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Architect Dale Mulfinger Shares Design Ideas for Cabins

The 'Cabinology' author made a visit to the west Metro Saturday.

Minneapolis architect Dale Mulfinger has carved out a niche as a designer of cabins—those structures that are so much part of the lore of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

He has authored four books including his most recent, Cabinology: A Handbook to Your Private Hideaway, and over the weekend signed copies of the books at in Hopkins.

Patch spoke with Mulfinger late last week about cabins, architecture and how to combine the two to create a family gathering space that lasts generations.

Patch: What makes a cabin as opposed to simply a lake home?

Dale Mulfinger: If you have a master bedroom suite and an attached garage, it isn’t a cabin. But if you can smell the coffee brewing in the morning when you wake up and also hear your uncle Fred snoring, you are probably in a cabin.

Patch: What makes a well-designed cabin?

Mulfinger: One needs to understand the casualness and the intimacy that makes up a cabin. If the kids are up in the loft getting ready for the night and they hear you shuffling playing cards, that’s intimate and comforting for them. Also, the table used for dining is also a gather place for the occupants as it serves as a place to play board games or just sit and talk.

Patch: What elements of cabin design can be used in urban homes?

Mulfinger: Again a sense of intimacy. It used to be that the urban or family homes were where everyone gathered at the end of the day and on weekends. Now newer homes have great rooms which somewhat reflect the intimacy of cabins. Also, there is the occasional urban setting in which a cabin also exists on the same property with the family home. I know of a couple of them in Edina.

Patch: What makes cabins so special to Minnesota?

Mulfinger: Minnesota, and also Wisconsin, are unique in the amount of natural settings relative to water and forests. Also, there is a bit of a cultural proclivity in that Scandinavian, German and English settings have cabins. Also, people who got large acres of land and built on them, but couldn’t really farm the land, originally settled a lot of northern Minnesota. They left it, but the structures remained and people from other parts of the state who weren’t farmers moved into them. We also have a lot of people retiring to their cabins.

Patch: as an architects are you seeing a good deal of your work both designing new cabins as well as remodeling existing ones?

Mulfinger: Yes. I do a great deal of remodeling—again, because many people are converting their cabins from the seasonality approach to one of year-round use, especially older clients who are retiring to their cabins.

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