece of property*, then shipped to the building site. I don't care if it's Larry Haun's Ghost doing the stick framing; he still can't do it offsite.
They can be erected quickly. While the MVC is small — just 36x24 — the Big River Timberworks (BRT) crew will put up the frame *and fully enclose it in SIPs* in 5 days. Let's call the frame erection half of that; 2.5 days. Stick framing is measured in weeks.
They don't have structural interior walls. I've laid out interior walls on the floor plan, but this is all still pretty flexible, for the most part, and they're all partition walls. Nothing is load-bearing. Nothing is critical. I can put an interior wall anywhere, and when I goof it up, I can put it somewhere else, no problem. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but unless you use trusses, stick frame will have an interior load-bearing wall.
Onto the specifics about our frame:
Port Orford Cedar. All my previous — and very limited — experience is with EWP (Eastern White Pine), which is readily available, cheap, and easy to work with, but I hate how it yellows over time. Thanks to BRT, I got turned onto Port Orford Cedar, which grays over time. Please don't judge our carbon impact having timbers shipped from Coos Bay, Oregon, but we far prefer POC over EWP, and really all the other timber options we looked at.
No braces. Timber frame purists might scoff at our frame, but a brace-free design really cleans things up, pretty dramatically. Again thanks to BRT for pointing us in this direction.
For a few days I thought I could cut this frame myself over time, in my garage, but after practicing this rather advanced joinery (for me) on some scraps, I gave up. 4 hours yielded this sad-looking post. At this pace we would have the MVC when I'm dead.
The best space in our current Minneapolis house is this den. We spend countless hours here in front of a fire watching Dateline, 48 Hours, and 20/20. On network.
The 🐕 🐕 love it, too.
A key objective of the MVC (Minimum Viable Cottage) is to recreate this space, except with a view of Lake Michigan. On paper it's somewhat of a success. Our current den is 12' x 13' with an 8"6" ceiling. The den on this floor plan is 12"4" x 11' with an 8"6" ceiling (once the loft is built).
Taking two feet from such a small room turns out to be a 15% reduction, but it's not a "hard" 11 feet because there isn't a rear wall. At least this is the rationalization I am going with.
The rest of the floor plan needs a lot of work, but it's pretty simple: 1 bedroom, 2 baths, 2 lofts (not shown yet), galley kitchen, laundry/mechanical room, puzzle table, and 3 garage doors to the western (view) elevation. Much more to come.
Everyone has an opinion on floor plans. Lay them on me: email@example.com
Here's the first look at the parcel, with the property lines and dead-end road draped on the topographic, and the three volumes placed about where I think they'll go.
The first build, which we are trying to get started in summer 2023, is the 36'x24' structure on the far left of the image (the northernmost volume). This is an "expandable house plan," where we will add on the larger 72'x24' house and the 30'x24' garage later, and everything will be connected via conditioned breezeways.
We just need to get a place up there ASAP, and a MVC — Minimum Viable Cottage — is the fastest, most direct route. Plus, we'll (hopefully) make all of our biggest mistakes on a very small house.
In order to make this drawing, I had to painstakingly trace elevation lines from the Door County map, elevate each of them, and then in SketchUp choose Draw > Sandbox > From Contours. Then I placed the three volumes.
It took hours but was totally worth it. Having spent a fair amount of time on the parcel, the satellite elevations are incredibly accurate. I completely trust that what's on this drawing is what's in real life.
Please note the vintage Ford pickup that's in my future.
Also please note, this plot not only provides a pretty awesome view of Green Bay, but a challenging ⛷️ run as well.
Here is another view of the drawing, with the view. This is aiming due west, and the SketchUp horizon (the blue part) is the bay.
Cottage on High Bluff Road is a blog documenting a house build in Door County, Wisconsin. A more in-depth explanation is in the inaugural entry.
We're just getting started and don't have a lot of channels, but the early leaders for content are mistakes, lot, and view. Many more to come.