A Hut of One's Own

Tiny dwellings are all the rage, but finding sanctuary in small places is nothing new


| January-February 2005



I TENSED MY MUSCLES and pushed hard against the timber frame, struggling to erect the skeleton of a wall against the determined pull of gravity. My friend (and fellow Utne contributing editor) Joseph Hart pushed too, then let go and jammed a board against the upright as a brace. We mopped our brows and admired our work: The wall was nearly perpendicular. A 12-foot-by-12-foot hut was in the making. All it needed now were three more walls, a roof, a floor—and Joe as its thoughtful inhabitant.

Joe is a serious seeker of peace and quiet. An independent-minded freelance journalist, he recently abandoned Minneapolis for Viroqua, Wisconsin, a town of about 5,000 souls. Now even Viroqua has proved too urban for Joe, and soon he and his family will move onto eight wooded acres of land a few miles outside of town, where they will build a house and a freestanding home office.

But even on this peaceful homestead, Joe needs a place of retreat, so the first thing he’s constructing is a tiny cabin for himself—to give him, as he puts it, “a chance to withdraw from my family and social obligations, and go inside my head to figure out what I think about things.”

Joe believes that while a calm outdoor landscape may provide a great respite from life’s cares, you’re not really away from the world until you’re in a small indoor space of your own, one that fits around you: a cocoon, a nest that you get to define, furnish, decorate, or even, as in this case, build yourself. And he’s not alone—I know a lot of people who dream of the hermit hut.