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A smart spot in the woods.


Settled comfortably between a lagoon and a forest on Washington's Whidbey Island, this handsome little cabin's small footprint makes a minimum impact on the land. Its carefully chosen materials and simple design--as well as the hard work of the owners, who helped build it--made a minimum impact on the family budget. And allowing family members and guests to spread out among its three floors makes a minimum impact on everyone's nerves.

The cabin, owned and designed by Seattle architect William Witt, is basically three 400-square-foot rooms stacked one atop the other. But it's how the rooms work together that makes the design distinctive.

When the Witt family uses the cabin alone, the ground-level floor belongs to the children. Coming in from the woods or water, they can take off wet and dirty clothes on the deck outside the house, then clean up in the bathroom on their floor before heading upstairs to the kitchen-dining-gathering space, which looks out to a water view through huge old madrones and conifers. This floor acts as social insulation between the lower children's floor and the adults' bedroom suite on the top floor. "You get an amazing sense of distance when you put one floor of common space between private people spaces," says Witt.

When company comes, singles and couples are usually given the sofa bed in the middle floor. If a family comes to visit, the ground floor is turned over to them, and the Witt children move up to camp out with their parents on the top floor.

The cabin cost a startlingly low $50 per square foot to build. Creative use of simple, inexpensive materials embellished with other simple materials and paint--along with the fact that the family did much of the finish work and painting themselves--is the secret.

The house was sheathed in exterior-grade plywood. To enrich the look and prevent buckling, 2-by-2 vertical battens were added. Cedar lattice was applied to the gable ends. Bare spruce tongue-and-groove 2-by-6s make up ceilings and floors, eliminating the need for subflooring. The flooring rests on discount beams that would not normally be considered good enough to be exposed, but the owners obscured dings and stains with rubbed-on latex paint that still allows the grain to show through.

Other design tricks also saved money in construction and reduce the cost of maintaining the cabin. Bathrooms on the top and bottom floors and the kitchen in the middle were positioned so that they could share a straight line of plumbing--reducing installation costs and simplifying future repairs. Wall-mounted electric heating units warm the floors in chilly weather, sparing the expense of a central heating system. Stairway doors can be closed to allow the floors to be heated independently. The roof overhangs 3 feet on all four sides, sheltering the floors below from the elements. Building in simple bunks in the children's quarters saved on furnishing costs, as did the clever use of building scraps for woodwork and furniture, which also gives the cabin a handmade look.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cabin by a lagoon
Author:Lorton, Steven R.
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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