Cabin Fever: Rustic Style Comes Homeby Rachel Carley
A log cabin in the woods is one of America's most cherished icons a dream shared around the world. As the stress level of city life rises, more and more of us are imagining our own cottages far away from traffic lights and urban distractions. Cabins in the wilderness have never gone out of style, because the rustic life is a simple, rewarding one rooted in
A log cabin in the woods is one of America's most cherished icons a dream shared around the world. As the stress level of city life rises, more and more of us are imagining our own cottages far away from traffic lights and urban distractions. Cabins in the wilderness have never gone out of style, because the rustic life is a simple, rewarding one rooted in the traditions of the great outdoors.
Featuring rustic interiors as well as North Woods architecture, Cabin Fever visits more than two dozen charming retreats old and new, large and small, in the mountains and along the water, from the wilds of New York out to the wild, wild West. Author Rachel Carley explains where our love for the rustic comes from and shows the amazingly varied guises in which it appears today.
After serving as settlers' cabins, log homes enjoyed a phenomenal popularity in the late nineteenth century. Wealthy families such as the Vanderbilts, Guggenheims, and Carnegies summered in areas as remote as they could find, building what were euphemistically called camps. Those less affluent, following the era's prescription for fresh air and simplicity, traveled to even more rustic hotels and vacation cabins to get their share of the refreshing woods. Cabin Fever presents some of the best of these old lodges and private cabins, along with striking new homes that give a contemporary twist to the ideal of the rustic life.
To help fill a cabin, a whole camp, or even an apartment with the latest in rustic style, the book's catalogue shows where to find home furnishings from twig bedsteads to Hudson Bay blankets to Adirondack chairs. Brimming with exceptionally creative ideas for achieving this truly American look, this enchanting guide to living with the rustic style will cure every variety of cabin fever.
- Simon & Schuster
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Read an Excerpt
OUT OF THE WOODS
THE ROOTS OF RUSTIC
William Distin, a well-known architect in New York's Adirondack Mountains in the early 1900s, once designed a bark-covered vacation lodge for an affluent client, who promptly set sail for Europe. A few months later, as the story goes, he wired home: "Will arrive Thursday. Please buy dishes and have roast lamb for dinner." Distin reportedly was ready with the house, the meal, and a dining table set with crystal and monogrammed silver.
Cabin fever to the extreme? Perhaps, but the improbabilities and occasional excesses in the country's longstanding romance with the wild outdoors are what make the history of rustic retreats so fascinating and truly American. The fashion for remote hotels, hunting lodges, clubs, and private vacation "camps" built of rugged natural materials began in earnest after the Civil War, when the pressures of a newly industrialized society fed a desire for variety and escape. The conceit of "roughing it" in log or stone buildings (often furnished with silver and crystal) originated among the affluent Victorian social set, which had the time and the means to travel long distances. Within a short period, however, families of more modest means were building their own woodland retreats for just a few hundred dollars.
The log buildings typically favored for wilderness camps and western ranches were closely associated with a log cabin myth that romanticized the hardy outdoor life of American pioneers and identified the cabin with a democratic frontier spirit and the dream of the good life. The nineteenth-century obsession with the wilderness was in fact closely linked to a fascination with the frontier experience and its rapid disappearance. At the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the West was still uncharted territory and America's natural plenitude seemed inexhaustible. But the opening of the West brought a steady stream of exploitation, first by the fur trade and then by intense logging. Along with the loss of woodlands came the decimation of Native American populations and the settlement of formerly remote areas along rapidly expanding railroad lines. The passing of the frontier was declared a reality by the eleventh U.S. Census, conducted in 1890, which claimed that a true line of wilderness no longer existed in America.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rachel Carley
OUT OF THE WOODS
GOING HOME, TO THE WILDERNESS
The importance of connecting to nature in the face of industrial progress underscored many aspects of nineteenth-century life. Nature's place in humanity's spiritual regeneration was already a pervasive theme in contemporary philosophy and literature. "In the wilderness we return to reason and faith," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led a group of like-minded luminaries to a campsite retreat called Philosophers' Camp on Follensby Pond in the Adirondacks as early as 1858. The Adirondacks, the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, and the mountains and canyons of the Far West were also early destinations for artists and photographers, who brought their stupendous beauty to the attention of the American public.
