Best Practices, Feature, Operations, V7I4

Cabins and Cottages Growing in Popularity

(Photo courtesy of Jamaica Cottage Shop)

You may not know the exact statistics, but you’ve likely experienced the upshot—a recent rise in customers clamoring for smaller dwellings like cottages and cabins. Demand in 2021 for those new builds is soaring because people are itching to get out of town, either permanently or for relaxation.

A recent Harris Poll shows nearly 40 percent of the adults surveyed living in urban areas are considering leaving for less populated places based on COVID-19.

“With the pandemic and the current shift to move out of the cities and more people working from home, the tiny house /small footprint housing market has erupted to an all-time high,” says Dave King, owner of Hilltop Structures in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee. 

“We are 10 to 12 months out on lead time and currently not taking deposits or down payments. Partly due to the uncertainty of lumber prices and availability as well, we are taking down names of interested parties and hope to soon begin processing down payments again.”

With such great interest, it might benefit builders to explore the cabin and cottage market, learning about how these structures might fit into an operation and how to sell them. 


Hilltop Structures opened in Cumberland Furnace, about an hour northwest of Nashville, at the height of the recession in 2009. It probably goes without saying that it was a tough time for the shed business. 

The initial goal was to build cabins and horse barns and some sheds to “fill in,” King says. “We found a niche in building cabin shells early on and setting them up on strip footers. We would get the mechanicals done and then install 1 by 8 tongue-and-groove wooden paneling on the walls and ceiling and install some rustic cabinets.” 

Today the company builds turn-key modular factory-built cabins, available in Tennessee and also offers exterior finished only (or shell) cabins in specific counties in Tennessee.

For Domenic Mangano, senior designer, founder, and president of Jamaica Cottage Shop in South Londonderry, Vermont, adding cottages and cabins to the company’s offerings was not a hard transition.

“People would come and walk into the sheds and they would say, almost without exception: ‘Oh I love the smell of the wood’ and then the next thing they would always say: ‘Oh, I could live in this,’” he says.

Mangano finessed his business model to create three broad categories of buildings: “living,” “storage” and “livestock,” with “living” becoming by far the most popular.

As the country eases out of the pandemic, Mangano says he expects manufactured housing to become the norm. 

“I have seen the demand continue to rise and feel the market is strong and the mindset is shifting from traditional onsite construction to working with manufacturers for all types of housing solutions,” he says. 

Hilltop Structures also sees a definite and growing market for cottages and cabins. King says if builders are considering getting into that niche they should be sure to feature a variety of styles, color combinations, and siding choices. His company also offers about six different types of rustic cabinets—something that has been a “huge hit” with customers. Laminate flooring has previously been standard but the company is shifting more toward vinyl plank. Adaptability to customer requests and trends is key.  


The Hilltop Structures’ cabin-building facility is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in an Old Order Mennonite community.  

“Murray Martin, the owner there, is very well organized and does a great job in taking the sales orders, working with the customers to make sure that all the details are correct and working with the staff at his shop to take our clients’ dreams and turn them into a reality,” King says. 

The variety offered by Hilltop Structures is vast, from a one-bedroom, one bath “Country Cabin,” perfect for a weekend getaway or use as a studio or office to the 1,636 square-foot “Homesteader,” which includes three bedrooms, two baths, a utility room, a vaulted ceiling over the kitchen, and great room with optional roof dormers. 

The modular cabins were developed to meet the needs in the more urban areas of Tennessee that have more stringent codes. 

The company also offers three styles of “park model” RV cabins, each with a porch on the gable end, one bedroom, one bath, a living room, and a kitchen. The “Smokey Mountain” has been their most popular seller with a sleeping loft and extra gables and dormers, which allow a large amount of natural lighting. 

There are a number of models on the Hilltop Structures display lot that are finished out, hooked up to electric, and with the HVAC running, all of which are a big draw and important for sales King says. 

“We have found that to sell cabins, it is important to have the lights on, the climate controlled, and have them furnished with nice rustic furniture,” he shares. “My wife, Faith, does a great job of making curtains, buying rugs, making sure the cabins look presentable and the landscaping acceptable.”

At Jamaica Cottage Shop the Vermont Timber frame cabin and cottage choices are also plentiful ranging in size from 320 to 2,000 square feet. The company’s PCK, or pre-cut kits, are by far the most popular with more than 80 percent of gross sales generated from those options, Mangano says. 

The company also offers DIY plans, frames only, a three- or four-season kit, and—if the design is over-the-road legal—will also offer a fully assembled project delivered in one piece. 


The old adage, “To keep a customer demands as much skill as to win one,” is certainly as true for cabins and cottages as it is in all branches of the shed industry; excellent service can’t be stressed enough. 

