Feature, V3I4

Exploring the World of Cabins and Cottages

Summerwood Products’ Bala Bunkie cabin has 230 square feet of usable interior space.

At a time when sheds are being seen as the new multi-purpose “room,” being retrofitted as offices and outside retreats, it’s tougher to pinpoint what sets these small structures apart from their classic cousins, cabins and cottages.

But the builders who offer a wide range of outdoor products that include cabins and cottages are firm on one point: since these buildings are built for living, they do present a distinct new offering for the builders that want to add them into their inventory.

If you find you’re adding new options to your sheds that include insulation and other creature comforts, now might be the time to branch out into cabins and/or cottages.

But how do you determine which of these structures is the right offering for your business? To answer this question requires fresh insight into your market area and target customer.


You can’t meet your customer’s needs without first understanding the clear difference between these distinct product offerings. Unfortunately, there’s not a clear and easy definition as to what sets a cabin apart from a cottage.

The resource Cottage Tips suggests that function and the level of amenities may set the two apart. You don’t hear much about “hunting cottages,” the blog points out. Cabins tend to offer more rustic comfort, while cottages might focus on cozy and quaint finishings.

“Cottages tend to be more than just a structure, and can represent a lifestyle,” points out Kristine Swint, director of interactive strategy and design for Royal Building Products, a millwork manufacturer in Woodbridge, Ontario. “The essence of a cottage lies in the casualness and its simplicity; it is structured with central gathering areas, porches and patios and an abundance of windows for natural light. You typically see these types of homes along beaches or in a country setting, but they differ from cabins as they are not as rustic or primitive.”

In other opinions, it’s the style of architecture that sets these two structures apart. A cabin doesn’t have to be loghewn, but it does typically convey a rustic appearance at home in the woods. On the other hand, a building with gingerbread trim or clapboard siding could easily be identified as a cottage.

“Typically, you will see a mix of styles with cottages,” Swint explains. “Usually, a clapboard style is used for the main exterior cladding, and then you will see a shake or board and batten in the gables or accent areas to add a focal point and dimension to the design. You’ll also see that accent colors are different from the main siding color.”

“Simply put, a cabin is more rustic in nature with live edge, rounded appearances, and a cottage is more refined and feminine,” says Domenic Mangano, president and senior designer of Jamaica Cottage Shop Inc. in Londonderry, Vermont.

Alyssa Deibert, sales and marketing director for Pine Creek Structures headquartered in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, is firm that it’s appearance that sets the two structures apart.

“Technically they can both function the same, as we can do custom building,” she says.

Of course, today’s sheds mimic the look of either cabin or cottage, and may form the bare bones of these upsells for many builders.

Not even size will necessarily set these structures apart from your typical shed. For example, Summerwood Products boasts that its Bala Bunkie cabin, with its 100-square-foot footprint, does not require a permit to go up in most jurisdictions. And buyers can opt for options like the Bala Bunkie without selecting fittings for electrical and water or even insulation. But those options exist for the small cabin, lending year-round comfort to its 230 square feet of useable interior space.

For Mangano, the distinction is simple, “Most cottages/cabins are sold as weathertight shells.”

Not so for other builders.

“Generally for Pine Creek Structures, a cottage style is sold as a shed,” Deibert says. “However, I have seen it used as a cabin as well, where the inside was finished off. A cabin would be more of a building someone would use for a getaway and/ or live inside; not necessarily for storage. Our cabins generally come with a porch on the front where a cottage is more shed like with just the overhang above the doors.”

As Mangano points out, “Cabin, cottage, camp, chalet—it’s all semantics, but I like to use them all since it is about image perception of quality. It depends on who I am marketing to, and the keywording the majority demographic uses. That is what I follow.”


The difference between these two products is important, as it’s an early indication into the type of customer to whom you should be marketing your product.

“A typical cabin customer is looking for a place to stay, which includes more of an interior finish/plumbing/electric, etc. A cottage customer is looking for a storage building with that ‘house look,’” Deibert says.

For Pine Creek, cottage is a style that upgrades a storage building to add an extra level of aesthetics to the yard.

“Since a cottage style falls into the shed category that would be marketed the same as a shed product,” she adds.

But the company’s cabins may be marketed differently. “It depends on the area. Some areas aren’t the best for selling cabins, while others work very well. We do have areas that will take a cabin-style building and make it a pool house or an outdoor bar area. It really varies. We definitely take a look at the area before advertising cabins though. It makes a difference,” Deibert says.

For Jamaica Cottage Shop, cottages and cabins are marketed in the same way.

“The same design can be presented to the same folks,” Mangano says. “They may flat out reject the first picture but love the second one simply because the second picture has different options: siding, windows, flower boxes, and arches versus live edge accents.”

But getting to know your cabin or cottage customer’s needs will depend on a new line of questioning for those visitors who step onto your sales lot.

“We have an entire different set of extraction questions used when the shelter becomes a living space,” Mangano says.

The first question to consider is the customer’s goal for the structure they’re buying.

As he points out, “Most likely the reason that attracted the new lead to your store was the cost of a shed. They may plan on finishing it in the future when time and money allows. Don’t point them to a $50,000 cottage/cabin if what they have in mind is living in a $5,000 shed and finishing it off later.”

Sheds can be the “bare bones” for an upsell to a cabin/cottage.
Today’s sheds mimic the look of either cabin or cottage.










Other questions Mangano suggests considering include:

• Do you own land? No need in wasting time with someone who has nowhere to plant it.
• Will this be a three-season or four-season structure?
• How comfortable do you want the space?
• Will it have running water? This will easily double the cost of the project.
• What is the budget? It’s very important with big ticket items—they want it all until they see the bottom line.



Builders say finishing tends to define if a structure is called a “cabin” or a “cottage.”

Expanding to meet customers’ expectations for livable cabins and cottages is not a decision to make lightly, as it will demand a host of new knowledge.

“A shed builder will definitely need to do their research when adding cabins to their line,” Deibert says. “Basic electric and plumbing knowledge is great, as well as codes, especially
if the cabin will be residential. Permitting and zoning is sometimes an issue. It’s definitely something to read up on so you can help educate the customer who is purchasing the building. You will also need to brush up on any kind of oversize load knowledge, how long and wide the buildings will be exactly since there are also special travel permits for a building of a cabin’s size. Interior finish knowledge is a must and, of course, the pricing that goes along with it.”

Even with all this new knowledge, there’s also the matter of expanding your reach to find this new audience.

“Marketing is a full-time job for us,” Mangano says. “Twenty percent of the office labor is dedicated to prospecting for new leads. Each product results in dedicated marketing strategies
[including] picking the correct demographic, being able to identify the needs before the customer does, and choosing when and where to present the best offer.”

For builders and dealers focused on achieving new levels of growth, this market holds strong potential.


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