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Compact cabins.

Compact cabins

Here are four . . . all less than 1,000 inexpensive square feet, all but one owner-built. Our first, on San Juan Island, is open, casual, almost like glorified camping

Forget reality, at least everyday reality, when it comes to building a vacation house--that's the lesson of the country cabins on these pages. In the process, each becomes a special kind of retreat that offers a break from customary patterns.

Each is less than 1,000 square feet (the smallest is only 450 square feet), and inexpensive (from $25 to $40 per square foot). All forgo room-separating walls in favor of large, multipurpose space.

What makes these small houses different from many second homes is well demonstrated by the owner-built cabin shown on these two pages, designed and built by Seattle architect Gordon Lagerquist. Studied simplicity defines the experience of being in the house.

A remote site in Washington's San Juan Islands dictated much of the planning. Though you can drive to the site (an adventure in itself), it has neither water nor power. A primitive-looking building seemed appropriate for the site. Driftwood poles support rough-sawn trusses; salvaged wood forms walls and ceiling. The only clues that this isn't a century-old house are its new wood windows, the skylights, and the stainless steel sink.

Without electricity, ample daylight becomes a concern: the trusses over the loft stretch past the main roof peak to create a clerestory window that brightens the whole house. A skylight over the kitchen area and strategically placed windows and glass doors balance the light.

Near Mount Rainier: only 450 square feet, yet built-ins make it big enough for four people

How small can a cabin be, yet comfortably accommodate four people? Architect-owner-builders Hedy and Robert Jacklin of Tacoma decided on 450 square feet. This size meant manageable cost (about $25 per square foot) and manageable construction time.

This structure is perched up in the trees for good reason: when a nearby stream occasionally overflows its banks, it can pass beneath the house. The pole structure also reduced the amount of foundation work necessary, and the elevated entry improves security--a consideration with sporadically occupied vacation houses. Only the heavily constructed front door is approachable without a ladder.

Pole construction makes this wedge-shaped cabin feel like a treehouse. Horizontal timbers bolted to the poles cantilever in every direction; most of the house extends outside the four-pole core.

There's a spring to the floors that might be unsettling in a conventional house, but here it adds to the treehouse feeling. Though served by utilities, the house is still oriented around a central woodstove.

The window seat you see in the picture below is described in detail on page 104.

Lake Tahoe: tapered shape squeezes in between pines

Like an abstract ski boot, this 765-square-foot snow cabin high in the Sierra Nevada stands at the brow of a hill, as if poised for a downhill run. Its tapered shape allowed architect Philip Banta of Emeryville, California, to position the building in a sheltering stand of lodgepole pines without removing a single tree.

The tapering form also responds to its compass orientation: the narrow end is toward the shady, forested north; the wider end faces the sunny southwest and an exhilarating view of the valley below. The main floor and deck are 10 feet above grade, making the house appear to float over the deep midwinter snowdrifts.

The entry occupies the north end, which tapers to a width of 7 feet. Living room, kitchen, and dining area share space at the other end, which is 17 feet at its widest, and opens on a deck. A sleeping loft wraps around two sides of the living area, taking advantage of the view and of heat radiating upward from the wood-stove below. Eaves under the steeply pitched roof vary from 2 to 7 feet wide, calculated to yield most shade in summer.

A tile floor in the kitchen and a stone hearth in the living area provide thermal mass, storing the sun's and stove's warmth in winter.

To build the house, owner John Cook worked with contractor Neal Tye on weekends and vacations for the better part of a year.

"The adventure begins the moment we leave the car,' says Martha Cook. "To get to the house, we strap on our backpacks laden with groceries and clothes and ski in 3/4 mile.'

Orcas Island: First just a tent on a platform. Then a 3-week blitz, then 3 unhurried years to finish

"We never planned to build a house here,' the owners of a beachfront cabin on Washington's Orcas Island told us. For several years, they just pitched a large tent on a wood platform they had erected on the site.

When they decided to build a more permanent structure, they didn't want to disturb anything or cut down any trees. "We liked the tent, so the house had to have an interesting shape too. And, most important, we wanted to build it--but not all at once.'

Spokane designer-builder Gerry Copeland set up a plan that called for three weeks of intensive work that he would supervise, then an open-ended finishing schedule the owners could complete at their own pace.

First, the pilings were placed. Wheelbarrows full of concrete made a circuitous trip from as close as a concrete truck could get--80 feet--down the hill to the hand-dug post holes. Once the foundation was completed and the lumber and other building materials were delivered, the "crew' descended on the scene.

The owners, their son, Copeland, and-- for one week--another carpenter camped on the site in four tents. "We worked like crazy for three weeks, with Gerry showing us what to do,' said the owners. "We had no water or power. All we had was a generator for the saws.'

Working through the daylight hours (a long day that far north in the summer), they completed a weathertight shell in three weeks. "We look back on that time as one of the high points of our lives.' "We were able to put up the shell so quickly because it's so small (675 square feet),' Copeland said. "These were the ideal clients. They knew that small was practical; that we could give the roof a steep pitch to tie it to the treetops and open up the inside space; that we could have some fun and at the same time minimize impact to the site.'

Once the shell was completed, a leisurely three years was spent finishing the house. "We would go up when we wanted to, work if we felt like it, and every once in a while bring in a skilled contractor to do wiring, plumbing, or carpentry we didn't know how to do,' the owners told us. "We started using the house as soon as the shell was finished; it just got a little more comfortable as time went by.'

Now the house is finished and has water, power, furniture, and other amenities. But the site is still more important to the owners than the house that sits on it. Three tents are still tucked into the woods around the house for guests, and the beach barbecues that ended days during the blitz are still the meal of choice.

Photo: San Juan Island. Weathered hideaway isn't as old as it looks: owner built it from salvaged wood. Big green door slides on barn-door hardware to open house's living room to deck

Photo: Cantilevered window seat provides a quiet, sunny spot to read or nap. Cabin contains one large multipurpose space with loft above. Woodstove heats open-ceilinged space. Roof trusses sit on driftwood posts; salvaged wood gives rustic texture to walls, roof. Ladder leads to children's loft (gray tone); master bedroom is behind half-wall near stove

Photo: Homemade spiral staircase connects two living levels

Photo: View down flue from balcony bedroom shows built-in couch-bed. Window overlooks seasonal stream that, on occasion, flows under elevated house

Photo: A wedge on poles, 450-square-foot structure cantilevers in every direction off four support poles set in 10-foot grid

Photo: View from loft shows built-in seating in sun-drenched window corner opposite woodstove. Built-in benches double as bed GLENN CHRISTIANSEN

Photo: Angled walls help this narrow house nestle in its tree-studded site and enhance its orientation to the view. Steep roof sheds snow in winter; deep eaves shade south-facing windows in summer

Photo: Trapezoidal dining table echoes plan of house. Kitchen and living-dining area share space, light, and heat

Photo: Decks, staircase wrap three sides of wedge-shaped house; gray tone shows loft; dotted line is roof line

Photo: Long before cabin was built, tent platform provided on-site shelter for owners

Photo: A three-week blitz saw construction progress from zero to a wateright box

Photo: Finishing the weatherproof wooden shell took a leisurely three years

Photo: Sleeping loft looks down on kitchen, living/dining rooms, hearth

Photo: Stovepipe jogs around loft beam on its route to the roof. Horizontal cedar strips band living room. Ladder gives access to loft

Photo: Orcas Island. Completed at last, 675-square-foot house angles over rock outcrop, its generous deck overlooking Harney Channel
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Oct 1, 1986
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