I don’t recall where I first heard about the ‘Cabin Porn‘ blog. It was probably through a podcast or blog or something, and probably related to Noah Kalina, who came onto my radar back in 2012 sometime, when his “Everyday” project update hit and got a bunch of press.* Back in mid-2019, I think, I saw a copy of Cabin Porn in a used bookstore in Springfield, MO (or Kansas City, maybe?), and almost bought it, but was in debt-reduction mode and didn’t buy it.

Then, while cleaning out his studio, Kalina found a box of British-edition copies of Cabin Porn and offered them for sale. I snatched one up… for ~double the price of the one in that Missouri bookstore…

https://youtu.be/GHHu1dtXu_0

Cabin Porn, as a book, is something of a distillation of the blog, I think: a best-of collection of reader-submitted pictures, organized into 10 chapters, with deep dives into, well, 10 “cabins,” their history, construction, background, etc., with text by Klein and Leckart, and pictures by Kalina.

After Klein’s introduction, in which he talks about the Beaver Brook community he founded in upstate New York after founding Vimeo and being a partner at College Humor, I sorta felt something that colored my view of the rest of the book, probably unfairly. After reading Penelope Green’s 2015 New York Times review, well, maybe the coloring was fair, or fair-enough, but I completely rewrote this review before publishing and removed vast swaths of grousing and backhandedness.

The whole ethos of the book (and the blog, for that matter) is helpfully summed up on the contents page:

“Inside each of us is a home ready to be built. It takes a supply of ambition and materials to construct a cabin, but the reward is handsome: a shelter for yourself somewhere quiet, and a place to offer warm hospitality to friends.”

Klein, Zach, Steven Leckart, and Noah Kalina. Untitled text preceding the table of contents. Cabin Porn: Inspiration for your quiet place somewhere. Penguin, U.K., 2016.

Um… Ok. “Somewhere quiet,” I get. “Warm Hospitality?” Sure. A cabin “inside me” ready to be built? Not so much. The most I ever hoped for was a simple apartment near enough to work and the grocer. Only by the grace of God did I end up the caretaker of this large, gorgeous house that my darling wife built a few years before we married. There’s warm hospitality to be had here, and ample shelter… maybe not quite as much quiet as I’d like, but it’s fine. I’m blessed. And, anyway, even if I wanted a cabin in the middle of 50 acres of forest, I could never afford it… I buy too many photobooks, to start with, and then I’m a low-level manager at a Fortune 500 company: comfortable, privileged, but not so comfortable that I can get into property speculation or anything.

Anyway.

“Cabin.” What does “cabin” mean? Well… when I hear “cabin” I think of the hippy and subsistence cabins I see up in Northwest Arkansas when I go visit Mom, the found-lumber and salvaged materials shelters tucked back in the woods or alongside one of the little-used gravel state roads that twist through the mountains up there. If I squint some, I might think of Granny and Grandpa’s log cabin-style house (two bedrooms, probably 1500 square feet or so) in Grandbury, TX, though that was a house with electricity and pink insulation and running water and sewer and all, in a private retirement community with an activity center and pool and easy lake access, and not a “cabin” at all.

So my definition of “cabin” is a bit narrow, perhaps… For Cabin Porn (or Cabin Porn), “cabin” is a broad church.

There are camper vans, now tethered unnaturally to the earth, with wood-frame additions and a car port permanently attached. There are spreads of hunting stands and ice fishing shelters. There is a whole section of tree houses, which I would put in a separate category entirely, especially the one that’s obviously out in someone’s backyard and sized appropriately for smaller children. There’s the concrete block attempt at living in the desert, added on to hastily, abandoned, then acquired and rehabbed into something entirely livable and almost rather quaint. One thing that all these have in common (well, except the backyard treehouse) is a sort of distance from the city/suburb, and something of an absence of all the things that make living and being out in the bush, well, living and being out in the bush.

Cabins, for me, imply mosquito bites and ominously twangling banjos and warnings about poison ivy, which I’ve thankfully never stumbled into. There is narry a suggestion, never mind mention, of mosquitos or squealing pigs in Cabin Porn.

It’s not all bad. In fact, none of it is bad. Some of the featured cabin dwellers—and especially those that submitted pictures of their cabins—seem to be doing something preservational, trying to rehab some bit of family land, or maybe give life to a disused grain silo or whatever somewhere, and many are trying to get by with the best housing they can. And the indigestion I felt at first is really more or less out of bounds.

