Wonderful guest houses | Living the Country Life

Wonderful guest houses

A guest house can provide pleasant memories for visitors and serve other purposes when you're not playing host.
This guest house, designed by Indianabuilder Barry Smith, has a stone baseand small kitchen. A large room withscreened windows offers a comfortableplace to hang out, play cards, or watchthe action in the swimming pool.
This brick guest house has a grill andsmall kitchen. It also houses the owner'smodel train collection.

When you live in the country, extended visits from family and friends are the norm. A detached guest house gives everyone more space and privacy, and can be less expensive than building an addition on your home. When guests leave, the guest house can be used as a getaway, home office, studio, or anything else you desire.

Guest houses ought to be flexible, says Orlando architect Don Evans. "Many times they become multiple-use structures that have an awful lot of possibilities built into them," says Evans. He has designed guest houses that double as recreation rooms, boathouses, and cabanas. More often, however, the guest house is a place where homeowners can retreat to write, paint, work, or unwind.

Choosing a style

The guest house should be close enough to the main house to make it convenient for meals and other get-togethers, but far enough away to maintain peace and privacy. In rainy climates, consider a covered walkway between the two, says David Stiles, a builder and designer in New York City. The architectural style of the guest house and main house don't necessarily have to match. The greater the distance between them, the more you can stray from the original architecture, says Stiles.

Barry Smith, a Zionsville, Indiana, builder and designer, says the style can be inspired by the setting and views (lake, mountains, etc.) and the homeowner's personal tastes, either practical or whimsical. Smith, who has built new guest houses and renovated existing structures, says only a few were similar to the main house. "Frequently we'll do barns, though they may have roof angles or some other detail that matches the main house," he says.

Guest houses can be any size, but are typically less than 1,000 square feet. Stiles feels they shouldn't be too big or they'll lose the coziness that makes them so appealing.

Make sure it's legal

Before you start, check with the local building department or zoning office to see what limitations and requirements may apply to foundation type, square footage, location, height, and number of bedrooms. Make sure your septic system is adequate to handle an extra bathroom.

Picking your building materials

As an alternative to a poured concrete slab foundation, Stiles suggests a pressure-treated wood foundation built with the post-and-skirt method. Similar to a pole building, posts are set in the ground every 4 feet on concrete footings and wrapped in a wall or "skirt" of cement board. Insulation is applied to the inside of the foundation. A post-and-skirt foundation can be built for about $100 by carpenters, compared to $3,000 for a slab foundation.

For those who prefer wood for the exterior, architect James Weisman in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, recommends red cedar siding and trim fastened with stainless steel nails; the siding can be stained or left alone to weather naturally. Vinyl siding, windows, and doors won't rot and never need painting. Fiber cement siding looks like real wood, but holds paint longer without rotting or warping. Stone and brick are attractive, easy to maintain, and weather well, but require additional interior insulation. Log cabins need to be chinked and sealed to prevent insect problems and maximize energy efficiency.

Heating and cooling

Heating options include fireplaces, wood stoves, and electric baseboard heating. In Smith's opinion, air conditioning is always advisable, but Stiles says good ventilation should do the trick. "One thing you can do is put louvered vents on the gable ends of the house, so that breezes flow through," he says. "In the summertime, the vents cool the hot air." In winter, triangular battens keep the vents closed and heated air inside.

Smith has built guest houses ranging from $40 to $140 per square foot. Obviously, a full kitchen, built-in cabinets, and other amenities add expense, but a simple floor plan will help keep costs under control.

For economy, it's hard to beat shelter kits -- precut or preassembled structures shipped straight from a factory. Toronto-based Summerwood Products (800/663-5042), for example, sells small cabin and cottage kits for under $20,000, not including optional features and installation. The units, which have front porches and can be erected in a matter of days, are available with a choice of siding and roof shingles and such extras as screen doors, French doors, and dormers.

Regardless of the cost, your guest house should be a memorable experience. "It might be hidden away in the garden or resemble a Roman villa, or it might even be a tree house," says Stiles. "Make it fun and different."


Sites to see

www.stilesdesigns.com. How-to books and plans by designers David and Jeanie Stiles; 212/427-2317.

www.summerwood.com. Summerwood Products is a manufacturer of cottages, cabins, gazebos, and other small structures that can be shipped either precut or preassembled; 800/663-5042.

www.abetterplan.com. An extensive collection of plans for country homes, barns, cabins, cottages, and other structures by various architects and designers; 516/766-5585.


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