An Interview with Zach Klein

If you’ve been to a Getaway cabin, you may have spent a few hours getting lost in the pages of Cabin Porn.

It’s a favorite book on our shelves, filled with gorgeous pictures and details of cabins from near and far. Just the perfect kind of inspiration for your own escape to nature.

We caught up with Zach Klein, the man behind the viral Instagram account turned bestselling book to talk about cabins and getting outside.

What sparked your initial interest in cabins?

I’ve always had a love for the outdoors. I never imagined that I would live in the city long term. I only moved to New York, because that’s where I could get a job, and I always assumed that I would eventually move out of the city.

How did you come to build your first cabin?

I was interested in building and in creating a place, which ultimately took me up to Upstate New York. I’m very interested in placemaking. To do it in New York or any city, there’s a high financial risk the zoning is less permissive. I was looking off the beaten path for a community where the cost of trying to make a place was within my budget

I had a girlfriend and had a part-time job in the city, so I wanted to stay relatively close to New York. I just started driving circles further and further out, eventually into Sullivan County.

What about cabins really attracted you?

What is really interesting about the time and place that we live in is that it’s more possible than ever to have a valuable job and work virtually. This also allows more people to do work they love and live anywhere they want. The paradox is that this work often causes us to stare at our screens all of the time. No matter where we are, urban or rural, we are staring at screens.

So to me, the cabin has come to represent an antidote to that “always on” lifestyle. You know, when I first went to upstate New York, I went totally offline. I went through this withdrawal, twitching, reaching for my pocket for my phone. And my phone wasn’t there and, what’s more, even if it had been there, there was no service. After being there for so long, there was a lot of pleasure in being offline, but it did begin to feel lonesome.

I began seeking ways to build community. I wanted to create a place with land to share together, and infrastructure in that place so I could experience that connection without being online.

Big Window

So how did the idea take shape?

I had a job one day a week in the city, and shared an apartment with my girlfriend there, but I spent 4 days a week upstate on 60 acres. One thing led to another, and I had an opportunity to build a new dwelling. So I started collecting new inspiration, looking at the history of off-grid architecture. I set up a Tumblr, and it took off. It stayed just a hobby for a long time.

How did that hobby come to be this beautiful book?

Growing up I assumed I would one day work for a newspaper, but coming out of college that very quickly seemed unrealistic to me. Still, I’ve maintained a love for print. At some point, we received an offer I couldn’t refuse, a chance to make a book with some of my friends. We made the book entirely ourselves. We wrote everything, shot about 40% of it with original photographs, and requested others from the Cabin Porn community. We traveled to each location and interviewed the cabin builders, learning their stories and how they came to possess the skills to make their own homes. This was in 2015. Initially, we thought that it was just going to be a one-off project, but love for the book endured and we decided to extend the book into a series.

In the first book we barely peeked inside the cabins, and in response, we received one question a lot: What does this look like inside? That was an inspiring creative prompt for us, there are a lot things to notice inside a handmade home. They are often made by amateurs so I love looking for maker marks, intentional or not. By that I mean, little touches to customize the home to their habits, or so-called mistakes during the process of how to build an aspect of the home. I love seeing how people adapt their project because they learned a new skill or made a mistake, and had to cleverly paper over it somehow.

What’s your favorite thing about cabins?

The thing that I love most about the cabins is how autobiographical they can be. When we build modern homes, they are rigidly planned and executed, and built to codes, and designed to be move-in ready. What I love about cabins and handmade homes is that people rarely finish them the day they move into them. Weather has changed, the season to build has ended, they run out of resources. People move into these cabins while they are still 75-80% done and spend the rest of their lives perfecting them. Interiors really reflect the times and habits of the person who made them. Few things please me as much as visiting a cabin from a family that’s been handed down. The different textiles, games, books. I love how these places can tell a story that gets preserved in amber in a way that city homes less often do.

What inspires you?

In my research, there was one piece of wisdom that has forever impacted me. In both books I’ve quoted Christopher Alexander, but I haven’t repeated this piece in the book and I’m paraphrasing here. He says that when people go to a piece of land, with the intention of building a home, they find the prettiest spot and stake out the 4 corners. Instead, we should be looking at the place that’s far from being the prettiest and use our human ingenuity to improve that place. The most beautiful spot took an infinite number of factors over an expanse of time and we shouldn’t interfere with that.

What advice would you give to those looking to integrate some of the Cabin Porn ethos into their lives?

My only advice is that going outdoors doesn’t have to be extreme. I think Cabin Porn has played a role in promoting this myth that to get outside means you have to go someplace remote – and that’s just not practical, and really not necessary. And I also think it’s far more enjoyable and pleasant to be outside with community and friends, rather than in isolation. I’ve tried it both ways and it’s just so special outdoors where you can be full humans with each other.

Check out Zach Klein’s new book, Cabin Porn: Inside here.