Seeking a tranquil refuge from urban Texas life, a professional married couple tasked mwworks with creating an expansive and inviting cabin in the woods. The only catch? The team had to achieve all this within a modest 20 square foot footprint and a tight budget. Let’s see how they got on.
“Cabins allow architects the chance to design in a way that emphasizes simplicity [and] connection to people and nature.” – Drew Shawver, Lead Architect
A Small Cabin by mwworks
Nestled within the forests of Seabeck, Washington, Little House is an ode to all things nature. From the very beginning, the clients sought to reuse the existing compact foundations left over from an old dilapidated cabin in an effort to minimize their impact on the environment.
With this in mind, the team focused on constructing a small modern structure that was simple and inexpensive to build. The rest of the site would be preserved for wildlife and outdoor recreation.
“The concept grew from [these] constraints,” explains Eric Walter, co-founder of mwworks. “A simple box with large carved openings in the roof and walls that selectively embrace the views and natural light.”
“Its small footprint ultimately served as an effective tool to govern the design process, minimizing visual and physical impact while yielding to the natural beauty of the site.”
“The more transparent north and west elevations pull the landscape and distant view into the space. With primary views toward the water, the south and east elevations remain mostly solid, shielding views from the driveway and neighboring properties.” – Walter
Oxidized black cedar and blackened cement infill panels clad the cabin’s exterior, helping to situate the building in its context. Meanwhile, the dark hue works to minimize the home’s visual presence on the landscape, allowing it to blend in with the shadows of the forest.
Inside, a lighter palette of white walls and raw wood accents infuse the small cabin with warmth and brightness. This is especially welcome on those dark and rainy Pacific Northwest winter days.
“Focus was placed on the essentials, and extras were edited out both by desire and a very humble budget. The resulting project hoped to capture the essence of the modern cabin—small in size but much larger than its boundaries.” – Walter
Plenty of windows and skylights are key to bringing in as much light as possible during the day. Overall, this helps to make the small space feel much bigger than its compact footprint.
Reflecting on the quietly minimalist aesthetic, Shawver notes how a cabin retreat ‘offers the opportunity to explore the essential elements of dwelling’. “This perspective shift relaxes many of the stringent technological and functional demands of modern life, but also requires a more restrained approach to making space.”
“The small scale allowed for a very simple kit of parts assembled in a very logical manner. Bright painted surfaces, warm wood framing and dark window liners slip together almost puzzle-like, expressive of their assembly.” – Walter
The Great Outdoors
A large terrace reaching out towards the landscape is the perfect spot to embrace nature. Connecting the building to the larger plot of land, it serves as a ‘jumping off point to the trail system wandering down to the water’s edge’.
When asked about the design challenges for this small cabin project, Shawver immediately pointed to the restraint of modesty. “The major design challenge for this project was trying to accomplish a lot with a little.”
Yet despite these restrictions, mwworks made it work. The Little House radiates a quiet beauty, perhaps all the more so because of its small footprint. In celebrating nature, this small cabin reminds us that you don’t always have to go big to make an impact. As Walter surmises, “this was a very simple design and build, but it is no less rich for it.”