600-square-foot off the grid cabin surrounded by wilderness in Minnesota


This minimal off-the-grid cabin retreat was designed by SALA Architects and built by Wee Cabin Company, nestled in the wilderness on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, in Ely, Minnesota. This rustic escape was constructed as a 600-square-foot cabin for a couple with three kids and the occasional guests. Used as a weekend retreat from the city, this cabin uses the principles from Christopher Alexander’s The Pattern Language in its design.

This book outlines the common ways that cities, institutions, businesses, and homes are designed; from big ideas down to small details. Many of these patterns can be easily applied to a cabin in a natural setting: “South Facing Outdoors”, “Structure Follow the Social Space”, “Staircase as Stage” and “A Zen View” as some examples used to create the Wee Ely.

Size: 14’x27’, including two lofts connected by a bridge, large dining area, wood stove, screen porch, and mudroom.


Set on a 20-acre property, this cabin is sited on a rocky ridge covered with mature pines, making traditional building techniques difficult. For safety and ease of construction, the roof was assembled off-site and placed in one piece (with a crane) onto the timber framing. A nearby sauna was built using the same methods. This remote cabin also overlooks a pond. The family had a modest budget — but they also were really into the outdoor lifestyle, avid hikers and canoers — so they opted for a “less is more approach”.

What We Love: This off the grid cabin does not have indoor plumbing, electricity or a bathroom. Their only heat source is a wood-burning stove, along with an outdoor fire pit they use for family gatherings to roast marshmallows. They wanted their cabin to appear as if it had always been there. We think they achieved this goal, how about you?

Note: See a couple more amazing home tours that we have featured here on One Kindesign from the portfolio of the architects of this project, SALA Architects: Dreamy lakeside getaway nestled on the shores of Lake Minnetonka and Beautiful modern dwelling designed for sustainable living in Minneapolis.


Above: The alternating tread staircase is a real space-saver and more practical than a ladder. Another space-saving feature is the kitchen island, which is set on casters. It is dual-purpose as prep space and a casual dining spot.


Above: On the main level you will find a kitchen, living and dining area along with a screened porch. This level is heated by a wood-burning stove. A central staircase takes you up to the two sleeping lofts, which are connected by a bridge. Natural light floods into this loft space via end gable windows. 


Above: The kitchen window offers Zen-like views over a marshy pond and beyond to the wilderness. There is also an abundance of wildlife viewing, making for some delightful entertainment.


Above: A sleeping loft is located about the living area, sleeping up to seven people comfortably. The three kids hang out on the bridge in the evening time to play games and are able to see into the kitchen when dinner is served. Since this rustic cabin is “off-the-grid”, they use lantern light to illuminate the interiors at night.


Above: The dining room knotty pine table is multi-purpose, everything from serving meals to assembling a puzzle.


Above: The entry/mudroom of this off the grid cabin offers the family ample storage space. This space pops out from the side of the cabin.


Interesting Fact: The cabin owners purchased this property several years ago, with their dream of building this modest cabin when they had enough money saved. Until such time, they had constructed a fixed wooden platform to host a large tent for camping, along with an outhouse.


Above: The roof was built off-site. The structure is a Douglas fir timber-frame, while knotty pine is used on the walls and floors.


Above: This off the grid cabin uses a hand pump as the family’s principal water source. An outhouse is located just down a path. The south-facing part of the metal roof is the optimal spot to install future solar panels.


Above: Located down a wooded path is this wood-fired “WEE-HEAT” Sauna. Offering incredible view, the hot room was designed to match the aesthetic of the cabin. A walk to either the sauna or the outhouse has given the owners some unexpected surprises, such as the Northern Lights!


Photos: Troy Thies Photography

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1 year ago

Are the plans available

Odessa Spore
3 years ago

How is the refrigerator powered? Also I would like to know about the sauna. Seems lovely but wish there was more information in this article.

Rory Rinaldi
3 years ago
Reply to  Odessa Spore

I agree, this is lovely and really has me thinking about the next five years but how is the fridge and the stove powered?

3 years ago
Reply to  Rory Rinaldi


2 years ago
Reply to  Odessa Spore

Since they don’t have electricity or solar panels, it likely runs on propane. That’s the most common choice for off-grid cabins.

4 years ago

Very nice, I like it for a wilderness escape but where is the toilet?