A small rural retreat inspired by nature on the Hood Canal, Washington

rural cabin retreat exterior 

A series of family cabins hidden in the forest and overlooking Washington’s Hood Canal, the Hood Cliff Retreat designed by Wittman Estes is located on a 1.13-acre site atop a bluff on a wooded site on the western shore of Hood Canal in the Pacific Northwest.“As avid bird watchers and naturalists, the clients wanted an indoor-outdoor family retreat that would immerse them in the stillness of the forest and capture the delicate Washington sunlight and views toward Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains to the west,” says architect Matt Wittman.

Built on the site in 1962, the original dark and opaque cedar cabin left the owners feeling cut off from nature, and they asked for an indoor-outdoor retreat that would allow them to be closer to the land and also house an expanded program of three additional bedrooms and sleeping quarters for their extended family. Building Size: 870 square feet

DESIGN DETAILS: ARCHITECT Wittman Estes LANDSCAPE Wittman Estes STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Strongworks Structural BUILDER Jack Colgrove Construction

rural cabin retreat exterior

The project has three elements: 1) The repurposed 20’x20’ footprint of the original cabin, 2) the cabin addition, and 3) a new bunk house and bathroom to the north. The clients had careers in hydrology and forestry (and had a deep love for trees, soils, and the richness of the natural world), and wildlife photography (with extensive international travel to capture images of birds and other animals in their native habitats).

rural cabin retreat exterior

Their grown children work as natural resource scientists and spend much of their time deeply engaged with the outdoors. With family living across the country, the family yearned for a place to draw them together in one place. The vision was a retreat where the family could be together and celebrate their passion for being outdoors and connect with the native flora and fauna of Hood Canal.

rural cabin retreat exterior

The clients wanted a retreat where they could watch birds and take in the nature of the Hood Canal. While they loved modern architecture, they did not want a building that was overly expressive of itself. They asked for a set of simple structures that would allow them to be close to the land.

rural cabin retreat exterior

This resonated with Wittman, who had an appreciation for the simple vernacular structures of his rural childhood on a ranch in northern Idaho, and actively designed buildings allowing people to “experience the beauty of nature through architecture.” The family sought a place where their friends and family could gather together while also experiencing a moment of solitude and reflection.

rural cabin retreat exterior

The three single-story volumes with large glass openings, sliding doors, and continuous decks allow for such gathering and reflection. The architecture defers to the landscape, inspired by nature and in particular the native killdeer bird.“Unlike most birds, the killdeer doesn’t bring outside vegetation to build its nest—it pulls away the existing brush, burrowing into the existing forest, and nesting on the ground,” says Wittman.

rural cabin retreat exterior

Hood Cliff Retreat seeks a similar relationship with the ground that feels both connected to and protected from the elements of nature. Reclaimed beams and siding from the original cabin were re-purposed as countertops and interior cladding. Simple details and a restrained material palette kept the construction budget to a minimum.

rural cabin retreat exterior patio

“We sought to dissolve the barriers between the inside and out, between forest, garden, and structure,” says Wittman. Sunlight warms the plywood walls and ceilings, grazing the warm cedar boards and cast-in-place concrete—allowing shadow and light to transform the simple interior into something more complex and subtle.

modern rustic hallway

In the main cabin, the indoor-outdoor kitchen has a pass-through window that extends the interior countertop into the outdoor concrete counter and built-in wood barbecue. There is a built-in Murphy bed that allows the main cabin to be a flexible sleeping area when needed. High clerestory windows allow views outdoors and natural light inside. 

modern rustic dining room and kitchen

This inside-outside connection is how the architects approach building sensitively in nature. The three dwelling structures are a continuous interconnected series of experiences composed to celebrate the beauty of family gathering in natural sunlight and fresh air.

modern rustic kitchen

The retreat is an expression of Wittman Estes’ “tactile modernism,” connecting the family to the sensation and physical experiences of the Puget Sound ecosystem in a place that is beautiful, functional, and built for the sustainable long-term enjoyment of the nature-loving family.

modern rustic living room with a stove

What We Love: This retreat in the forest provides a wonderful respite for a family of impassioned naturalists. We love how the low-lying structures meld into the woods and are designed to have an indoor-outdoor living experience. Overall, this retreat provides a sanctuary for parents and their adult kids to come together and celebrate their passion for the great outdoors in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the Pacific Northwest.

Tell Us: What are your overall thoughts on the design of this dwelling? Let us know in the Commences below!

Note: Be sure to check out a couple of other interesting home tours that we have showcased here on One Kindesign in the state of Washington: Buck Mountain cabin perched cliffside to soak in views of the San Juan Islands and An amazing waterfront house built for multigenerational living in Seattle,

modern rustic bedroom

rural cabin retreat window

modern rustic bathroom

A reclaimed cast iron tub in the master bath creates the feeling of soaking in the outdoors without interrupting moments of repose.

modern rustic cabin bathroom with a tub

modern rustic murphy bed

murphy bed

rural cabin retreat exterior

Outside, the rough-sawn cedar siding and cement panel finishes patina naturally over time until the cabin volumes converge with the colors of the forest.

rural cabin retreat exterior

rural cabin retreat exterior at dusk

rural cabin retreat exterior

rural cabin retreat exterior


rural cabin retreat site plan

rural cabin retreat site plan

rural cabin retreat diagram

rural cabin retreat exploded axonometric

One Kindesign has received this project from our submissions page. If you have a project you would like to submit, please visit our submit your work page for consideration! 

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