Off-the-Grid Cabin in Arkansas

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
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Stocked with green features, an inexpensive off-the-grid retreat in Arkansas provides its owner peace of mind through its clean-lined architecture.

For years, architect Germán Brun and practicing Buddhist Jason Gordon—members of the same Miami soccer team—casually batted ideas around for a cabin. "Then one day, it finally happened," Brun says. Gordon’s plot of land sits within the Katog Choling Rit’hröd Buddhist center in the Ozark Mountains, and he wanted to create a haven that echoed its philosophy. (Gordon’s longtime teacher and mentor, Khentrul Rinpoche, established the retreat in 2006.) "My idea was to live off the grid and to live simply," Gordon says.

Cement panels painted a plum hue clad Jason Gordon’s 1,157-square-foot cabin in the Ozark Mountains. Architect German Brun and partner Lizmarie Esparza originally specified wood, but opted for the much less expensive material from James Hardie after contractor Damian Fitzpatrick recommended it. “It was an exercise in cost engineering,” Brun says.

Completed in fall 2013 for just over $118,000, Gordon’s 1,157-square-foot house was designed to have as little of an impact on its environment as possible. Green elements include a photovoltaic array, a rainwater catchment system, and a pier footing foundation that elevates the house over the land, minimizing site disturbance. The restrained interior features bamboo flooring, Vermont slate tile, recycled paper countertops, and ample glass to showcase the surrounding deciduous forest. "When I go inside, my mind expands," Gordon says. "The interior offers clarity and calm."

To keep costs down elsewhere (the house was built for just over $118,000), architect Brun and his partner Lizmarie Esparza specified Ikea kitchen cabinets and a black refrigerator, which is less expensive than stainless steel. "It was really important that the kitchen opened up to the outside deck. Its designed in an L-shape with an indoor-outdoor table," Brun says. "The idea is that when you open the door, there's a continuous environment connecting the inside with the outside—it's as open as possible." Gordon purchased the hand-crafted solid teak antique table from Indonesia.

Vermont slate covers the area around the True North wood stove. Wide-plank Yanachi Carbonized Strand Woven Bamboo covers the floors.

Since the house is miles away from the electrical grid, it needed to be self sustaining. Solar panels provide power and Brun and Esparza engineered the structure to be green from the get go. "The building is high-performance and energy-efficient because of its insulation," Brun says. "There are operable windows in every single room in the house, which actually reduces electricity use since it cuts down the need for artificial lighting. Once we reduced the electricity need in the house, we then went through the active strategies which are solar panels and the heat exchange system."

"The overall design is influenced by the use of traditional, locally available, and/or low-maintenance materials such as corrugated metal roofing, cement board lap-siding, heavy timber construction, and indigenous wood species," Brun says.

"The shrine room, the temple, is the reason I built the house," Gordon says. "I am not a religious person but hold the views and the practices of the Buddhist tradition in very high regard and have a deep heart connection with my teacher in Arkansas." The room is clad entirely in bamboo and frames a view of the surrounding deciduous forest.