DIY Cabin In The Woods

By Laura Dye Lang and Miranda Jones, Originally Published in Sunset Magazine

A young couple built this cool contemporary one room cabin in rural Oregon. Photo by Thomas J. Story

Mariah Morrow and Ryan Lingard make the 6-hour drive from Portland to their mountain cabin at least four times a year.

By the time they’ve lit the woodstove and rolled open the 8-foot-high barn door to reveal a view of Wallowa Lake, it’s evident why. This cozy adventure outpost—just 130 square feet plus a deck—is the perfect jumping-off point into the wilderness near Joseph, Oregon.Ryan Lingard and Mariah Morrow built their tiny cabin for $57,000, including the land. They call it The Signal Shed.

“There’s no need to drive to a trailhead,” says Mariah, noting that informal paths connect the cabin to moun­tain bike trails and Forest Service hiking trails. “In winter, we ski and snow­shoe,” Ryan says. “It’s peaceful here, and spending time off the grid resets your priorities.”

The Signal Shed is rustic, with no running water, no electricity, and a woodstove for heat.A 2006 road trip for Mariah’s birthday led to a serendipitous discovery: a love for the wilds of northeastern Oregon. Soon after, an ad in the local paper led to the purchase of a distressed, 100- by 150-foot parcel for $47,000. “Where most people would have seen a steep, partially burned, partially logged slope that didn’t have utilities, we just saw possibilities,” Mariah recalls.

Much of the couple’s optimism for building came from Ryan’s experience as an architect and knowing that he could design to their specifications. The couple wanted something humble that blended into the environment. Plus the home needed to be easily secured for long absences. The one-room cabin floats on piers to minimize its impact on the site.

Cedar screens wrap the exterior and can be locked to protect the cabin when Ryan and Mariah are not in residence. A metal roof and underside shield against the elements and varmints. The materials cost about $10,000, with windows from a center that recycles building parts. Other thrifty choices include Ikea cabi­netry and laminate flooring. They found the barn door hardware and the woodstove—the cabin’s only source of heat—on Craigslist. After two years of planning and extended weekend camping trips to the site, the couple, together with family and friends, completed construction in two weeks.

Mariah, who grew up in an off-the-grid home in rural Oregon, is undaunted by the portable toilet, reading by candlelight, and heating bath water in a homemade solar contraption. “Living without electricity makes you slow down and really appreciate the effort it takes to generate light and warmth,” she says. It’s a bit like camping, according to Ryan. Small solar chargers power cell phones. Oil lamps brighten the interior. “We don’t think of this as a vacation house. Wherever else we live, this will always be home,” Mariah says.

How You Can Do It

Land that is far from modern conveniences (like airports) is typically cheaper. The Oregon Signal Shed, for example, is a six-hour drive from Portland. Look for land that doesn’t require traditional bank financing (banks typically require you to build within a tight timetable or else incur very high interest rates). Ryan and Mariah were able to buy their land through seller financing (the seller agreed to carry the loan). Purchase the plans from Ryan and hire a builder—or have Ryan deliver the shed complete. From $18,000 for prefab modular; detailed drawings $1,000; signal-shed.com

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09/09/2013