In the race to document the receding wilderness, many artists became conservationists. The painter Thomas Moran joined the Hayden Survey in 1871 when it undertook the first official documentation of Yellowstone Canyon. He garnered widespread support for making Yellowstone the first national park the next year, becoming known as the father of the American park system. A well-known artists' colony thrived in Keene Valley in the heart of the Adirondacks, where a 2.8 million-acre state park (now six million acres) was created in 1892. The region was a magnet for such noted landscape artists as Asher Durand, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Cole, the latter considered the first American to express Emerson's ideas with a paintbrush.
By the turn of the century, public transportation made travel possible for a broader cross section of Americans, who developed a protective attitude toward the natural wonders they were seeing for the first time. The railroads, which started the first major concession areas in the national parks and were the biggest boosters of the American West, actively promoted tourism and dude ranching. The vogue for hiking and mountaineering led to an increase in the number of national park visitors from 69,000 in 1908 to 335,000 in 1915. The benefits were widely apparent. "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life," commented Sierra Club founder John Muir at the time.
ACCOMMODATIONS FOR NATURE LOVERS
Newly accessible, the nation's fabulous natural areas were the logical locales for rustic lodges and hotels, which held precisely the same romantic appeal as private woodland camps. At the start of the 1900s, the rustic image was adopted for national park hotels and became the foundation for a clever national marketing strategy. Most of the early park hotels were in fact built by competing railroad companies hoping to attract business to their new lines. They made natural wonders available to all and offered the added novelty of luxury accommodations in a wilderness setting.
No building, for example, could be more worthy of the extravagant scale and rugged beauty of Wyoming's Rocky Mountain wilderness than Old Faithful Inn, conceived by the Northern Pacific Railroad as a showcase hotel for the Upper Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park. Built and expanded over a twenty-five-year period beginning in 1903, the seven-hundred-foot-long structure was one of the largest and most expensive national park hotels of its day (costing more than $400,000) and remains one of the most significant examples of rustic architecture in America. The architect Robert Reamer's dark, brooding facades, log cladding, and rough-hewn details represent an early attempt to project a wild frontier image that captures the essence of the landscape and pays homage to its beauty. Novel and exciting, the hotel was a success as soon as it opened its doors in 1904 and proved as much a curiosity as the sheer rock cliffs, waterfalls, and hydrothermal wonders of the 2.2 million-acre park itself.
Nothing sold rooms and tickets like wilderness. To exploit this theme, railroad architects created a powerful rustic hotel style defined by a bold use of natural materials and an exaggerated scale that celebrated the buildings' natural settings. Charles Whittlesey's 1905 El Tovar, a magnificent pile of stone, rough-hewn logs, and wood shingles, represented the Santa Fe Railroad's bid to draw travelers to one of the nation's most awesome natural wonders by providing a destination resort of architectural distinction at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
In hotels like these, cavernous lobbies and dining rooms captured the eye and the imagination with massive woodburning fireplaces, gnarled staircases, and mock-primitive details. To complete the effect, furnishings included down-home hickory and wicker, along with suitably "honest" Stickley Craftsman pieces of rawhide and oak and Indian pottery and rugs that made exotic reference to the western frontier. The quest for originality often resulted in a confusing mix of popular styles of the day, but it produced hotels unique in their exuberance and spirit. The best became destinations in themselves although none ever completely upstaged its surroundings.
RETREATS FOR CAPITALISTS AND COWPOKES
In the days before air conditioning, summer resorts also grew up in cool mountain and lake areas located along rail lines and targeted by real estate speculators. The Adirondacks and New England mountains drew families from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Mountain hamlets such as Blowing Rock and Linville in western North Carolina were a refuge from the hot city pavements of Nashville, Charlotte, and Birmingham. The Great Lakes wilderness spawned private hunting lodges, clubs, and resorts for the barons of industry from Toledo, Detroit, and Minneapolis. Pasadena capitalists developed rustic resorts on Lake Tahoe for California's fashionable set. That most lodges and retreats were difficult to reach only underscored the owners' financial resources and capacity for leisure pursuits. The Ohio industrialists sharing the 1898 fishing camp Wa Wa Sum on the Au Sable River in Michigan traditionally left Toledo on Thursday nights. Met by their private guides at 4:30 the next morning, they were paddled some twenty miles upstream so that they could fish their way down to camp in time for breakfast.
