Our home away from it all

We’ve been working on the Fournier family cabin located in Northwestern Ontario, Canada over the last nine years. We’re very proud of our little cabin in the woods. It’s location is tranquil, surrounded by nature and shares the woods with the many creatures of the Boreal Forest.

We, like other cottage owners in the Lake of the Woods area, dream of our cottage escape to when summer in the city gets unbearable. After acquiring land, we looked at neighboring cottages, magazines, books on log cabins, timberframe buildings and more. We realized the funds required to truly pull off the dream was going to be a bit much for our budget.

What to do? Build a garage package to start with and make periodic additions – possibly. Then one of my aunts, who lives in the area, brought to our attention a young school house that was going to be put up for auction.  We placed a low bid and won! I liked this building for many reasons.  It could be moved in two pieces, each half had two pretty laminated pine beams that ran the length of each half providing a cathedral ceiling, and it featured an interior free of any supporting walls! It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever re-purposed (and we’ve done a lot of re-purposing). We moved it over an existing wagon trail through the bush to our building site.

At first, most of my planning, doodles and permit approval drawings were done using a 2D computer program. This was great for graphic design, but changes were time-consuming and the program didn’t allow for 3D drawing. I bought a 3D computer program but found it equally limiting. THEN in 2008, I discovered SketchUp and from the handy tutorials soon learned the simplicity of the program. I started with the island in the kitchen and quickly redesigned the building to accommodate a 2nd floor, an addition to the main floor and a screen room. SketchUp made it easy to visualize and modify my ideas as the concept developed. I learned how to work with components, layers, section planes and cuts, how to do multiples of components and animate a sequence of scenes – I was in planning heaven.

With my new SketchUp drawings, a local contractor was able to quote the additions to our little school house. It was going to be great. Then the economic meltdown began to affect Canada and our family-based business suffered. We had managed to build the foundation footings but realized our grandiose plans had to change or we risked never truly realizing the dream. So I went back to work with SketchUp redesigning a structure we could do our selves. At this stage, I began to realize how helpful SketchUp could be for a DIY person like myself. I studied Canadian building code, consulted with my local housing inspector and finally found the courage to take my ideas to a local lumberyard that specialized in timber.

The sales rep was very helpful with wood species selection and beam size requirements for our new plans. During the winter of 2010 I finalized a smaller more feasible concept based on a timber-frame look with only the screen room needing the structure and cost of solid wood. We wanted a design that would deal with the dramatic changes in weather and temperature of the region. With SketchUp I could see accurate shadow and sun conditions for the time of day and year which helped me position my beams for shade in summer and protection from the snow and wind in winter. Back to the lumberyard with drawings and cheque book in hand we ordered the required materials: 6 24′  4″ x 6″ and 10 20′ 3″ x 6″ Douglas Fir beams and an assortment of smaller dimensions selected for both strength and low maintenance.

The new design also required moving the roof’s peak four feet north to mate the new addition to the rest of the new metal roof structure. Again SketchUp allowed us to visualize and calculate how many and what length the metal roof panels needed to be – 23′ 6″ by 4′ wide. When built, I was out by only 4″ on the south side after moving the roof peak and building the new breezeway! I really wanted to get each entrance way protected so when we arrived for a winter getaway we would not have to shovel our way in.

When the order arrived in the spring of 2010 the wood beams were a beautiful rough finish and the 1″ x 8″ tongue and groove siding was easy to work with. We stained everything a red cedar to give the building a warm back country look (we decided to keep the industrial metal siding around most of the building simply for its cost savings, durability and low maintenance). Each beam was very heavy but manageable by two people, steel cable and a come-along to crank them into position.

My wife Leanne and I learned most of our skills renovating our 1950s home in the city. The timber framing was difficult. We kept the connections simple having neither the proper tools or experience to do it like the pros. The winter of 2011 had well over three feet of snow and thankfully everything performed as planned. It works and we’re very happy with the results. With SketchUp’s paint, layer and section plane tools it was fun to design the 1,100 square feet of interior space: living room, dining room, three bedrooms, bathroom and the screen room and decks. SketchUp’s vast component warehouse makes designing with 3D furniture, lighting, plumbing and landscaping fast leaving time for the custom deck railing.

Guests tell us the cabin feels very open, roomy and cozy. We think it’s the fireplace, oil lamps and our LCD chandeliers that keep them wandering around in the soft light of off-grid power. There’s still lots of fun work yet to do and design. Our little cabin is almost grown up, it sleeps up to 8 people comfortably, is easy to maintain all year round and with the money we saved using SketchUp, and electricity is now installed.

We believe SketchUp helped with many of the design, build, and cost decisions that made the Fournier Cabin a successful project for our family. We’re very grateful software of this caliber is available to anyone who wants to use it. May Google continue to offer SketchUp freely and that professionals worldwide continue to support what we consider one of the best software user experiences.  

Groovy cabin in the bush

Accompanying soundtrack for the video “The Fox & The Bee” by The Duhk’s. 3D production software provided by Google SketchUp.

Comments 7

  1. Leanne Fournier

    April 8, 2014, 9:27 pm

    Hey Mike,
    This looks like it was a lot of fun! Glad I was there to help.

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    • Leanne

      August 22, 2014, 5:16 pm

      Thanks for your input. We’re in good shape for now but will keep you in mind!

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