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posted: 8/17/2014 5:45 AM

Small cottage kits have an endless number of uses

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  • Many online companies sell pre-manufactured building kits, like this Vermont Cottage by the Jamaica Cottage Shop. This easy-to-assemble structures have many creative uses.

    Many online companies sell pre-manufactured building kits, like this Vermont Cottage by the Jamaica Cottage Shop. This easy-to-assemble structures have many creative uses.
    Courtesy of Jamaica Cottage Shop

By Christine Brun

Getaway houses are considered a true luxury these days. Yet, for some families a small vacation place is a deep tradition going back generations.

Depending on what part of the country you live in, and whether or not the land has been in your family for generations, a small summer house could be quite affordable. Most of the time, land on a pond, lake or a bay is quite valuable. It is, therefore, even more important to hang onto the land if you can and find a way to build a little piece of heaven.

You might consider a modern teepee design, a yurt or a traditional cabin. One way to build is to buy a kit. There are dozens of companies in the U.S. that build everything from a reclaimed structure to a log cabin reproduction. Styles range from New England sugar shacks to line cabins typical in the Rocky Mountains. Most of these are pre-cut and are assembled much like a paint-by-the-numbers kit.

The cottage in this photo is typical of many on the market. At 16-by-20 feet, the one-room structure is made of hemlock and pine lumber. It comes with all the hardware necessary and is geared to a beginner carpenter's skill level. Such kits are delivered curbside by common carrier.

The Jamaica Cottage Shop offers free shipping to California within a 200-mile radius of their manufacturing base. Kits offer amenities like sleeping lofts, covered porches, equipment storage sheds, hinged windows and doors. Obviously, if you wish to add a bathroom, you must follow local building codes that regulate sewer and drainage.

In some communities, a structure less than 100 square feet does not require a building permit. Be certain to check into your local building codes before purchasing anything.

Often these simple yet stylish kits are used to construct a pool house or a stand-alone home office. One can use such a structure as a man cave or a playroom for young children. Think about a little structure as a hobby space or writer's nest. A more basic unit might become a potting shed or equipment storage.

I've even seen these kits transformed into a sauna house or a yoga retreat. Uses are creative and endless, depending on your lifestyle.

Advantages of mail-order buildings have been part of the American construction story since pioneer days. After the destruction of the Civil War, kits were an inexpensive way to rebuild a home.

Thousands of Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co. kit homes were sold between 1908 and 1940; the company that supplied Wards was named Gordon Van Tine. These pre-World War II catalog homes s were shipped by train and included some 12,000 individual pieces and a 75-page instruction book! Shipments included nails, paint, wood putty, roofing shingles, door knobs, lumber and anything else you might need to complete the structure. Everything you needed could fit into one boxcar!

Often there is more than one way to approach a home improvement or construction project. Even if you cannot afford to hire an architect to design your project, you can find high-quality ways to accomplish your goals. Perhaps they are not the Architectural Digest or Better Homes + Gardens award winners, but the more modest solution can be a solid and comely way to reach your goal.

Whether it may be to create a vacation home or an adjunct space for your primary residence, consider the concept of a pre-manufactured structure. You will be in good company and stand proud with generations of Americans.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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