This single mom lives in a 700-square-foot cabin she built by hand. Now, she's teaching other women how to do the same.
- Natalie Bogwalker, 44, built a 400-square-foot log cabin in rural Western North Carolina by hand.
- After getting pregnant, she wanted more space to raise her daughter — so she expanded the cabin to 700 square feet.
Natalie Bogwalker grew up in a rural part of Washington state. She loved being in the woods and was always interested in building things, although she didn't consider pursuing it professionally.
"I did the 'Good Girl' thing and went to college to study genetic engineering," Bogwalker, 44, told Insider.
But a car accident when she was 19 changed her perspective: She realized she didn't want to chase the typical American dream.
"The normal success story of life in the US was not for me," Bogwalker said. "And so I quit university, went traveling, learned a lot — and I went back to study ecological agriculture."
She had a deep calling to live close to the earth and stayed in different places around the world, like Spain and Guatemala, before she ended up in Western North Carolina.
She started by living with other like-minded folk on their land, helping them build their projects.
"They were just happy to have other people living on it who wanted to do cool things," Bogwalker said.
After some time, she started living with her boyfriend on his land — until they broke up. This was when Bogwalker realized she needed the security of owning property and decided to buy land.
She purchased about 16 acres with two other friends and then split it three-way.
"Our plan was to buy in bulk so it'll be less expensive and also so we could guarantee who our neighbors would be," Bogwalker said.
The trio pooled money into one account to make the purchase and did a double-closing to divide the land, she said. The total purchase price was $199,000 for 16 acres, and Bogwalker says she contributed $47,000 for seven acres.
Insider has not been able to independently verify how much Bogwalker and friends paid for the land.
The first part of building a new house from scratch involves observing the land.
Apart from deciding the cabin's location, Bogwalker needed to figure out what resources she had on the land that she could use to build the home.
"After all, you want to be building something that makes sense in the landscape that you're in," she said.
She eventually decided to use pine logs from the trees she cut down for the cabin.
"They were pine trees that were overcrowded or in places where I was hoping to release some oaks and hickories," Bogwalker said. "Thinning a forest is often helpful for the health of the forest."
Bogwalker designed the log cabin on her own.
She originally envisioned her cabin as a single-story building with a loft, but quickly changed her mind when she realized it wasn't enough space.
"I drew out the floorplan, which was 12 by 16, and I tried to fit in little paper cut-outs representing all the things that I wanted in there — like the couch and my bed — and I couldn't fit it," she said. In the end, Bogwalker settled for a two-story cabin instead.
Most of the raw materials came from the land, although she had to buy her windows, doors, insulation, fixtures, and plumbing materials.
She got some of her furniture from Habitat for Humanity and bought the rest from secondhand sellers online, she said.
It was tough doing things alone, so she hosted "work parties" where friends and others in the community would come to help.
"The host cooks a bunch of food, provides all the materials for the projects ahead of time, and then they invite people to come and help," Bogwalker said.
She said anywhere between 15 and 30 people can show up for these work parties, including friends, friends of friends, and even others who are part of the DIY and off-grid living community.
"It was a big undertaking to build your own house as a single woman. There was a lot going on for me emotionally as well as physically," Bogwalker said.
The whole idea behind work parties is mutual aid, she added: "The number one thing was building friendships with people whom I helped out with various things, and they helped me out."
Bogwalker moved into her log cabin before it was completed.
"I still didn't have the finished floors up. I didn't have any plumbing in the cabin." Bogwalker said. "I had a hydrant outside the cabin that I could get water with, but the whole place was very unfinished."
It was about a year and a half between the first cutting of the trees and her moving into the cabin, Bogwalker said. Prior to this, she had been staying in a tiny shed that she had built on her land just so she could be close to the main cabin during the construction.
She worked on the cabin's interior over the next year, and it was completed around 2013, she added.
After two years, Bogwalker expanded the cabin from under 400 square feet to about 700 square feet.
The initial expansion involved adding a covered wraparound porch to her cabin, Bogwalker said. She built the floor but hired a friend to do a timber frame for the porch cover.
It was around the same time that she found out she was pregnant.
"I was like, 'Okay, we need more space.' I was living with a partner at the time, and so with the help of some work traders, apprentices, and work parties, I closed in a part of the covered porch," she said.
The closed-in-porch is now a parlor — but back then, Bogwalker used it as a "birthing room" where she delivered her daughter Hazel in 2016, she said.
"After I did that, I still had a pretty lavish covered porch, and I added onto it. At that point, I had a really nice outdoor sleeping area," she added.
When Hazel turned three years old in 2019, Bogwalker closed in the rest of the original covered porch and turned it into a bedroom for her daughter.
Bogwalker says that her decision to take on this construction project alone taught her the importance of community.
"I think in some ways the hardest part was doing it alone," Bogwalker said. "There's something really easy about doing things as a couple that makes it so that you don't have to reach outside of that partnership and into the community to get help."
She added that having only herself to rely on forced her to look to the community for assistance and support when she needed it.
Now, Bogwalker runs a permaculture and carpentry school called Wild Abundance.
Some of the most popular courses the school offers include basic carpentry classes for women and workshops on building a tiny house. Most classes are held on-site — on the same piece of land that Bogwalker owns and lives on.
The courses offered are priced on a scale. For instance, a four-day women's basic carpentry class costs between $850 and $1,700, according to the Wild Abundance website.
Participants are encouraged to pay depending on what they can afford, Bogwalker said.
"Our sliding scale is completely based on self-reporting," she added. "We ask students who have a yearly household income of $115,000 or more to pay at the upper end of the sliding scale, and those who consider themselves low income to pay at the bottom, and for folks to place themselves in between as they see fit."
Even though there are classes open to both men and women, Bogwalker says it was especially important to her that she had courses specifically for women.
The idea was to ensure they had a comfortable space to get used to handling construction tools without judgment.
"I think there are a lot of situations where women are told that they're not good at things," Bogwalker said "And it just makes my heart sing when I see women coming into their power."
Bogwalker has some advice for anyone who wants to build their own house: Start small.
Especially for those who have never done similar projects before, it'll be wiser to start with a smaller floorplan design and build on it over time, Bogwalker said.
It's also important to keep an open mind when faced with any challenges, she said.
"It's about making the best choice you can and having the understanding that you're not going to be able to anticipate everything," she added.
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