Backyard hideaways: A home away from home, but not far away

In a society largely removed from its agrarian roots, traditional agricultural buildings still touch something deep. Take Jeffery Broadhurst’s Crib, a weekend cabin that doubles as iconic sculpture.

With its canted walls, broad-shouldered roof and pentagonal profile, the Crib calls to mind early American farm barns built to store and cure feed corn. Re-imagined by Broadhurst, it is a modern shelter for people, treading lightly on the earth and fitted to a variety of uses and settings.

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“I see it in back yards, in a 40-acre pasture, on top of a building in Manhattan, on a barge. It’s not just for mountain or lakefront properties. It could be anyplace,” said Broadhurst, an architect in Rockville.

For the next two years, it is under the shelter of a towering silver maple on the grounds of the Mansion at Strathmore, the historic house and visual arts center off Rockville Pike in North Bethesda.

Set against the backdrop of the adjoining Music Center at Strathmore, the prototype Crib will function as a working artist’s studio. Largely prefabricated, it took two full weeks to assemble and opened to the public on Wednesday.

Beyond its high design and evident craftsmanship, the Crib is part of an alluring universe of small, secondary buildings — planners call them accessory structures — that can range from simple yoga spaces to home offices to weekend abodes. Their ambitions and costs vary widely, but they all offer a singular appeal to harried parents, working stiffs and latent poets alike — as a place of retreat.

The Crib has a floor area of 250 square feet, but decks front and rear raise that to 370 square feet. Its scale was driven by what Broadhurst felt would feel comfortable for four people to gather in two separate seating areas and to have a meal together, and by the need for prefabricated sections to fit on a truck. He likens the Crib to a nautical environment where spatial efficiency is the key: A cabinet unfolds to reveal an office space, for example, and a ship’s ladder takes the occupants to a queen-size bed in the loft. The interior is 131 / 2 feet wide at the floor, but because of the canted walls, 16 feet at the eave. It’s sort of like being in a zoot suit.

“It struck us as being very sculptural,” said Monica Jeffries Hazangeles, president of Strathmore. “It’s an interesting exploration of architectural art.”

The frame is of galvanized steel beams and the distinctive roof formed from structural insulated panels clad in galvanized steel. The walls consist of translucent polycarbonate panels in an enveloping basket of heat-treated poplar. At night, the structure glows from within.

The Crib’s limited effect on the environment was a major design consideration — most steel today is recycled, the treated poplar resembles teak but is a fast-growing timber and the floor is of tiles from recycled tires. No surfaces are painted or stained, and the building is designed to close securely — to be bear-proof, among other things — and be left unoccupied for long periods.

The prototype is a version of what Broadhurst calls the Full Crib, which sells in base form for around $85,000. A more elaborate version whose features include a kitchen is approximately $120,000. A block or concrete walled basement with bathroom and storage would cost an additional $25,000, plus sewer hook-up. The Basic Crib, essentially a garden pavilion, would cost $56,760.

“It’s part of a movement of prefabricated small structures that can be used in the garden,” said Lila Fendrick, a Bethesda-based landscape architect who has designed a native plant garden around the Crib. “The reference to the Arcadian past is just really appealing.”

Habitable cabins may be great value for the money compared with regular houses, but clearly they’re not cheap.

Other retreats are less ambitious in scope and less expensive as a result. In Berkeley, Calif., a city not known for its affordable structures, architect Sarah Deeds designed and helped to build a small office at the bottom of her garden. It has electricity but not plumbing, and occupies just 120 square feet. Many jurisdictions, including those in the Washington area, do not require a building permit for structures below a given size, but checking with your local jurisdiction is the first step in any building project.

Deeds says she designed a floor plan that was more narrow at one end than the other — better for her particular site and needs. The broad end houses a long sofa, the other a tapering desk. “If it had been a rectangle, I would have had more wasted space,” she said.

She now has another office, and uses the space as an art studio. Her boyfriend, John McBride, goes there to play his cello. He is a carpenter, and built it. Costs of site-specific buildings vary a lot, but Deeds said such a building might cost between $30,000 and $45,000.

If you’re looking for ideas for small, minimalist spaces for yoga or other forms of contemplation, check out the Web site of Jeffery Poss, an architect and architectural professor at the University of Illinois. The sweetest may be the cedar shingle box he built in his own garden for his wife as a place of meditation. It is a tiny structure, the shingles wrap a fabric of plywood, but the placement of the windows, the arrangement of three Japanese tatami mats (each 3 feet by 6) and the unadorned interior sheetrock surfaces come together to form a minimalist jewel.

The building, supported by four posts, is hooked to electricity but not plumbing. The distance from floor to roof ridge is about 81 / 2 feet. It’s a place where you sit and allow the low window to frame a view of the garden. “If you stand up, you feel as if you’re out of scale,” said Poss, who spent a year designing and assembling the structure, in his spare time.

For a client, the cost would have been $15,000 to $20,000, a sum that would include architect’s fees of $2,000 to $3,000. This can be money very well spent — in small buildings, the attention to design becomes more important than larger ones, not less.

“It definitely takes more care to build a small building,” said Deeds.

BY THE NUMBERS

250: Square footage of floor space (but front and rear decks raise that to 370 square feet)

4: Number of people the Crib sleeps comfortably

7,500: Approximate weight of the Crib, in pounds

4 x 2: It took four men two weeks to assemble the building and finish the site.

88: Number of interlocking rubber floor tiles

40: Pitch of the roof in degrees

2: Number of rain barrels

R-32: The rating of the insulation used in the roof and floor, meaning it’s good at resisting temperature change

16: Number of heat-treated poplar wall frame panels, which clip into the structural frame of the building

$120,000: Cost of the Full Crib

More online

6Online poll: How would you use a backyard retreat? Go to washingtonpost.
com/home
to vote.

I Photo gallery: See more photos of architect Jeffery Broadhurst’s Crib and architect Sarah Deeds’s less ambitious (and more affordable) building at washingtonpost.com/home.

 
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