Modest sanity-saving, soul-feeding spaces were just what we had in mind when we partnered with Modern Cabana, a San Francisco–based prefab firm, and other sponsors to create our eco-friendly Modern Cottage Idea House for Celebration Weekend 2009. The pared-down modular project provided a bit more square footage without the need for an over-the-top home addition. The resulting guest suite and home office functioned separately as highly flexible bonus rooms. And combined with the outdoor entertaining areas, they offered a compelling model of minimalist living.
The guest suite was a self-contained retreat. Just like your first apartment, but better! Living-area space savers included a CB2 Flex sofa that converted to a full-size bed as well as floor pillows made of sturdy Sunbrella fabric that can be used indoors and out. Eco-friendly bamboo flooring by Armstrong ran throughout both of the units.
Camping never looked so stylish. For Celebration Weekend 2010, a streamlined teardrop trailer, Airstream trailer, and spacious luxury tent were decked out with all the comforts of home to make a camping adventure cozy and fun. By the teardrop trailer, hanging lanterns, a mod shade structure, and a portable outdoor table and chairs set the scene for campsite lounging. Table, chairs, and lanterns from Ikea. Cooler by Coleman. Umbrella by Brelli. Deck chairs by Gallanter & Jones. Teardrop trailer by Vacations-in-a-Can. Shade structure by Aaron Jones. Turf by SYNLawn.
The iconic Airstream was a natural choice to round out our glamping showcase. A mini hotel on wheels, most have gas burners, showers you can actually stand up in, and an ingenious amount of storage space. It's smooth to tow, with a retro interior that conjures up a first-class train cabin circa 1955. The kitchen and dining area in this 25-foot Airstream International had room for 4 to dine in style, but as an alternative we set up an instant patio outside the trailer for outdoor dining and lounging. Chairs and table from DWR. Cooler from Coleman. Umbrella by Brelli. Perforated-paper banners from mexevents.com.
Call it a micro-home: barely 200 square feet of compact yet stylish living. For Celebration Weekend 2011, we asked HyBrid Architecture, a firm in Seattle, to bring to life the trend of shipping containers turned into cutting-edge dwellings. The result? The Sunset Cargotecture house, which offered sleeping space for three, the bathroom equivalent of a Swiss army knife, and a small-but-perfectly-formed kitchen. The price: just $59,500, plus shipping and handling. When it arrived on our Menlo Park campus, we created a dream (recycled) garden around it, complete with bees, hens, and, of course, edibles.
Inside, the 192-square-foot container was finished with drywall and insulated with soy-and-recycled-plastic foam. Bamboo floors warmed the all-white space. A twin bed tucked under the 8-foot-high ceiling unfolded from the wall like an upper berth in a railway sleeping car. The queen-size bed beneath converted into a couch.
Our fantasy, as the weather gets warm? That we can just pick up our lives and move them outside. Which is exactly what our Ultimate Outdoor Living Room, unveiled at Celebration Weekend 2012, was all about. There, you could spend all day entertaining, lounging, reading, napping—even cooling off in the shower. But the design wasn't just about indulgence. If you looked closely, you’d see space-saving touches, salvaged materials put to work, and the efficient use of what is, after all, only 1,700 square feet of outdoor space.
For before-dinner drinks or after-dinner s’mores, the space offered two connected—but distinct—sitting areas. This lower one is centered on a firepit built of paving stones. Indoor-outdoor cushions softened the built-in curved benches, made of decking that was heat-molded on-site into the right shape.
The curves of the House Arc shed—and its integral wooden shade superstructure—echoed the “wave” of the backyard’s deck. Its footprint was a mere 8 by 12 feet, and the steel-tube frame kept the weight down to 3,000 pounds. Palo Alto, California–based architect Joseph Bellomo designed the House Arc with an eye toward supplying easy-to-build emergency housing, but the units were equally suited to providing extra storage, entertainment space, or even a guest room.
The yard’s deck curled up and over the nook like a wave, shading it from the sun. (You could also plant vines at its base, turning it into an arbor.) Both the rocking bed and chair, made of recycled wood and steel, were rugged enough to survive outside all summer.
The Sunset archives are a gold mine of design inspiration. The magazine practically invented the outdoor living room, featured glass walls as far back as 1946, and has done stories on the best possible way to design with sunlight for at least 60 years. For Celebration Weekend 2013, we invited up-and-coming design talents to give rooms from the magazine’s past an update for today.
In 1981, Sunset did a story on the new concept of the “wide-open kitchen,” featuring an island with bar seating. Seattle designer Brian Paquette took that idea further with materials and details that integrate this hardworking space into the living and dining rooms.
For the reinvented kitchen, Paquette created a show-stopping scene. “Using the same color in three completely different ways makes a room interesting,” the designer said. Here, for instance, he repeated sapphire blue in the tile, window seat fabric, and walls. For the island, he splurged on custom blue concrete tile from Kismet, which gives the kitchen a luxe lift. He offset the cost of the tile by using quartz for the countertops instead of marble, and basic Ikea cabinets.
In her reinvented room, Satterfield created a credenza-like piece by mounting Ikea kitchen cabinets about 8 inches above the floor. She topped them with plywood, and tacked leather pulls on the doors. The three-sided fireplace is a late-1950s concept that still works today, separating the living and dining rooms while leaving the spaces open. Satterfield updated the fireplace with a wide concrete hearth, which protects the floor from sparks and adds an industrial edge. She mixed items from different periods to avoid a stiff, museum-perfect setting. Leaning toward classic colors and materials—gray, black, wood, and leather—also helped.
For Celebration Weekend 2014, we brought a 172-square-foot house to our campus and gave it a big mission: Make us rethink how much space we really need. After opening all the drawers and marveling at the size of the closet, many of us were ready to move right in. But even if you weren't, this Mica model from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company still held lessons in stretching space. Just outside, with towering redwoods, lush ferns, and a campfire, the garden gave visitors the sense of stepping into the woods. Nestled among the foliage, the Tiny House offered everything needed to take a vacation in your own backyard. Garden design: Kasorn Piamsukon with Ground Cover Landscaping; groundcoverlandscaping.com.
In addition, 4 landscape designers each installed a petite satellite garden to showcase how you can maximize a small outdoor space. Beth Mullins of Growsgreen Landscape Design (growsgreen.com) designed this sleek space. With planting space limited to containers and wooden planters, it’s easy to imagine this inviting outdoor living room as a city rooftop garden or modern backyard. Mullins created mini rooms for dining and lounging and made it extra cozy with a modular outdoor fireplace by Modfire alongside a heated bench by Galanter and Jones.
Sunset garden editors Johanna Silver and Lauren Dunec Hoang designed this chic low-water oasis complete with a hanging macramé chair, tiled outdoor shower, and dozens of potted cacti. The space felt like the perfect place to end the day with a cold drink.
A backyard cottage has a high squeal factor, but that’s not the only reason to build one. For an installation at Sunset’s 2015 Celebration Weekend event, we remodeled a small structure, the kind of place that homeowners all over the West are using as guest cottages or rentals (think extra income and grass-roots housing relief). Around it, we designed a low-water yard where calm reigned—and the lawn wasn’t missed.
A love of order and tranquility inspired the yard, designed by Sunset garden editors Johanna Silver and Lauren Dunec Hoang in collaboration with landscape designer Josh Heiser (odonnell-lane.com). It featured three destinations—lounge, small dining area, and “looking garden” of mass-planted beds—united by green and silver foliage.