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A shelter that can be assembled in a day, permit-free. The backwoods bunkhouse has come to town

By Paige Magarrey
Photography by Jorge Torres

Maybe it’s the sound of the lapping lake, but when you’re tucked inside a spare wooden bunkie in Ontario’s picturesque cottage country, you feel so…Canadian. Now, thanks to a chance meeting, this humble-yet-iconic shack is finding a place in the international spotlight.

BLDG Workshop architectural designer Nathan Buhler originally brought his “halfcocked idea” for a flat-packed cabana to industrial designer Evan Bare shortly after the two met at Toronto’s 2011 Interior Design Show. The pair connected over their similarly rectilinear, angular styles: BC native Buhler with his custom homes and cottages that offer a modern, West Coast ranch feel; and Ontario-born Bare with his sustainably minded, easily disassembled, less-is-more plywood and hardwood frames upholstered in Buffalo plaid. Buhler soon sketched a modern riff on the bunkie – an archetypal barnboard frame with floor-to-ceiling, double-glazed windows on two walls. “It’s almost like an art installation,” he says of the transparent, drape-free structure, which allows for seamless outdoor views. “I wanted it to be completely blank on a landscape, so you would just see the silhouette and barely even notice it was there.”

But the interior needed an innovative touch. Enter Bare. At just under 10 square metres (to avoid the red tape of building permits), the petite fir plywood space features a range of mix-and-match options: a fully-loaded premium suite with an ethanol burning fireplace, storage hidden behind a foldable table and chairs hanging on the wall, and queen-size Murphy beds that fold down from the wall or ceiling. The 200-plus parts are flat-packed and shipped, to be assembled Ikea-style by a handy homeowner or contractor.

After the duo had posted drawings online, but before they’d made a prototype, they were fielding calls from Mexico, Europe and Japan – potential clients charmed by the bunkie’s simplicity, versatility and deep-rooted connection to its surroundings. It’s no surprise, really: the eloquently reimagined bunkhouse taps into the increasingly global trends of small house and prefab construction. With an assembly plant and primary manufacturer in Vaughan, and other CNC-cut fir plywood components fabricated across the GTA, The Bunkie Co. is conducting a pilot run of five units over the next several months, before diving into filling international orders. Canadiana – as in exquisitely crafted canoe paddles and axes – is having a moment right now. How typically, quintessentially Canadian if a modest structure that we barely notice in our own backyard turns out to be an international superstar.

Categories: Designer-Maker