One Family’s Cabin Retreat in Washington Takes Inspiration From a Native Bird

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Designed for a family of avid birdwatchers, a series of cabins takes notes from the nest of the native killdeer.

Located atop a bluff on the western shore of Washington’s Hood Canal is Hood Cliff Retreat, a cluster of family cabins that include an original, 20' x 20' cabin; an addition connected by a glass link; and a new bunkhouse nestled on the northern end of the site.

The retreat’s owners—Pat Troth, a hydrologist and forester with a deep love for trees, soils, and the beauty of the natural world, and her husband John Troth, a wildlife photographer—live in Indiana, and were looking to create a gathering place in nature where they could visit and spend quality time with their two adult children who live in Toronto and North Carolina. 

The repurposed main cabin contains an open-plan kitchen, dining, and living area with a Murphy bed to make room for guests. A mudroom and outdoor kitchen help facilitate an indoor/outdoor lifestyle, while a wraparound deck and clerestory windows emphasize the connection. 

The repurposed main cabin contains an open-plan kitchen, dining, and living area with a Murphy bed to make room for guests. A mudroom and outdoor kitchen help facilitate an indoor/outdoor lifestyle, while a wraparound deck and clerestory windows emphasize the connection. 

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Cedar platforms close to the ground extend beneath the cabin’s broad eaves to create spaces that frame outdoor space.

Cedar platforms close to the ground extend beneath the cabin’s broad eaves to create spaces that frame outdoor space.

The main cabin has an outdoor kitchen and a spacious, western-facing cedar deck for views toward Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains.

The main cabin has an outdoor kitchen and a spacious, western-facing cedar deck for views toward Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains.

"As avid bird watchers and naturalists, the Troths 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 of Seattle–based practice Wittman Estes Architecture + Landscape.

According to Wittman, the architecture of Hood Cliff was inspired by 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, who designed Hood Cliff Retreat to feel both connected to, and protected from, the natural elements—like the bird’s nest. 

A collection of low-slung volumes create a series of platforms near the ground, so family members can be close together while still retaining their privacy.

A collection of low-slung volumes create a series of platforms near the ground, so family members can be close together while still retaining their privacy.

Within the addition are a bathroom, utility room, and storage space. 

Within the addition are a bathroom, utility room, and storage space. 

The Troths owned a dark and opaque cedar cabin on the site, which had been built in 1962, but felt that this old cabin did not do justice to the stunning site. They wanted their new retreat to better connect them with the outdoors, and to include three additional sleeping areas for their extended family. 

Cedar platforms near the ground extend beneath broad eaves to create spaces that frame outdoor views.

Cedar platforms near the ground extend beneath broad eaves to create spaces that frame outdoor views.

Over time, the rough-sawn cedar siding and cement panel finishes develop a natural patina, so the exterior of the cabin harmonizes with the colors of the woodlands.

Over time, the rough-sawn cedar siding and cement panel finishes develop a natural patina, so the exterior of the cabin harmonizes with the colors of the woodlands.

The new retreat was designed as three single-story volumes that defer to the landscape with glass sliding doors and continuous decks that connect the three structures to the greenery and trees outside.

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A simple and restrained material palette kept construction costs low. 

A simple and restrained material palette kept construction costs low. 

Salvaged cedar beams were used for the countertops, casework, and parts of the exterior cladding.

A transparent link connects the main cabin and addition.

A transparent link connects the main cabin and addition.

Plywood was used for interior walls and ceilings, and fir wood for the floors.

Plywood was used for interior walls and ceilings, and fir wood for the floors.

In the living area, a built-in Murphy bed can be pulled down to create flexible sleeping area when needed.  

In the living area, a built-in Murphy bed can be pulled down to create flexible sleeping area when needed.  

In the kitchen, a pass-through window extends the interior countertop into the concrete counter and built-in wood barbecue outdoors. 

In the kitchen, a pass-through window extends the interior countertop into the concrete counter and built-in wood barbecue outdoors. 

"We sought to dissolve the barriers between the inside and out; between forest, garden, and structure." 

—Matt Wittman 

The countertops and interior cladding were created from reclaimed beams and siding from the original cabin. 

The countertops and interior cladding were created from reclaimed beams and siding from the original cabin. 

Within, plywood walls and ceilings combine with warm cedar boards and cast-in-place concrete to elevate the simple cabin concept. 

Within, plywood walls and ceilings combine with warm cedar boards and cast-in-place concrete to elevate the simple cabin concept. 

In the master bathroom is a reclaimed, cast iron tub that creates the feeling of soaking in the outdoors without interrupting moments of repose.   

In the master bathroom is a reclaimed, cast iron tub that creates the feeling of soaking in the outdoors without interrupting moments of repose.   

A separate bunkhouse provides additional guest quarters.

A separate bunkhouse provides additional guest quarters.

Hood Cliff Retreat floor plan drawing

Hood Cliff Retreat floor plan drawing

Project Credits: 

Architecture: Wittman Estes Architecture+Landscape / @wittman_estes

Builder: Jack Colgrove Construction 

Structural engineering: Strongworks Structural