Cutting-edge cabin

Get inspired by an Oregon retreat that's all about family, the outdoors, and living lightly on the land

Peter O. Whiteley

True sustainable living starts at home. Tom Kelly's cabin near Oregon's Mt. Hood is all about family, the outdoors, and treading lightly on the land.

"It was important that our getaway be as eco-friendly as possible," says Kelly, who owns a design/build and remodeling business on the forefront of green building practices.

Inspiration came from an article in the New York Times about a loftlike concrete-and-glass house on Idaho's Idaho’s lake country.

"We liked its industrial simplicity, with all the concrete block and exposed electrical conduit," Kelly says. "But we didn't want to mimic a specific style. We just wanted a place that was comfortable and suited its rural setting."

Kelly and his wife, Barbara Woodford, gave the design task to their niece, architect Liz Olberding She organized the house around a hydronically heated concrete floor and structural walls made of Durisol, blocks of recycled wood fiber and cement that contain fiberglass-like rock-wool insulation.

Terra-cotta-colored clay-plaster accent walls, exposed wood trim, and wool rugs in a similar ruddy palette add a layer of warmth.

The honed concrete-block walls retain heat from sunlight; as with many of the cabin's materials, the blocks are extremely durable and locally produced to lower the "embodied energy" of transportation costs.

The home boasts so many innovative components, it was the first Western residence to receive LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a rating system developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

Efficient, innovative design

The goal was to have a compact home with flexible spaces for gathering. Cooking, dining, and hanging out all happen in one spacious, airy room on the main floor, with a dining table of reclaimed Douglas fir from Portland's ReFind Furniture. Large windows line the walls, framing spectacular views and allowing sunlight to enter.

"I'm part of a large family ― I have seven brothers and sisters, and they all have children," Kelly says. "Even with everyone here, the house works perfectly. We've also had a few receptions for 100."

Coming and going 

For their outdoor-oriented family, a mudroom for boots, sports gear, backpacks, and jackets is a must. This cabin's main winter entrance is through a double-doored space called an arctic entry, which reduces interior heat loss.

Other entrances and doorways are equally well thought-out. Internal sliding doors are made from Douglas fir "sinker logs" salvaged from the Columbia River. An exterior concrete stairway features broad risers that serve as platforms for flowerpots in summer and wood storage in winter. Extended eaves over the stairs provide shade and temperature control.

Next: Convertible guest rooms

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