Winning the customer through great marketing is something Jamaica Cottage Shop and Hilltop Structures both emphasize, and in today’s competitive environment, it is mostly done digitally. 

According to Mangano—who estimates 98 percent of his company’s advertising is online—over 90 percent of customers placing a new order have visited the website before purchasing. 

Jamaica Cottage Shop invests about $40,000 per month in advertising relying heavily on social media sites and paid sponsorships across popular platforms. 

King also believes that in today’s market digital advertising gives “the most bang for the buck.” Hilltop Structures did rely on print advertising in the early days and occasionally runs wintertime ads for their barns in horse magazines but, otherwise, the company website,, is the biggest marketing tool.

“The downside of a good website is that people will find you and will call or email you from almost anywhere! So, you need to figure out what your perimeters are and try to stick to them,” King says. “You will be tested.”

Keeping the customer—and keeping them happy—is obviously vital, and along those lines, King stresses trying to be aware of potential problems and issues before they occur. Obviously delivering large cabins into remote locations is one place where glitches inevitably pop up.

“We have a Telehandler there to assist them, as well as a JDCrawler with a Reese Hitch welded on the bucket for real off-road setups,” King says. “We schedule an 80-ton crane for the modular setups, either an all-terrain or truck crane depending on the site or distance. 

“My niece’s husband, Robert, and his son, Conner, came on board recently and he is in charge of digging footers, working with subcontractors, and also working with any customer issues and callbacks. That is important as well to try to take care of issues in a timely manner. In this digital age, it’s very important  to keep negative reviews to a minimum.”

Not being conscious of local ordinances can also cause prickly issues. 

At Jamaica Cottage Shop, extreme care is taken to meet wide-load restrictions while traveling throughout the tight narrow roads of New England. It’s also imperative to have a plan to meet strict codes, as they are so different across North America, Mangano adds. 

The company offers stamped engineered plans for all 50 states as well as many parts of Canada and even named its saltbox “Church Street” structure after the strict mandates of Dorset, Vermont, where all buildings must meet a historical architecture ordinance.

Some ordinances can actually be blessings in disguise, says King. In 2016 Hilltop Structures was informed by the state fire marshal’s office that a new law would prohibit building cabins at their shop and finished on-site. It forced the company to consider modular and park model RV cabins. 

“Although at the time it was disappointing, it was actually where we needed to go,” King says. “That is how life is. Many times as we find a door closes, God is gently leading us along his way.”


Both King and Mangano emphasize taking the time to fully research all of the options before adding cottages and cabins to your repertoire 

“I know the MOD program (manufactured housing) and RVIA (RV Industry Association) can appear a little daunting or difficult, but once we finally figured things out and got the system rolling, it really isn’t that bad,” King says. “If you have an interest in cabins or the tiny house market, it is an attainable venture.”

He recommends taking a few days to visit other facilities and then starting slowly and not releasing a line of structures until you make sure you have the manpower to build them and great quality control. He advises focusing on interior workmanship since customers are willing to pay for thoughtful, extra details. 

“It’s a little like the motorhome industry,” adds King. “I have heard the two main questions mega motor homeowners ask each other at the campgrounds are: ‘How many horsepower does it have and how much did you pay for it?’ People want something nice but they love it when it gives them bragging rights. So give them something to brag about.”

Close scrutiny before taking the leap is vital, Mangano stresses. He advises looking closely at the process and deciding if you want to be a contractor or a manufacturer. 

“Are you looking to build and profit or build a recognizable brand? Understanding how to position the company for the future will dictate many of the choices a builder will face,” he says. “Personally I suggest a manufacturing process with limited options, fast turn around, and ease and simplicity of processes.”

It’s also imperative to understand that the No. 1 thing any shed builder will need to transition from cold storage sheds to living cabins is more manufacturing space. By their nature, cabins tend to be larger than sheds and involve more parts and pieces. Inventory of materials will quadruple, and Mangano says anyone looking to take on the housing market should consider acquiring the facility to make that happen posthaste. 

He believes the decision by a customer to buy can hinge on five concerns: 1) objection to price, 2) logistics, including lead times, 3) permissions, 4) design choices, and 5) life events.

“Understanding how to handle these types of objections will help streamline your selling process,” he says. 

Despite the demands, both company owners say including cottages and cabins in their shed building businesses has been rewarding and ultimately fulfilling.

King describes an experience this spring about a customer who became emotional when he saw his much-anticipated log cabin arrive at his property in the woods near a creek and adds that kind of response isn’t unusual. 

“This is often a dream come true; people have worked all their lives and saved up to build a little cabin somewhere remote,” he shares.

And Mangano notes that the end product is always the sweetest compensation.

“As with any construction process the most rewarding part is seeing the fruits of your labor, taking a step back and admiring the work,” he says. “I always said if I had a choice I would keep all my builds for myself.”

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