No. 27 - Round House

Designed by James Bryan

Drafted by S. Dehner for THE small HOUSE CATALOG

Introduction by James Bryan

Retirement is still five years away for this middle school teacher, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming of a little cabin in the woods for weekend getaways and school vacations in the meantime. In thinking about this cabin, I had several requirements: it should be small enough that it would not require a lot of time each weekend to maintain, yet be large enough so it wouldn’t seem claustrophobic during extended vacations; it should be energy efficient, as it would likely be built off-the-grid; and it should incorporate as many stock building items as possible in order to keep the total cost within a limited budget for a second home.

Why a round house?

Primarily, that aesthetic appealed to me; it was something different and unexpected. Secondly, the yurt, teepee, and igloo were traditional round dwellings that provided efficient heating and cooling, and I suspect that this round house would provide those same qualities. Thirdly, utilizing a pitched roof would provide passive cooling during the summers, and it would be the perfect platform for a solar system. Finally, a round structure might be more aerodynamic, allowing high winds to flow around it with little resistance – an important consideration in tornado-prone Texas.

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Fortunately, Shawn Dehner ( understood what I was trying to do, and created building plans that incorporated all of my round house ideas. While the framing of the round house will certainly challenge any construction team, I believe this round house could be an interesting option for many people:

  • As stated above, a round house is different and unexpected.

  • At 616 sq’, it is the size to which many weekenders can relate and can be built within a moderate budget.

  • Building off-the-grid using solar (and possibly wind) power to generate electricity is an idea that is gaining interest among home owners and builders.

  • A fireplace, when needed, should provide more than enough heat for this small house in the cooler months, thus requiring no HVAC systems. Keeping all of the interior walls to 8’ allows for maximizing the airflow during warm summer months.

  • Plumbing is concentrated to one quarter of the space and away from outside walls for the most part, thus reducing the opportunity for frozen pipes in the winter months. I’ve also elected to include an on-demand water heater. The prices for on-demand units have come down significantly in recent years, and the small difference in price between on-demand and traditional water heaters is offset by the smaller space required, less energy needed to heat the water for my shower, and the maintenance required to drain the tank when the cabin is not occupied.

  • Stock items, like kitchen cabinets and appliances are built along squared interior walls, leaving the curved exterior walls free for an abundance of windows. Every space, including the bathroom, has some natural light.

Other advantages of this round house:

  • The “bedroom nook” offers a cozy, cocoon-like sleeping space without sacrificing much space. Built-in drawers under the bed platform eliminate the need for a dresser. All that the bedroom nook needs is a lighting sconce for reading in bed, a small side table for a book and an alarm clock (although I’m not sure why I’d need an alarm clock), and possibly a padded bench under the windows for taking off my shoes at the end of a long day.

  • Although one might not expect a washer/dryer in a cabin, I knew that finding a laundromat (or washateria as they are called in Texas) might be miles from the cabin, and who wants to spend the time driving to the next town to do laundry? The open closet takes little space and eliminates all of those doors in a tight space.

  • The kitchen includes everything you need – except a dishwasher. Although there is space for one, that wasn’t a priority for me, so I opted out on that. With more cabinet space and a large panty, there is plenty of space to stock up on grocery items so I’m not frequently making long drives to far away grocery stores.

  • At 30” in height, the cabinet next to the stove will actually be a desk and have a 6” space above the desktop for an electrical outlet for my laptop and phone charger. The left cabinet door will hide the knee space and will hold a small stool; a 2-shelf cabinet on the right has space for a printer on the lower shelf and office supplies on the top shelf. When not in use, the laptop can be stored here above on the printer, and the desktop becomes a small buffet or bar area when guests arrive. (“Margaritas? Fire up the blender!”)

  • The interior closet next to the front door is covered by a plant ledge, and the round window above it provides natural life for the plants; the round window, visible inside and out, reflecting the “round” motif of the cabin.

  • Eight large windows in the living room bring the outdoors inside. The fireplace, with flat screen above it, is the focal point of the room. With the television on the outside wall, there is no glare on the screen coming from the windows. A full-sized sofa fits along the long wall opposite the fireplace, and two lounge chairs flank the fireplace area.

  • Not shown in the drawings is the deck area, as this will likely be somewhat dependent on the building site and its elevations. However, I image that the deck will extend about 4’ from the diameter on the east and west of the cabin and 4’ from the back of the fireplace chase. It will then be squared off across the front (about 36’) and run down the cabin sides just past the windows in the dining area and bedroom nook. This will allow for large outdoor living area off the front door and a hot tub area off the bedroom door.

  • The exterior closet (near the hot tub area) provides a storage place not only for some spa accessories, but the upper portion (to the roof) provides a space for the solar panel converters and batteries.

At its core, the 616 sq’ round house is simply a cabin in the woods for two people, not a suburban showplace home for a small family. It meets all of my requirements for a small, comfortable, off-the-grid living environment. Thanks, Shawn, for taking my vision to the next level. I can’t imagine a more relaxing place to get away!

Note: This plan is designed to incorporate an owner designed and built deck. You will also need to design an appropriate deck or stairs.