Shame on me. I’m biased and I don’t have a better frame of reference than Deliverance and what I see when I visit Mom in the Ozarks. Stuart Brand and The Whole Earth Catalog was my Dad’s jam, sorta: he acquired some 1970s issues in the late 1980s and I remember them occupying a box in his closet when I’d come for weekends back in 1989. I was always more punk-rock DIY rather than back-to-the-Earth DIY, that is, more (sub)urban than rural, and despite repeatedly claiming to be a country boy.

I abhor mosquitos and sleeping outdoors.

I mean, not really: some of the best nights I had were camping with friends back in my teens (a weekend with the Unitarian Universalist youth group at the Colorado Bend State Park and lying awake all night, shivering in my Tom & Jerry sleeping bag—leftover from “camping” in the backyard with Dad when I was small—and staring up in wonder at the entire Milky Way spread out in front of me clear as day) and early 20s (at the same state park with Orange Hair for a stargazing party and some extra credit for the Cosmology class I took in ~2000 or so; I had a better sleeping bag and we ate vegan hotdogs and drank cheap wine and toked a bit off the one-hitter I carried around at the time and, being completely platonic, actually slept rather well, warm and bug-free in a tent on loan from either my roommate at the time or her parents). But that’s about it, and the Boy Scouts were a disappointment for me (and I a bigger disappointment for them, I imagine): it always rained; I always left my shoes and “waterproof” backpack outside the tent; I always spent the second day slogging around the mud in soaking wet clothes; and if not that, I was always downwind of the bonfire that went out of control at the big Jamboree and we had to fetch cups of water from the creek and rush through the smoke to douse the fire…*shudders.

Klein, by contrast, is/was an Eagle Scout. (Does one ever stop being an Eagle Scout?) And his experience of camping left in him a love of woodsy cabins and building hot tubs and bunkhouses and things with a large, if loose and shifting, group of friends.** Good for him! And good for them, too!

I’m a special case, and probably not Klein’s target audience, and the hippie and/or subsistence cabins I’m familiar with in NW Arkansas aren’t going to feature in a nice little field-guide-sized book from a tech entrepreneur and the artist commune he founded.***

I reached out to Kalina and asked a couple of silly questions. He was kind enough to reply and begged-off answering them, and gave some nice comments on my unboxing videos, agreed with a couple of my sentiments. It seems he (and, by extension, Klein and Leckart) were completely sincere about and committed to the whole project. And if it was great for awhile, and then slowly faded away as everyone grew up and had kids and all, well, that’s the way most things go, really. And who am I to judge?

Shoot. If you want to build a cabin in the woods, and have the money and leisure and friend group to do so, go for it! If you want to dream of building a cabin in the woods, even if you know you’ll never get there? Go on! Dream that dream! And if you’re living in a cabin in the woods already, well, GoGo!, whether it’s a gorgeous modernist “shack-style” cabin like the one on the cover of Cabin Porn (Klein’s words in quotes), or an actual shack-style cabin in the Ozarks. Rock on.

I’ve spent way too much time on way too little of the book here. Kalina’s photographs of the Beaver Brook community and the various feature cabins are lovely, and the reason I bought the book from him. And if you need some “inspiration for your quiet place somewhere,” you could do worse than Cabin Porn or Cabin Porn.

Unrated.

Cabin Porn has never gone out of print, as far as I can tell, and is available direct from Cabin Porn and at fine new and used booksellers. There’s a sequel too, all about cabin Interiors, so more inspiration for the cabin inside you if you need it. Really, the book and all is much better than I’ve indicated here. I may be anti-Cabin for me, but I’m entirely pro-Cabin for you, dear reader.

And I have nothing against banjos, either.


* For his “Everyday” project, Kalina has made a selfy every day for more than 20 years now. In 2020, he put out an 8 minute video slideshow of the 7263 selfies made over the previous 20 years. He put out video slideshows after 6 years, 12.5 years, and 20 years.
** “Ah, to have friends…” he says, wistfully.
*** Given my background, when I think of “commune,” I don’t think “artist.” I think religious cults and ATF standoffs and mysterious fires… I think purple flavor aid in Guyana. The whole project is a bit suspect to me.

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