Incorporating bark and log siding, exposed knotholes, gnarled details, and twiggy furniture, the woodsy design favored for these camps was very much a product of the time. Rough timber and stone were in obvious harmony with their surroundings, and it was only logical to use local materials and artisans in remote areas. Mainly, however, rustic was fashionable. Although the log cabin itself was associated with the winning of the West, such rustic elements as decorative gables were modeled in part after eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English picturesque designs. The pervasive chalet style was introduced to America by English pattern books in the 1820s, then picked up at midcentury by such American tastemakers as Alexander Jackson Downing. The rage for rustic buildings later in the century coincided with a European revival of the "piquant," or picturesque, alpine vernacular of Germany, Switzerland, and France and was spread across America by influential professional periodicals from England and Germany. These, according to a speaker at the 1895 convention of the American Institute of Architects, "furnished the sole inspiration of nearly every architectural office in the land."
American Victorian taste was often more enthusiastic than discriminating, and rustic soon took off in every imaginable direction as Americans added their own twists. Formality may have reigned in fashionable seaside colonies such as Newport, Rhode Island, but there was something about the woods that made people let loose. The railroad scion and real estate entrepreneur William West Durant is credited with introducing the prototypical rustic Great Camp in the Adirondacks in the 1870s with his Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake. A tourist attraction in its own time, this extravaganza of cedar bark and log featured separate buildings for eating, cooking, and sleeping, as well as a floating cabin with four bedrooms, a kitchen, a bath, and running water. One later Adirondack camp included a bark replica of the Parthenon, and still another boasted a pyramid-shaped "Egyptian" tent complete with hieroglyphics. On twelve thousand acres bordering the shores of Lake Superior, Louis Graveraet Kaufman in 1919 built his rustic estate, Granot Loma. From a manmade harbor to a fifty-room main lodge, the retreat encompassed an eight-bedroom guest house, an eight-car garage, staff quarters for twenty-eight, and steel-vaulted his-and-hers wine cellars (quickly finished just before Prohibition).
In addition to exotic foreign influences of the day (the Frederick Vanderbilts dressed their servants in Japanese kimonos), rustic lodges typically mixed in elements from all the same styles popular in suburban America after the Civil War: the Queen Anne, the Shingle Style, the Colonial Revival, the chalet mode, and Craftsman design. Furnishings were equally eclectic. Japanese accessories, Windsor chairs, factory-made cottage furniture, rough-hewn pieces fashioned by guides and caretakers, and dead animals filled every room. Indian artifacts peddled as rustic decorations in railroad souvenir shops also found their way into countless homes. Stickley and Mission furniture was favored too, but only because it was fashionable not because customers followed the philosophy of the Craftsman movement, which rejected the same Gilded Age excess that many early woodland camps celebrated.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rachel Carley
THE LOG CABIN LOOK
RUSTIC STYLE COMES HOME
"Why Not a Wigwam Style?" asked one article in an 1895 issue of The Decorator and Furnisher, whose pages often showcased model rooms complete with imitation-log wall coverings, horn-legged stools, stuffed owls, and a few tomahawks or canoe paddles thrown in for good measure. Other magazines of the period answered the growing mania for twig chairs, antler light fixtures, and rawhide lamp shades with their own regular features on rustic decorating.
In an era that prized romance and exoticism, it was only a matter of time before hunting spears became curtain rods and snowshoes replaced the traditional ancestral portrait over the mantel. This, after all, was the height of the Victorian age, when clutter was equated with good taste and cultural breadth. Talismans from the untamed wilderness were welcome additions to the ever-expanding mix and helped create a decorating style free of European influence. Mostly, however, birch-bark picture frames, Indian trade blankets, and twigwork porch brackets appealed for precisely the same reasons as they do today: they surprise and delight, reflect the value of natural materials and handcraftsmanship, and establish a sense of history and place.
The rustic style is unquestionably, quintessentially American. A truly democratic melting pot of decorating and design, the look encompasses with equal ease the plain Craftsman oak of Gustav Stickley from the early 1900s and the cowboy furniture of Thomas Molesworth from several decades later. Rustic rooms work by instinct, appealing to our national passion for collecting and relying on the power of association and emotion to draw us in. Displayed to advantage, everyday objects a piece of Hopi pottery, antique fishing creels become works of art as well as important links to roots and memories.
