YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


You could call it a cabin, but ...

Never mind its rustic look -- Yvonne and Andy Neumann's getaway spot is modern from start to finish.

September 21, 2006|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

YVONNE NEUMANN has trouble putting a name to her 880-square-foot home overlooking Lake Isabella.

You could call it a cabin. It's small -- only one bedroom with a loft. It's secluded -- perched on the top of a rocky hill overlooking the lake's shimmering waters. And it's cozy -- it has a wood-burning stove and picturesque views of the lake and the surrounding hills. After all, Neumann and her architect husband, Andy, only use it for the occasional weekend getaway.

But with its stylish tongue-and-groove wood plank ceiling, fire-resistant metal roofing and centralized air-conditioning, the Neumanns' retreat is too modern and elegant to fit the old definition of a cabin.

At the Neumanns' cabin, you won't find creaky plank floors and sinking wood porches. The place is energy efficient, low maintenance and built to blend into the landscape. It also has motorized aluminum shutters that roll over the windows, making it as secure as a bank vault.

"To me, it's a kind of reinterpretation of a cabin," Andy Neumann says.

To the Americans of the Old West, cabins were simple, humble structures that offered the barest of shelter. Aesthetics, energy efficiency and security were not big concerns. The idea was to throw together something cheap that would block out the elements. Later on, cabins became places to lay down a bedroll before hiking out to the real destination: a trout-filled stream, a mountain lake or a shady forest.

The Neumanns' retreat embodies the state of modern cabins. Today's cabins are cozy and comfortable, like the cabins of old. But the look is clean, stylish and innovative. Stucco walls, polished concrete floors and metal roofs have replaced splintered wood and redwood shingles. Double-glazed glass and photovoltaic panels have taken the place of drafty windows and leaking roofs.

And now cabins are designed by many of the same architects who sketch plans for luxury hotels, government buildings and cathedrals. Among the handful of architects who specialize in cabins are Mary Griffin, a partner at the Berkeley architectural firm Turnbull Griffin Haesloop.

"Today it's about pleasure," she says of modern cabins. "It's not about basic shelter."

For such architects, cabins offer a unique set of challenges and advantages. One advantage is that cabins have no need for huge closets and giant storage space. The kitchens are smaller too because, well, who wants to prepare elaborate meals or host big dinner parties in a quiet retreat?

Still, cabins are usually two to three times smaller than a typical home and that means cabin architects must make the most of the remaining living space. As a result, cabin designers might build a living room that doubles as a dining room, put a shower outdoors or tuck a kitchen under a staircase. They must also incorporate the cabin's features into the surrounding landscape.

"Often it's like designing a big boat," says Griffin. "You really think about using each piece and not having a lot of excess space."


OVER 40 years ago, Yvonne Neumann's mother and uncle bought 30 acres of rocky scrubland on the hills overlooking Lake Isabella, a reservoir on the Kern River, about 42 miles northeast of Bakersfield. They bought the land cheap, thinking it would quickly grow in value, making for a good investment. Later, they sold some of it and parceled out the rest to family members. Yvonne, who lives about 180 miles away in Summerland, got a lot on the precipice of a rocky hill.

Her architect husband, a former champion surfer, had already designed and built a cabin in a canyon outside of Gaviota that he called his "surf shack." But Yvonne felt a connection with the desert landscape around Lake Isabella. She convinced her husband to design a second cabin overlooking the lake.

"I love the stark beauty of the place," she says as she gives a tour of the cabin on a warm weekday morning. Outside, heat waves rise from the pavement, but inside, the cabin is cool and comfortable.

Before Andy put a mark on paper, he visited the parcel, set the views to memory and talked to his wife about the features they wanted for the getaway cabin.

"The siting is very important," says Andy, a partner at the Carpinteria architectural firm Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis. "We like designing without having a preconceived notion."

The couple -- in their mid-50s at the time -- dubbed the split-level cabin Casa Bella and completed it in 2000. It's in Wofford Heights, a town with a couple of traffic lights and strip malls, a place the Neumanns rarely venture. With a getaway like theirs, why should they?


AT the end of a washboard dirt road, surrounded by yucca plants, juniper trees and wild buckwheat, the Neumanns' cabin sits low on the hill top like a sports car in the weeds.

The look is no accident.

Los Angeles Times Articles