Cabin Re-build on Forest Service Land in Oregon

Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.


5,000 feet above elevation, a 5-month build window, US Forest Service rules controlling everything from color to shape to size to the anthropology of the site…This project required extraordinary planning, prefabrication, and architect/builder/client coordination. The cabin is located on Odell Lake which sits atop the Cascade Mountains of South-Central Oregon, God’s country by all of our definitions. Dan Hill, architect and co-founder of Arbor South Architecture the design & build group that spearheaded this west coast cabin project, provided more of the story in a guest post below: 

The site is located on the west side of Odell Lake in the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range in an area with small, early to mid-century cabins under land leases by the US Forest Service. Our client had purchased the cabin and land lease with the intention of remodeling the existing 1940’s cabin. It became clear that the old structure had too many issues–including extensive mold (sick house), no perimeter foundation, multiple structural, electrical, and plumbing problems–to salvage or remodel.

The original cabin had too many major issues–including severe mold–to make it salvageable.

The nearly three-year journey of replacing the existing cabin began by coordinating with the US Forest Service. No one had ever replaced a cabin in this area and so we became the “guinea pig” for this process. Their design guidelines for replacement dictated that the new cabin fit in the same footprint as the existing, being no larger than 1200 square feet on the ground level (not including porches) with a max 600 square foot loft. We were to follow strict exterior guidelines for stone type, roof pitches, window sizes, and overall massing.

The “replacement” cabin was required to maintain the same footprint/foundation area as the original structure and could not exceed 1200 sq ft on the ground level or 600 sq ft in the loft, according to the US Forest Service. Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

As well as the US Forest Service general staff, we consulted with a state botanist, a state wildlife specialist, a Forest Service road consultant, and a tree preservationist. All this was done prior to, and during, demolition and construction. Special steps were taken during demolition and site prep to verify the site was free of Native American artifacts or bones. Verified by an archeologist, the results were presented to the Confederated Tribes.

An archeologist was employed to verify any discovery of Native American artifacts and bones. If artifacts had been found the project would be shut down immediately and the cabin would not be able to be replaced.

The harsh environment and high elevation (nearly 5000’) drove many of our decisions on the structural style and material selection–inside and out. Special emphasis was put on long-term energy measures to create a sustainable, durable structure with at least a 100-year life expectancy. This planning was in line with our goal of designing and constructing a cabin that could be passed down thru multiple generations.

Aiding the durability of the timber frame are a series of embedded cold steel “sled” plates designed to accommodate the thrust forces of the trusses under snow loads. The snow load in this area is 300 psf in comparison to just 25 psf in Portland OR or 40 psf in upstate NY.

Photo (C) Loren Nelson Photography.

The most significant choice we made was to use timber framing to bring warmth to the structure with the necessary strength and stability that this time-tested building method provides. We collaborated with New Energy Works in their McMinnville, Oregon location. (In our experience, you folks are a premier timber frame company that has incredible attention to detail and a passion for sustainable design that matches ours.)

A pre-assembled timber bent, strapped and ready for raising.

The timber frame and structural deck systems are construction of locally sourced Douglas fir and an envelope of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) roof system with prefabricated wall panels. Many timbers and posts in the frame were 10″x18″, a fairly robust size.

Our building window was limited because of the harsh weather conditions – literally late April to the end of October. The beauty of the timber frame system was the speed and efficiency it provided our build schedule because the components were prefabricated off-site, trucked in and assembled using a small rubber-tired forklift and modest boom truck. The timber frame minimized onsite waste. It also allowed for a tight envelope including a roof system of SIPs equated to R58, walls of R34, and floor of R40. Other energy measures included LED lighting throughout, zoned ductless mini-splits, low flow faucets, and 0.26 U-value windows.

Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

The strict guidelines for footprint and massing for this project didn’t give us a lot of exterior latitude but our client requested an open floor plan better suited to family gatherings. This would be very different from the traditional cabin plans of that era which included smaller rooms with specific usage.

The modest size great room is open to the ridge and loft areas overhead creating a bigger feel to the overall space. Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography

The final design centered around a core living space (I think New Energy Works often calls this “the commons”?), focused on a large stone fireplace with kitchen, dining, and master suite surrounding this main space. The utility and powder room are located on the back of the house.

While modest in scale, the upper-level loft offers extra bunk space (above) for family and guests as well as a small gathering space away from the larger common areas (below). Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

The idea was to allow the timber frame to look and feel as if it had stood for decades. Each timber received a multi-step finish and texture deepening the tone of the fresh sawn wood.

Carful planning within the smaller footprint still allows for a master suite. Photo (c) Loren Nelson Photography.

Watching it all come together on the site–quickly and efficiently–was certainly a day of celebration.

There were many challenges with the process, logistics, and scheduling for this mountain cabin. I can’t speak enough to the collaboration and craftsmanship of the New Energy Works teams; you really helped make this cabin happen. At the end of the build, the greatest success is how it has brought family together and will continue to do so, hopefully for generations, within a structure that’s good for people and the environment.

Our many thanks to Dan and the Arbor South team for bringing us in on this great project! It was a beautiful setting with skilled design, layout, and execution.  

If you’re interested in seeing more of our completed projects, check out our Case Studies.