Back in March, when John and Juli Baker and their two kids left Toronto for their farmhouse near Lake Ontario, they packed for spring break. On Day One the news came: school, not to mention the couple’s design shop, Mjölk, would not be reopening after the holiday. “With the entire country and much of the world shut down, we settled into isolation, indulging in baking, gardening, bike rides,” says John. Things went well thanks to the magical retreat the couple had recently finished—see An Antique Stone House Revived. But with online learning and business happening simultaneously, space started to feel tight. That’s when, as John explains it, a familiar quarantine fantasy came over him: “I dreamed of escapism, a room where one can be alone.”
The predictable prefab shed was not part of this picture. Eternally pondering elegant design solutions, John started to work on drawings of a building archetype he was fascinated with: the shepherd’s hut. Common for centuries in the UK—and now often converted as vacation cottages and even kitchens—these rolling one-room shacks were built as shelters during lambing season. “The honest farmer Gabriel Oak stayed in a shepherd’s hut in Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd,” points out John. “They can be carted wherever needed, and their lovely curved roofs and small proportions allow for simple comforts.”
Simple, yes: no plumbing or electricity. But how to build one of your own? Astonishingly, John figured out a way.
Photography courtesy of Mjölk.
Above: The Baker family’s extra room was conceived in April and delivered in July.
“What made the hut a reality was our proximity to the Amish community here in Eastern Ontario,” John tells us. Conveniently, an Amish sawmill and a producer of buggy carts are three miles from the Baker farm—and John happened to notice that “the language of shepherd’s huts and the buggies are very similar: they both have curved roofs and steel wheels, so I thought this would be my best chance to find a producer.”
Above: John showed the local sawmill owner his hut plans—”based on 19th-century catalogue images I found online” —and was directed a few doors away to the man’s nephew Eli Swartzentruber, “maker of very fine sheds, chicken coops, and gazebos.”
“Looking at my drawing of the steel wheel set and chassis, Eli took me out to his field and showed me an antique buggy chassis with cast-iron wheels sitting exposed to the elements,” says John. “Even though it had been there for years, he assured me it was still functional and could be refurbished. He joked he was happy to try something other than another chicken coop.”
Note that On the exterior, John specified black-stained pine “to re-create the tar-coated boards originally used in fishing huts and cottages in England: we tried to mix authentic craft and proportions with our own sensibility.”
Above: A wood-burning stove stands next to the entry. The Shaker-inspired wall shelf is a Hallgeir Homstvedt design for Mjölk known as the Doverail.
Above: John detailed the hut with Mjölk signature appointments, including a lye-bleached floor and an oak and brass Peg Rail made for Mjölk by Jake Whillans in Toronto. Noting that several woodworker friends had their work postponed during the quarantine, John stepped in with commissions: Whillans also made the dish rack and the oak desk is by Andrew Hunter.
For a guide to how John bleaches his floorboards, see Remodeling 101: Each Whitewashed Scandi Floors.
Above: The family refer to the old typewriter as “the laptop.” John’s friend Andrian Kuzyk built the window frames using Douglas fir from a century-old barn.
Above: A botanical ornament by Sola Cube of Kyoto adds to the view.
Above: John and Juli use the hut to take phone and video calls; their kids come to play with the typewriter and draw. “It’s very much a private space,” says John.
Above: A Shaker caddy serves as a tidy desk organizer. The Oak Twine Stand is by Nutscene.
Above: The sofa is a camp cot piled with mattresses, blankets, and pillows. The back wall introduces a bit of color to the room, which is lit by candles and Oil Lamps by Castor.
Above: An antique egg dipper hangs as sculpture.
Above: The Japanese Rice Straw Bird Braid is by third-generation straw maker Aerisan Yoichiro Kai. It’s one of the small collection of household designs from Minka, an online offshoot of Mjölk.
Above: The Oak Boot Stand is another Minka offering (find more like it in our 10 Easy Pieces post Boot Racks for Wellies). The Sand Doormat evokes a Zen garden; it’s made of recycled plastic and is durable enough for outdoor use.
Above: The view from the back window. John says he hopes others take inspiration from his creation and consider building their mobile huts.
Above: Room to roam. See the hut’s adjacent main house in An Antique Stone Farmhouse Revived, and go to House Call to see the family’s previous vacation place.
We’ve been huge fans of Mjölk for years: