When Steve McGowan stumbled upon a cabin near Friendship, Indiana, it was hardly the serene retreat he envisioned. “It had been abandoned for 14 years, so there were dead animals in there, colonies of spiders. It was a mess,” says McGowan. The cofounder of Brave Berlin design firm had just finished a summer consumed by the inaugural Lumenocity and was on the hunt for a modest secondary place away from the city to unwind. He eventually found an abandoned hunter’s cabin in the woods between the towns of Friendship and Dillsboro. “I got into it, fixed it up,” he says. “At first I thought it would be this really cool place to reconnect with family and friends, which it is, but the other result is that it’s a very peaceful place for me to go. It was perfect.”
This Krakauer-ian itch has become a growing real estate market for a handful of local entrepreneurial and creative-inclined folks craving a close-but-not-too-close, off-the-grid respite from the urban workweek grind. McGowan’s 750-square-foot cabin sits on the bank of a creek, with an open floor plan wrapped in knotty pine woodwork and a Shaker-built spiral staircase leading up to a sleeping loft. It has electricity and plumbing, but no cable, Wi-Fi, or cell service. When visiting, he usually drives up the hill into Friendship once a day to check messages. “You’re virtually unplugged,” he says. “A rooster wakes you up in the morning.”
Andrew Salzbrun, managing partner of AGAR branding agency and co-owner of Nation Kitchen & Bar, has a ranch in Vevay, Indiana, that he owns with buddies Chris Bergman (CEO of FamilyTech) and Kyle Pohlman (principal partner at Bartlett & Co.). “[We] wanted to find a place that gets us out of the urban core and gives us an opportunity to relax, use some muscles we don’t normally use,” says Salzbrun. The ranch sits on roughly 50 acres and sleeps 10, with a massive wrap-around porch with a hot tub and fire pit, and even a small music studio in the basement. The guys host a giant July 4th bash every year, but otherwise use it as a quiet place to relax and take up new hobbies. “It’s a freedom when you can work on a project, set it down, and come back to it in a month without it hanging over your head,” says Salzbrun.
McGowan’s cabin provides similar creative alternatives—it keeps him sketching, taking walks—while also providing artistic space. The symmetrical design aesthetic was modeled after Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, with a heavy summer camp/Boy Scouts vibe: antlers on the wall, rabbit feet, canteens, marbles, “How to Survive in the Woods” manuals. “And then just a ton of bourbon,” says McGowan.
Joe Creighton similarly drew inspiration from Legends of the Fall for his 67-acre plot in Moscow, Ohio. The main lodge (there are two total, in addition to a 6,000-square-foot barn and outdoor amphitheater) is a log cabin made of hand-hewed wood salvaged from dairy barns dating to the 1700s. The interior features modern utilities, but is outfitted with tufted leather couches and antique maps and flags. Creighton and his wife Robin bought the land with a couple of Creighton’s childhood friends for space to ride dirt bikes—mission accomplished—but it’s also become a major influence in their professional lives. Creighton, who owns Cheapside Café and Mecca OTR, has infused the oasis feel of the getaway into those spaces; Robin, a photographer, does shoots on the property.
“I still pinch myself every time I pull up. It’s the most epic place I’ve ever seen,” says Creighton. “My wife and I spend three nights a week out there sometimes. I’ll put a picture on Instagram and people are like, You go out of town a lot. I’m not out of town. I’m back at work by 8:30 the next morning.”