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Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Incredible Disappearing Retreat in the Woods

Here is something that heretofore I have only shared with a few of my consulting clients: an approach at rural retreat construction that can make a rural retreat of 10 acres or more essentially "disappear".

If there is a thick screen of trees or tall brush between the public road and potential building sites at your undeveloped country retreat parcel, then your property might be a good candidate for a "hidden retreat house". This is accomplished by making as few changes as possible when the parcel is viewed from the county road. No fancy entry gate, no mailbox, basically nothing new that is visible except a small diameter drainage culvert by the side of the county road and a narrow semi-improved road that will just look like a disused farm machinery access lane. It should be just lightly road-rocked for the first 100 feet, to encourage grass to actually grow up in it. Design the roadway leading in to the back end of the property narrow and in a serpentine path, so that additional trees can be planted to block any view down the lane. You will of course need to brief and oversee the road contractors, so that they don't do the usual "wide road with lots of rock."

Either have grid power run in underground, or skip it altogether and put in a photovoltaic (PV) power system. Thus, there are no power poles and visible lines to give away the location.
I recommend building a masonry house with small windows and with either a rock or an earth-tone brick facade. The roof should be green metal, all the better to blend in. Do not clear trees to "open up a view", since that would likely provide line of sight from the county road, revealing the house.

The aforementioned measures might all seem a bit "Bat Cave", but I have seen this approach used at a retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii. The owner--who has had the place for 10 years--mentioned that a few of his neighbor's houses have been burglarized, but his never has been. His house is invisible from the road and from all of the neighboring houses, so opportunistic burglars "just passing through" don't even know that there is a house there. His lane just looks like something used by farm tractors, not by a homeowner.

Granted, this approach will not protect your retreat from being known by your neighbors. Twelve-year-old boys tend to hike around just about everywhere, and pay little attention to "No Trespassing" signs. Ditto for a lot of hunters and fishermen. But statistically, a hidden retreat will be much safer, both before the Schumer hits the fan, and after.

An even more elaborate disappearing act is an underground house with an entrance hidden in what appears to just be a utility building. But that gets much more expensive. I'll have more on that in an upcoming post.



  1. I'm noticing that dog food (I buy Purina) isn't being carried by Sam's anymore. What can you tell me about storing and/or making dog food?
    I see you have cat food on your "menu".

  2. Like the hide out in the movie "Children of Men".