Cabins in the Woods

A protected footbridge leads to Treefort, which required fortitude to build at the end of a road bordered by Icicle Creek and Forest Service land.
A protected footbridge leads to Treefort, which required fortitude to build at the end of a road bordered by Icicle Creek and Forest Service land.

These cabins are the ultimate idylls in the Eastern Washington wilderness

written by Melissa Dalton

Leavenworth: A family builds their dream cabin in a challenging spot

About five years ago, happily settled in their careers as medical professionals in Seattle, Rachel and Matthew Epstein found themselves dreaming of the mountains. “All we ever wanted to do every weekend was explore the outdoors and our backyard of Washington,” Rachel said. The couple had recently returned to their home state after residencies on the East Coast. Comfortable in their Seattle rental, instead of house-hunting there, they searched for property around Leavenworth, a place they loved for its community, food scene and access to the outdoors, all just a two-hour drive from the city. 

One Friday night after work, Rachel saw a listing that grabbed her. Early the next morning, the couple made the trip to see it. Turns out, it was a rarity: the last undeveloped lot at the end of a road, bordered by Icicle Creek and U.S. Forest Service land. “It was at the gateway to the Enchantments,” Rachel said. “There was nothing beyond it, just protected land.” It was exactly what they’d sought. “What we really wanted was half an acre, surrounded by thousands of acres,” Matthew said. 

The next four years of design and construction would reveal the lot’s challenges, from its steep slope filled with boulders, to its restricted access due to a narrow road and two private bridges. “My first impression was, ‘This is a super difficult site,’” architect Steven Booher said. Booher and architect Todd Smith, owner of Leavenworth firm Syndicate Smith, worked with the Epsteins to realize their cabin dream. “Matt and I, in life, are problem solvers,” Rachel said, noting that their architects and builder, A.P. Construction, all embraced the same ethos. “Everyone on our team had the same perspective: This is tricky. It’s not easy, but we can solve this problem.” 

Now, the tower-like cabin is an ode to their perseverance. “We named the cabin the Treefort, both because it is a literal fort among the trees, but also because of the word fortitude,” Rachel said. “It took fortitude and persistence from so many parts of the team. We really felt like it was a testament to that.”

The cabin’s rich charcoal siding and Corten steel accents are a pleasant contrast to the natural surroundings. A protected footbridge leads inside, where maple plywood covered walls ensconce, and abundant windows frame river and canyon views. “We had recently traveled to Europe and really fell in love with Scandinavia and admired homes in thickly-treed areas that had dark exteriors and really light, bright interiors,” Rachel said. The couple’s primary must-have was a small footprint, so the home clocks in at just over 1,000 square feet, with the shared living spaces stacked over a floor with two bedrooms. 

At the top of the home is a roof deck with stunning views. The couple requested the deck as a third bedroom of sorts, where people could camp out, lounge or dine, effectively expanding the living space of the small cabin. Since an on-site well wasn’t possible, the roof is also part of a rainwater collection system, with the filtration and 2,500-gallon cistern in the basement. “All of the water for the whole home is captured via the roof,” Smith said.

Even better is the magical feeling the couple gets upon waking up in their cabin, a pinch-me moment when they glance out the window and see the canyon walls capped in snow, or fog, or bathed in golden light, depending on the season. “It’s just this really dramatic view that when you wake up, it tells you: ‘You’re in the mountains,’ ” Matthew said. 

Central Cascades: Twin cabins are rustic-meets-refined family retreats

It took a collaborative effort to satisfy the priorities of two clients in the design and build of twin guest cabins tucked into the woods on the Eastern side of the Cascades in central Washington. “What makes these clients unique is that their two passions in life are family and their love of the outdoors,” said Kathleen Glossa, interior designer and founder of Swivel Interiors. In 2015, Glossa teamed up with architects from Board & Vellum and construction firm Dowbuilt. 

Located on a larger ranch property, the owners wanted to create comfortable spots where their grown children could come stay with their own families. Each cabin has two bedrooms and one bathroom arrayed over approximately 900 square feet, with a simple peaked roof and extruded wings over the porches. The exterior forms and materials, which includes metal walls and a tin roof, reference common outbuildings in the area. All the better for these new cabins to fit in.

“The second you open up the car door, the air is different there,” said Glossa. “The ground is a little crunchy from all the needles from the trees. And then you just have a little bit of a teasing vista between the trees. The cabins are really about sitting quietly on the land without calling attention to themselves.”

Inside, the goal was to nod to an iconic, even eclectic, cabin aesthetic, while prioritizing easy maintenance and durability. Dowbuilt enveloped a central support wall in reclaimed wood, the boards salvaged from a falling-down 1890s barn that once stood on the property. The contractor carefully mitered and aligned each board to achieve a fluid wrap around the corners, preserving its natural patina, including knicks, scars and even lichen in some places. 

Concrete floors and exposed plywood panels on the remaining walls are equally hard-wearing. “There’s not a drop of drywall in either dwelling,” Glossa said. The designer tapped Seattle blacksmith Black Dog Forge to fabricate iron hardware, from the cabinet pulls to the drapery rods. Atop the custom kitchenette cabinets, the countertops are a slim profile of solid-surface material, called Dekton.

Bright colors, from the window seat bench cushions dressed in outdoor fabric, to the brilliant green Pratt & Larson tile in the bathroom, balance the wood tones. The finishing touches, antique furnishings, have been in the family for years and would be easily recognized by the cabin’s visitors. Such was the point: “To have a welcoming, sweet spot that felt like home,” Glossa said.  

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