Not surprisingly, the taste for rustic design is stronger than ever. While vintage cowboy art, western furniture, and North Woods pieces intricately crafted from twigs and bark are in high demand, regional artists and artisans have also adopted the style. Their charming accessories and furniture for house and garden evoke the spirit of the wilderness and make the warm, down-home look of rustic accessible to everyone.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rachel Carley
CALL OF THE WILD
EARLY CAMPS AND CABINS
The frenzy for "roughing it" in the wilds took Americans deep into some of the country's most remote areas, where beginning in the 1870s they built thousands of private getaways ranging from one-room mountain cabins to compounds of four thousand acres. Although many city dwellers lived in unimaginable luxury by the end of the century, people still wanted to get away from it all.
The call of the wild led anywhere there were dramatic views, pure mountain air, and unspoiled waterways: the Adirondacks, the Great Lakes, and, by the early 1900s, the West. The last frontier had become irresistible, partly because of romantic cowboy novels and the fabulous success of William Cody's Wild West Show. During World War I the western dude ranch vacation became popular because Europe was off limits. Some dude ranches took after the Great Camps: a main lodge, separate bedroom cabins, stables, storehouses, a saddlery, barns, and ice houses. Many dudes returned to build ranches of their own typically in an easterner's image of the wild West.
These and other retreats were often eccentric overstatements of woodland conceit, papered with birch bark, chock full of antlers and stuffed squirrels, and so oversized that the staff necessary to keep them running generally outnumbered the household. Other homes in the wilds were simple affairs offering the spiritual communion that such nature-minded writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson espoused. But whether large or small, the best cabins, lodges, camps, and ranches combined rustic furnishings and a rough-hewn architecture of wood and stone complete with porches, walkways, and open-air rooms to encourage outdoor living. A deliberately inaccessible site might take hours or even days to reach, but that was precisely the point: once visitors finally got there, they felt privileged to be in the middle of nowhere.
Deep emotional attachments have bound owners to their historic vacation homes, and many have stayed in the same families for generations. But even new owners who are restoring them in increasing numbers recognize that America's early camps and cabins offer an invaluable opportunity for solitude and escape while they encapsulate the history of the wilderness experience itself.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rachel Carley
RUSTIC STYLE REVISITED
A potent symbol of respite and escape, the log cabin has never lost its hold on the American consciousness. Since the pioneer era, this revered national icon has been inseparable from the concepts of honesty, rugged individualism, and frontier spirit. Physically, it embodies a back-to-basics rusticity that connects us to the landscape. Emotionally, it brings us to a place far removed from daily routine, where a campfire and the constellations wheeling across an ink-black sky banish cares, cleanse the soul, and open the imagination to the boundless possibilities for adventure and romance.
Who doesn't long for a piece of the wilderness to call one's own? Almost no one, if the number, geographic range, and stylistic scope of today's new wilderness vacation homes are any measure. "The more society becomes high tech, the more demand there is for rustic design," explains one Montana builder who specializes in traditional log structures. "Here we have the oldest building form in America, and it is more popular than ever. Why? Because it has roots. It gets people back in touch with nature, their family, their friends, and the quality of life."
These days the term cabin is more figurative than literal, and logs are only one option in a range of natural woods and stone with inherent beauty and an ability to forge a relationship between structure and environment. But no matter what the size or type shanty, camp, lodge, or ranch the new American retreat expresses a desire for good design that celebrates nature and acknowledges America's remarkable heritage of regional craft and building traditions. It often represents an attempt to capture childhood memories or the spirit of a place held dear. And while fulfilling the desire for quiet and solitude, it must also be a welcoming home that people can fill with friends and family. Even the newest of houses can seem comfortable and well loved, as building and furnishings take on the character of their materials, the forest, and the owners themselves.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rachel Carley
Meet the Author
Rachel Carley holds a master's degree in historic preservation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning and is a former staff member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Her previous books include The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture, A Guide to Biltmore Estate, and Cuba: 400 Years of Architectural Heritage. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, Architectural Record, and the Michelin Travel Guides. Actively involved in historic preservation, she lives in Washington, Connecticut, and is a frequent visitor to Putnam Camp in the Adirondacks.
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