Three: Why An Architect?

Spider Lake Crash Pad Series 1

I will start with saying that although I am normally a writer before I am a videographer, in this case the video story is likely to have more/good detail for you.  It has taken me months to edit the video, leaving me less time to write (it should be the opposite!).  So please be sure to watch the video and read the story ~ they are always meant to complement each other!

We both came from modest upbringings.  ‘Architect’ was not a word we ever heard discussed in our own homes, nor with people we knew.  We have known for a long time that we wanted to build our own place, but having an ‘architect’ never necessarily was part of the plan.


Why not a prefab?

I have been a subscriber to Dwell Magazine since almost its inception, therefore I have perused a lot of articles about spectacularly built properties.  Some designed by architects, many pre-fab.  The architect designed projects never seemed they would be part of my future, but the pre-fab ones definitely spoke to the hopeful me, and Kurt.  So that is where we started first.

We found some super great designs, but what we didn’t find were many readily available buildings in the U.S.  Nor after reading the fine print of all the related costs, after you buy the building, affordable.  It is easy when looking at a fancy pre-fab website to be enticed by what appears to be a very affordable option.  But when you look further into the details, there are many additional costs that add up quickly.  

Additionally a pre-fab requires clearing the land enough to accommodate a semi truck turning around and a crane to lift and move the building.  Because we wanted to keep as much of our wooded site as we could, this was not an attractive idea.

Why not buy plans?

Kurt also researched buying plans to be built, but we had concerns about the plans meeting local codes and if the design would hold up to the Northwoods elements, especially snow.  In hindsight he wouldn’t have been as nervous and the cost of the plans would have been much cheaper than an architect.


And so, this is when we found ourselves in Architect territory.  Partially because there was turning out to be no other option, and partially because an architect felt better as it meant we would have a partner, who could give us something unique, and tailor the property to what we wanted.

Why not traditional ‘stick built’?

Stick build (the way buildings are traditionally constructed) might have been an option if the trades in our area were not booked out for years.  In our area many people decided to turn their cabins into permanent homes, or build new homes to move to, stressing the limited trade resources and creating long leadtimes.  We initially had assumed we would have to go with this option, but what we were more interested in was a SIP panel building.

Then what DID you do?

It turns out a SIP Panel (SIP = Structural Insulated Panels) build would be the easiest, fastest, and most cost effective build option. We worked with our architect to design a SIP Panel home. We will be doing another story for you on this type of construction, stay tuned (stay subscribed, or subscribe).

How did we find ‘our’ architect?

But we aren’t ‘Architect’ people, so how do we find one?!  Well, I realized I knew some people, who knew people, so we started there.  We hit many dead ends, but all it takes is one person to show up in your life and point you towards a path you didn’t know existed.  In our case, it felt like ‘Cabin Miracle #1’ (more on those later).

As we have discussed, throughout 2020 and 2021 we were spending a lot of our time camping at ROAM Adventure Basecamp.  It was here that one day we started chatting by the sauna to a very nice man.  That man turned out to be one of the owners, Mo.  We saw each other frequently during our stays (30 days+ while we were building the Crash Pad!) and slowly started to get to know each other.  When we started getting serious about looking for land, I zipped off an email to Mo:

November 2, 2021:

“Hi Mo…

Last year you mentioned to us who your architect is for the buildings at ROAM, do you have their name and more information?...  We actually are planning on coming up this weekend to look at some property.  All of our visits have given us an itch we need to scratch.  We are thinking about a cabin property...  Any and all advice taken!... Please and thank you.”

As Mo does, he made a good suggestion ~ ‘An architect who recently stayed in one of our cabins likes small build projects, perhaps you should reach out to him…  He seemed like someone I would enjoy working with.  He really liked the cabin design at Roam and I think he would be good with smaller spaces.’  And so we did.

November 14, 2021:

“Hello Steven,

We are DeAnn & Kurt and live in Minneapolis.  We are frequent visitors to ROAM Adventure Basecamp up by Cable, WI and the owner, Mo, gave me your contact info when I told him we were looking at land up that way.  Mo said you really liked the cabin design at ROAM, and so do we ~ we love ROAM!  Well, looking turned into buying pretty quick, and an offer was just accepted for 10 acres near ROAM.

We have a pretty good vision of what we want to do on the property, and understand work may take time, so we are starting to reach out to Architects, while also exploring pre-fab options (which we aren't sure will work out).  We are wondering if you might be interested in talking, and helping us learn more about you and your business and what we could do.”

