556-square-foot Washington island retreat lets owners live cozily among nature. Plus: more cabin designs

With lamps lit against the dusk, this little “four poster” of a house embodies the romance of escape. One wall opens to the outdoors.

For the past 14 years, Paul and Phyllis Caisse have used their 5-acre plot on Orcas Island, Washington, as a retreat. In the beginning, their only shelter was a tent. Now they relax in a recently completed 556-square-foot cabin, but they feel just as close to the land.

“As we drive to the cabin, we can feel our city nerves fading away,” says Phyllis.

The Caisses have great childhood memories of tiny cabins in the Sierra foothills and in Montana, and they hoped to re-create those happy times for their family.

“We wanted a feeling of warmth and cozy interaction,” says Paul. “Plus, we felt its small size would make it easy to take care of.”

And they wanted to disturb nature as little as possible. A larger cabin would have meant cutting down some of the old madrone trees surrounding the site. “After spending so much time there, we knew which trees the eagles like to land on,” says Paul. “We didn’t want to take those away.”

Seattle architect David Vandervort helped them design a little cabin that seems larger than it is. Simply put, it’s a great room flanked by a galley kitchen and a narrow bathroom and topped with a low-ceilinged sleeping loft. The cabin was constructed with as many green materials as possible, including recycled wood and nontoxic stains and paints.

Design: David Vandervort Architects, Seattle (206/784-1614)