These Adorable 'Bunkies' Are Ultimate Guest House—or WFH Spot

Emma Bazilian
Photo credit: Valerie Wilcox

From House Beautiful

Don’t call it a shed. Measuring roughly 130 square feet, the “teeny-tiny building” across the lawn from designer Sarah Richardson's lakeside cottage is actually a bunkie, what Ontarians call a small, furnished outbuilding that can act as a guest suite.

“It’s a really easy, popular way to extend living space,” explains Richardson, who added a desk at the foot of the guest bed in her own bunkie, allowing it to double as a home office when needed. “Since we only use it in the warmer months, we didn’t need to worry about installing heat, and it’s close enough to the cottage that it can share a bathroom.”

Photo credit: VALERIE WILCOX

The term originates from the "bunkhouses" built by rural farmers and ranchers to house seasonal employees, explains John Hickey, senior designer at Summerwood, a Toronto-based company that specializes in ready-to-assemble outbuildings. The bunkie's bare-bones nature and small size let homeowners like Richarson avoid dealing with the building regulations that a proper guest house would require. "As long as you keep it to a minimum size—generally under 100 square feet, depending on where you live—and don't install plumbing, you don't need a permit to build a bunkie," says Hickey.

Because they usually don't have electricity, either, it's especially important to consider light and airflow before starting construction, Hickey adds: "My advice to people when they're planning to add a bunkie is to stand in the site where it's going to be, see how the air moves, look at what’s around you, and let that decide where you put the windows and doors."

Photo credit: Summerwood

In addition to providing extra space for overnight guests, bunkies can be used for a variety of different purposes. "Our customers use them as everything from dining rooms to kids' clubhouses," says Hickey. While most are designed for use in the summer, Summerwood also gets plenty of requests for four-season bunkies. "They'll ask us to add a stove or micr0-furnace, or insulated floors and windows, so they can use them in cold weather, too."

Photo credit: Summerwood

With so many people now working from home, the bunkie is taking on another popular use: home office. "It's crazy how many inquiries we've gotten!" laughs Hickey, who says that Summerwood has seen a 200 percent year-over-year increase in new website visitors over the past few weeks. "I got a call from one guy who had started working out of his car in his garage to get some privacy from his six kids—he ended up ordering one of our Urban Studios for his back yard."

Ready to start your own bunkie project? Summerwood features a huge selection of pre-cut and pre-assembled outbuildings that can be customized with endless features and finishes. Its popular ten-by-ten-foot Bala Bunkie, which includes a sleeping loft, starts around $12,000. If you're in the market for something uber-modern, check out The Bunkie Co., another Canadian company, for sleek, pre-fab cottages costing $14,000 and up. Or, for a super-basic option, head to Jamaica Cottage Shop in Vermont, which sells a simple eight-by-ten-foot model for around $3,000.

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