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

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

Convertible guest rooms

A small office space doubles as extra sleeping quarters, thanks to a Murphy bed that tucks into an alcove in the concrete-block wall. On the other side of the wall, in the living room, is a fireplace that warms the bed before it’s opened on cold winter nights.

What makes it Earth friendly?

The Kelly family built their home from the ground up, so they incorporated green ideas in energy, construction methods, and material choices.



  • Patio: Carlo chairs in gray iron by Kettler ($159 each) from Fishels Contemporary Home Furnishings, Portland (shipping to Oregon and Washington; 503/235-8941).
  • Kitchen: Counters are IceStone in Amber Pearl (718/624-4900). Kirei board cabinet panels (619/236-9924). Skyport pendant light ($356) from Rejuvenation (888/401-1900).
  • Dining area: StreamLine table (from $900; $3,000 as shown) from ReFind Furniture at the ReBuilding Center, Portland (503/445-1756). Kyoto dining chairs in coffee ($100 each) from Design Within Reach (800/944-2233). Dakota Red natural earth plaster on walls from American Clay Enterprises (866/404-1634). Generations Collection rug ($899 for 8- by 11-foot rug, as shown) from NW Rugs (503/682-7847). Bar-height counter is PaperStone from Paneltech International (360/538-9815).
  • Solar power: Solar electric system (3.06kW dual-access tracking photovoltaic system) by Imagine Energy (866/982-6800).
  • Guest room: Wooden Murphy bed front is custom-designed. Bed mechanism from Wallbeds of Oregon (800/452-4768). Additional building materials: Durisol insulated concrete forms (905/521-0999). FSC-certified framing lumber from Warm Springs Forest Products Industries, owned by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (541/553-1148). FSC-certified glued-laminated beams from American Laminators, Drain, OR (541/836-2000).

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