November 14, 2021:

Hi DeAnn and Kurt,

Exciting news about your new land. I did love it up there at ROAM. I had a job site nearby; I think on Lake Gilmore near Minong Wisconsin. I noticed ROAM nearby and try to stay in and experience tiny houses when I get a chance. We have been working on several small building designs and would love to talk more about your goals…  Sincere Thanks, Steven”

Concurrently, we had reached out to other architects I knew, new of, or was referred to and received comments like:

  • A small cabin in MN/WI is certainly in our wheelhouse.  I should let you know that we are out until about next fall to start the design work on a new project, and will not be able to commit (send contracts) for new projects until after February 1st.  Great response, but the timing to meet seemed to late for us to get started.

  • I will add that it is very difficult to build a small cabin for what you have indicated is your budget. (response to an online inquiry form I filled out with a Minneapolis architecture firm).

  • my educated guess is more $***-$***K construction budget right now. So, it isn't that we wouldn't be interested in helping you, it is just making sure the budget is realistic for a new build.  This was over our budget.  At the time it seemed really far out, now it seems quite reasonable.

  • Currently we are scheduling new projects to start design work in February.  Again, this seemed too far out, we wanted to get going!

We also told one we wanted to work with him, but he went a little bonkers on us revealing before we even started that he would have been a nightmare to work with.  We are so thankful this happened before we signed anything, or worse were too far down the road to turn back.

November 18, 2021:

Zoom Meet & Greet with Architect Steven

The Process

Architectural Drawings

There were essentially four sets of drawings we had to work with at different stages of the project.  These are by no means the official terminology of our architect, but terms I will use.

  • One:  Meeting Set

    The first drawing set we approved was really more of a general ‘outline’ of what the project would look like.  It had the features, bike storage, gear storage, kitchen, patio, etc.  This was an exciting step when we had ‘the meeting’ of him showing us how he translated our wants and vision into a building.

    We also got to see our building in a 3-D rendering in Autodesk, which was extremely exciting.  This was the moment when we got to see our vision really come to life.

  • Two:  Bid Sets

    The next ‘big’ set of drawings I picked up were drawing sets you would normally give to people you are asking to bid out your project ~ like general contractors, builders, etc.  But we were unable to find a general contractor, and our builder was actual the SIP Panel manufacturer.  

  • Three: Build Set

    The final ‘detailed’ set was to be used by the company who installed our foundation, the electrical team, the plumber, etc. etc.

  • Structural Engineering Set

    The last uber detailed set of drawings is actually developed by a structural engineer that was hired by our architect.  This drawing set is incredibly important, especially with the amount of snow we had this winter.  The structural engineer decides on the construction for the load bearing walls, this includes not only the walls, but what type of footings are needed when the cement foundation is laid, and where the footings are placed to take the load.  This step is incredibly important as it establishes what load the building can withstand; given it was one of the snowiest winters on record, we are thankful for approving our architect to work with a structural engineer because without it, it is possible our building would not be standing right now.

  • SIP Panel Set

    Used by our SIP Panel builder for assembling The Crash Pad.

    Also used by the electrical team, as all channels for electrical are pre-built into the panels and detailed in these drawings.

Above and Beyond

Because we did not have a GC or a builder, our architect had many upfront conversations with building partners.  We are thankful for his contacts and ideas that allowed us to explore materials and systems early on.

Our architect listened to what we said we wanted, and understood our vision, and he delivered.

When we started this project, we knew absolutely nothing about what goes into a build, what it means to be your own GC, or where to find materials.  As the project moved on and it became clear we were going to have to be the general contractors for the build, our architect was available to help guide us through some of the most challenging steps.  Without his help we definitely would not have been able to move the project forward in 2022.


Vet your architect well before you sign a contract with them.

  • Listen to any and all red flags and fireworks.

  • Hire someone who will add value to your project, not just execute your list ~ but enhance it.

  • Make sure they listen, thoughtfully.

  • You are partners, make sure you choose someone who will be a good partner.

Don’t let time dictate, listen to your gut and follow good decisions.

Get estimates as far in advance as possible, especially in the case of a SIP panel build ~ if you want to change something in the design because of expensive bids you want to do that well before you have that ball rolling.

Yup, you will go over budget. Know that.

Yup, your project will probably take longer than you had hoped. Enter with patience.

Through my blog and complimentary videos, I plan to share with you both feelings (the ups, the downs, and all the in-betweens) of building something out of nothing, as well as the facts (what it is like to work with an architect, how a SIP Panel building is planned and built, what it is like to be your own GC).  All through our lens.  This isn’t about being a how-to, or getting thousands of subscribers because we want to be ‘influencers’, what this is about is sharing our experience to inspire, motivate, educate, and entertain.  This is my creative project, I hope you enjoy it!

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Cabin Stories
These are our stories about building our cabin in Northern Wisconsin.