FORM on Design: The Mobile Home Reimagined

The newest addition to Canoe Bay, a resort in Wisconsin, is the ESCAPE, a fully mobile home that throws the old playbook out the window. Image via Canoe Bay.The words “mobile home” conjure up a pretty specific set of images, and they’re not necessarily pretty. Sure, Airstreams are wonderful, but you’re more likely to see something big and boxy lumbering down the interstate rather than something sleek and silver. Enter architect Kelly Davis and hotelier Dan Dobrowolski, the guiding force behind Wisconsin resort Canoe Bay, who have set out to change those expectations with ESCAPE.

Canoe Bay, for the uninitiated, is located in picturesque, if remote, corner of northwest Wisconsin—Dobrowolski’s family boasts a century-long connection to the area. The inn and cottages that dot the property all share a Prairie Style vibe that fits perfectly with the lakeside setting and cater to a clientele seeking rustic yet elegant experience in nature. Looking for a new challenge, Dobrowolski and Davis began exploring prefabrication, with the idea of creating something beyond the typical mobile home.

Davis and Dobrowloski began the design process over a decade ago with the idea that, “We wanted it to look like a house,” says Davis. With design and technical research prohibitively expensive, he and Dobrowolski decided “to shoot from the hip,” he recalls, as they played with a design. After an initial burst of activity, they put the project on hold and then revived several years later.

The eventual design, now welcoming visitors, turns the idea of a mobile home on its head. As far as looks go, ESCAPE is in a class by itself. It looks like a traditional cabin, complete with a generous porch that can serve as an additional seating or sleeping area. Instead of metal, the diminutive structure (measuring just 399 square feet) features cedar siding and LED lighting. Its appliances are also full-size in a departure from traditional mobile homes. “This is like an adult playhouse in the backyard,” says Davis. “It has all the creature comforts we as adults have come to enjoy and expect.” 

Initial response to ESCAPE has been enthusiastic and is inspiring more designs. “We’re looking at changing materials, making it look more urban, more sophisticated,” says Davis. “We’re also working on a smaller iteration of ESCAPE. It will be extremely mobile and can be parked in backyard and hauled on weekends or set up at resorts and used seasonally. There are all sorts of ideas.”

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