While hosting a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, Hipcamp Host Joe came across a simple structure that made a big impression. It was a metal panel that a farmer had bent over into a half-circle, then covered with tarp to create a small shed for his tools. The little shed made Joe think back to the gridded wire sheets lying around on his own recently purchased 10-acre property back home in Osage County, Oklahoma. “I thought, ‘Oh, we could do that.’”
Returning to Oklahoma, Joe began putting the panels to use to create “just a small hut, pretty basic, like a nice tent” that guests could stay in. But, he says, “it ended up being a little bit more than that.”
Located in Sand Springs, a 25-minute drive west of Tulsa, Three Ponds Community is run by Joe and his girlfriend Hailey, who describes the property as “a small, mindful yoga community of friends.” The couple owns yoga studios in Tulsa and Jenks and live at Three Ponds, where they host retreats and welcome Hipcampers with four tent camping areas and 10 sites idyllically situated by ponds, trails, and a creek.
Among photos of the land, on-site hot tub, and resident baby goats, Joe turned to social media to diligently document the build of his own domed wooden cabin throughout the second half of 2020. Now an additional Hipcamp listing directly inspired by that Costa Rican shed, Sunny’s Hut—named for one of the resident goats who “helped” with the work—is indeed a bit more than the “pretty basic” structure they originally set out to build. It’s kitted out with a full bed, electricity, air conditioning, heating, a no-plumbing pump sink, and a mini-fridge to provide the full glamping experience. And, he says, anyone who can “hammer some nails and screw some screws” could build their own.
Prior to working on Sunny’s Hut, the extent of Joe’s construction experience was “just kind of self-taught.” Rather than working from blueprints, he tended to make it up as he went along. “There were so many points where I stopped and I was like, ‘Oh my god, what do I do now?’ And then I just made something up that seemed to work.“
Construction started with two three-foot walls, made from a donated fence, on either side of the selected site along a little-used trail. Three cattle panels—basically heavy-duty, gridded wire sheets—were attached to each side and bent over the top to create the domed shape. This initial step was one of the hardest. Due to the width of the cattle panel wire, he was left with a gap that needed to be sealed. “I ended up just cutting a bunch of small pieces of trim wood, butted it up, and glued it against the tarp to keep it airtight so bugs don’t come in, and then used some expanding foam.”
As well as the cattle panels, the key tool Joe had at his disposal was “a pretty strong, supportive community.” When he started construction in July, he put out a call for materials and received a donated vinyl billboard banner that, laid on top of the cattle panel, forms the cabin’s roof, in lieu of the tarp he’d seen on that Costa Rican farm. “It’s just like a tarp in that it’s waterproof,” he said. “I layered it three times to give it extra durability and make sure that it wouldn’t leak.” On the other side of the cattle panel, in the hut’s curve, he added insulation and then wood paneling to strengthen the structure.
”Behind the sheetrock is just standard insulation like you’d have in your house: 3/4-inch styrofoam. It’s not amazing insulation, but the heating and air conditioning unit we have in there is really big for the space, so it keeps it nice and warm [in winter] or nice and cold in the summer.” Given that Three Ponds is located in the United States’ Tornado Alley, the structure has already been put to the test. “We’ve had some pretty good winds come through and some heavy rains, and everything has been pretty solid with no leaks.“
After completing the structure, all that was left to do was painting, decorating, and installing the final touches, such as the pump sink. Joe was able to keep costs under $2,000 in total thanks to donations and ‘friends rates.’ In addition to the vinyl billboard, a gate, and some wood, the bed was also a donation. “A lot of it comes from the support of our community.” He also kept costs low by purchasing lightly blemished wood at a discount from a nearby secondhand building-supply store.
Now that Three Ponds offers a glamping option in addition to its tent campsites, the property is able to diversify its income, charging just more than double their $17 nightly tent rate for a night in the hut. Creature comforts like the bed, outdoor shower, and heating/air conditioning unit help remove some uncertainties for Hipcampers looking to book a stay.
By keeping it fairly simple and learning the basics of sheetrock work, Joe says that other Hipcamp Hosts could successfully build something similar. Looking back on the process now, his main tip for Hosts is “to just trust in the creative process instead of worrying about it being perfect. Think of it more as an art project instead of a task.”
Looking for more building inspo? Check out 4 Easy Camping Structures to Build for Under $500.
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