Over the River and Through the Woods

A tiny cabin on the Crooked River in western Maine becomes a quiet oasis for a pair of New York transplants

Keith Tiszenkel sits on the front porch of his 200-square-foot cabin in Waterford, with a screen house on the left.

A few winters ago, Keith Tiszenkel and his wife, Michelle Starin, booked a short stay at a 200-square-foot cabin in Waterford through Airbnb. The couple had moved to Maine from New York City in 2011 and were enamored by the quiet and solitude of the tiny off-the-grid dwelling near the Crooked River. “I’ve always been a city boy, but this property definitely sparked something in me,” Tiszenkel says. “I became obsessed with building something similar on a piece of land of my own.”

They visited a few properties, but nothing inspired them. Then Tiszenkel tried searching in Waterford and the surrounding area and found that the same tiny house was for sale. Although it was way over their budget, they made it work and submitted an offer on the house three days later. Since buying the property, Tiszenkel has built a screen house with the help of the original owner and builder, Lon Cameron, and added a small solar setup.

They still rent the house on Airbnb but set aside a weekend every month for themselves to stay and relax. Bookings have slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the couple is taking additional precautions, including rigorous cleaning and spacing out guest stays by about a week. Tiszenkel says many regulars visit every year. “We’ve had birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, and even a vacation for a pet mini pig,” he says. “I feel like I owe it to people to keep this going, and as long as they’re comfortable with it, I will.”

These chairs made from vintage wooden crates double as storage.


Less square footage doesn’t mean less work
“There’s always something to do, whether it’s fixing a window crank or a broken screen, repainting, fixing rotted wood, eliminating wasp nests, stacking wood, emptying the composting toilet, trying to keep up with nature as it attempts to take back the land. The fact that there’s no electricity or running water actually makes basic tasks more challenging. Any water we use is either brought in or collected from the river.”

His favorite time to visit
“I close down to outside guests in the winter—it’s about three-quarters of a mile snowshoe to get in. The snow adds an extra element of beauty, the wood stove keeps every inch of the 200-square-foot cabin warm (on the verge of hot!), and it feels extra secluded.”

Sleeping in the loft
“It was built with a gabled roof, so it’s not one of those nose-to-the-ceiling sleeping situations you’ll see on many of those tiny house shows. There’s a queen bed, a handmade bookcase and plenty of room to stand. The light that comes in through the half-moon window at the front of the house hits the loft just so—it’s the best alarm clock on the face of the Earth.”

There is no running water or electricity, but hanging lanterns provide lighting.

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