An Observatory for Sky, Light, and Wind Emerges 20 Miles From the U.S.-Canada Border

Sky House is a prefab, off-grid vacation home that is equal parts solitude and design.

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Dwell's home tour of this off-the-grid property is presented by Propane Energy for Everyone.
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A surefire way to know that a property is truly off the grid? You have to describe its location in approximates.

"We are about 20 miles south of the Canadian border, basically halfway between Oroville and Tonasket," says Jesse Garlick, the owner and architect of this prefabricated home.

Jesse and his wife, Susan Elliott, built their off-grid, 820-square-foot cabin in north-central Washington about 10 years ago when they were living in Vancouver, British Columbia. With nine-year-old son, Teo, they now reside in Victoria—upping the original driving time from their primary residence to Sky House, as they call it, from around five hours to eight.

"Food is really important to the design of the place," says Jesse. The large kitchen features a commercial-grade Wolf gas range and a slate-colored island.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

The location was plenty remote, but they wanted to build something rugged, which resulted in a two-story house made of cross-laminated timber panels covered in sheets of unfinished raw steel.

The one-bedroom, one-bathroom house has a bevy of features: 360-degree views, a guest sleeping nook (which can be raised by sailboat winch to reveal a surprise bathtub), a restaurant-grade kitchen with gas range, a floating bookshelf-cum-record cabinet, an antique wood stove, and an outdoor shower. The property relies on solar power for electricity, propane for heating, cooking, and back-up power, and a well for water.

Jesse draws a lot of comparisons between living off-grid and sailing, and there are nods to the latter sprinkled throughout the property—including a hidden bathtub that is revealed by cranking a sailing winch.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

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The 820-square-foot interior was designed as a place for the family to reset from city life—and "in the spirit of a contemporary log cabin," Jesse says.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

"We designed it to be a place to experience the world around us, a place to gather with friends and eat and share time together," says Jesse. "A place to get out of the day-to-day bustle of life and shift into taking a little more time to get everything done. It’s a place to reset and to help us see the world differently when we return to the city."

The couple was drawn to the area’s diversity in landscape and plant life. "It’s a place that’s very mixed in that it’s where the mountains and valleys meet. Sometimes it’s a pocket of pines and other times it’s large grasslands and sagebrush," says Jesse.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

"We wanted to have our dream restaurant kitchen, and so propane was part of that," says Jesse. "We love to cook on a gas stove and get the commercial cooking experience," he adds.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

The couple says there is barely any internet at Sky House, so they rely on their record collection, as well as books and board games, for entertainment. The floating shelf was made of wood found on the property.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

The original color of the house was the color of the surrounding sagebrush, but 10 years later, it’s a gorgeous rust color, "like a giant Richard Serra piece," says Jesse.

The house was originally a slate-like color similar to the kitchen island, but has changed to a rust color over time. "Which is what we were really hoping for," says Susan, "that it would connect to the landscape in a very meaningful way."

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

So, how does one exactly end up with a secluded vacation retreat surrounded by sky? "A realtor in this neck of the woods is someone who has a pickup truck and knows all the best back roads," Jesse says.

The family of three’s primary residence is across the border in Victoria, British Columbia.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

Due to the property’s remote nature, the house uses solar power for electricity and propane for on-demand hot water, a back-up power source, secondary heating, and cooking. There is also a wood-burning stove for heat and a well for water.

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

While Jesse had family ties to Eastern Washington, and grew up going to both Spokane and the more central Wenatchee, the couple fell in love with the area’s landscape after they took a bike and winery tour in nearby Canadian wine country. They were immediately captivated with the flora and fauna, the nearby lakes, and the smell of the pines and sage.

The house features 360-degree views and is "truly unbelievable at night," says Susan. "It is just a blanket of stars."

Photo by Dwell Creative Services

"I think that’s something that Sky House offers, that connection to land and landscape and environment," says Susan. "The visceral nature of being here is so key."

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