A gem in the woods

Lois A. Shelden
Forest cabin: 512 square feet

When Montana architect Jeff Shelden and his portrait photographer wife, Lois, decided to build a weekend cabin on an isolated site above a forested valley near Lewistown, they made space efficiency, ecofriendly design, and Western romance key elements. The result is a 512-square-foot house, powered by two 50-watt photovoltaic panels, that rises in the shape of a Forest Service fire lookout.

The Sheldens wanted a compact, light-filled structure appropriate to its wilderness setting. Jeff's father had been a Montana forester, so the fire towers that guard the great Western forests held allure: "They were places where life and relationships were condensed to their essential elements," Jeff says.


The Sheldens wanted the cabin "to look like 1939, like the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) had built it." To achieve the patina of age, they used recycled materials - for the roof, corrugated metal siding came from a demolished local barn, and beams, flooring, and decking were taken from a recently dismantled 80-year-old trestle.

The approach is from below. If you arrive at dusk, the tower quite suddenly appears through a line of fir trees. Light spills across the balcony and bounces off the overhang, beckoning you upward to safety and warmth.

Design: Prairie Wind Architecture, Lewistown, MT (406/538-2201)

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