Two Tiny Cabins with Big Impact

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The moment I first saw this project on Dwell is carved in my memory. I was moved. I kept looking through the photos over and over again, combing through the copy to find out everything I could about the project. It changed the whole way I think about design. So much so that, several years later, I went back to find the original article so I could share it with you. Whatever your personal style, I hope Eyrie will revolutionize the way you think about design, as it did for me.

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Eyrie is comprised of two tiny, off-the-grid cabins on the coast of New Zealand, perched like little ships on a sea of grass and shrubs. The project was designed by Cheshire Architects for two friends - a biologist and a contemporary art gallerist.

The friends spent years carefully replanting and regenerating the soil after purchasing the rejected farmland site. For a long time, they lived on the land in a tiny shack, cooking over a fire. Getting to know the land in such depth - finding hidden views, discovering which spot on the site draws you to it again and again, learning the bird patterns and water flow - has given Eyrie a sense that it has always been here in the way that scattered boulders belong to the landscape.

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The first thing that strikes you about this project is the size. Each cabin is a minuscule 290 square feet. To put that in perspective, my one bedroom in Dallas was more than twice that size. Going tiny was completely against the typical style of the area. To quote the article from Dwell:

"We wanted a different vision for New Zealand’s coastal future," Cheshire says. "We build houses that are far too big for us. Every cent we have is poured into increasing the footprint, without realizing that size is a currency of its own and easily transferable for quality."
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Eyrie really took this to heart. You can see the thought put into every inch of these cabins. Inside, one features a kitchen of brass in striking contrast to the dark formply paneling in the rest of the space. Minimalist Arne Jacobsen faucets are used in the kitchen and bathroom, and an Alvar Alto chair sits next to the bed. The other features oiled jarrah eucalyptus in contrast to light paneling that shows a beautiful grain and plays off traditional bachs (seaside cabins). Though beautiful materials were used, they have an element of humility and simplicity to them.

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With something so small, every detail has to be designed to be just what is needed and no more. The plans were optimized for efficiency and designed for fluidity. There is a sleeping loft over an open space without a designated function, so it can be used for whatever is needed at the time. In one cabin two chairs are casually grouped around the window, but feel as if they could drift through the room at any moment, to wherever one desires. There is a tiny kitchen alcove off the main space and an even tinier powder room under the stairs, with the shower placed outside - literally just a showerhead with a rock underneath.

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The whole things feels a bit like a monolithic abstract. The dark exterior with it's angled roof and boxy body is clad from top to bottom in cedar that was carefully hand-charred using an improvised blowtorch system. The entry is just a sliding window with a large rock in front of it. The windows are precisely placed, but there are not very many of them, making the sparsely decorated interior a haven from the elements. It's sheltering rather than open, but it works because of the tiny dimensions.

What I think is so beautiful about the way Eyrie was conceptualized is that these cabins are designed for people, but in a way that works with the land instead of against it. The tiny footprint disturbs a minimal amount of vegetation and cuts down on material use. The cabins harvest rainwater and solar power and treat septic waste which is later released back into the ground.

Eyrie is not just a radical style of building - it is a new way of living in our spaces. A way that is quieter and more humble, but of better quality. A way that looks on landscape not as something to claim, but something to curate. A way of living in nature, not fighting or taming it.

Project originally featured in an article by Sam Eichblatt on Dwell | Design by Cheshire Architects | Photos by Darryl Ward