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elbow coulee

Green Cabin Design Winthrop

1400 SF

Elbow Coulee is a 1,400 square foot cabin located in the mountains of North-Central Washington State, sitting on a south-facing slope with views to the south and east. The materials selected, including logs, sawn beams, rough formed concrete and corrugated metal, are rough in nature to reflect the natural and untamed setting. Two concrete walls form terraces on which the 2 level house sits. The lower terrace contains the living, dining and kitchen all as one large space. The upper concrete wall forms the back of the living area and creates a base for the upper terrace which contains 2 bedrooms and a bath. Two 8 foot by 8 foot sliding glass doors on the south side of the lower level opens the house to the outdoors. To further connect the house with the outside, all of the rooms have doors that open to the outside, including the bath, which opens to an outdoor bath for use in the summer months.

In 2014, the client returned with a desire to turn the cabin into a full-time residence. To accomplish this while maintaining its integrity and use as a vacation home, the cabin's intervention was relatively minimal. The addition consists of three primary elements: a walkway, a pavilion, and an expansion of the outdoor terrace. These elements organize the program, which includes a new entry sequence to the house, a covered dining area, an outdoor living room and an outdoor kitchen. 

Steel planters filled with ornamental grasses and dwarf birches line a new concrete walkway from garage to house. At maturity, the birches will create natural “walls” that will focus the approach to the front door and screen the parking area in front of the garage from view. Beneath the new log and steel pavilion, the outdoor dining room cantilevers dramatically to gain clear views of the mountains beyond the existing house. The materials were selected to match the existing house materials. Above the dining room, translucent polycarbonate panels allow soft light to filter in. Although the dining room is open on all sides, mosquito-netting curtains may be deployed when bugs are particularly bothersome.

The pavilion roof structure extends over the outdoor living room, which is separated from the dining room by a custom-fabricated steel fireplace. Retractable awnings above the living room provide shade on hot days but still allow for nighttime star gazing.

Across from the pavilion and concealed behind a clever airplane hangar-style door, the outdoor kitchen is tucked into a niche carved out of the west wall of the house.


The client desired a focus on eco-friendly design starting from the ground up. The house is designed to take advantage of passive solar heating. The majority of the high-performance glazing faces either south or east. The east facing glazing was provided to allow for morning warming; even in summer, nighttime lows often reach the 30’s. Thermal mass plays an important role in the reduction of diurnal temperature fluctuations both in the summer and the winter. This includes an exposed concrete floor and a rough wood formed concrete wall that serves as a retaining wall between the upper and lower floors. The roof is insulated to R-50 and the walls to R-23. These factors combine to reduce energy use significantly beyond code requirements even with a large amount of glass.

Attention was given to material selection for the house. The siding is wood salvaged from a water irrigation ditch. The 2x12’s have naturally weathered over the last 60 years, cleaned and sealed before installation (They should go another 60 years without much maintenance!)  In addition, the roof purlins are lodgepole pine logs salvaged from forest thinning. Much of the rest of the wood in the structure is 'processed' wood, which is less of a drain on forest resources, including glue-lam beams, rough sawn plywood used for ceiling and wall finishes, exposed paralams for stair treads, and I-joists and paralams used for structure. Hand selected framing lumber was used to frame the critically important fixed portions of the window walls. Additionally, the cabinets and doors were constructed with veneered woods, a more sustainable approach that solid wood. The use of interior plaster walls with integral color virtually eliminated the need for interior paint and are much more durable than gypsum board walls.


Completed (Cabin): 2001

Pavilion: 2015


Awards and Recognition:

Cabin @ Elbow Coulee, What Makes It GREEN?, 2001

Cottage and Cabin, Linda Leigh Paul, Universe, 2010

Luxury Bathrooms, James Grayson Trulove, Collins Design, 2008

Dream Homes Pacific Northwest, Panache Partners, LLC, October 2007

Wood Design and Building Magazine, Spring 2007 - Number 38, "Canyon House: Natural mountain beauty drives a design that blurs the distinction between indoor and outdoor."

Sunset Magazine, December 2006 "Winter Retreat: Incorporating rugged materials and smart details, a Washington cabin disappears into its snowy setting."

Wood Houses, Ruth Slavid, Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2006

Custom Home Magazine, March 2006, "Outward Bound"

Residential Architect Magazine, March 2006, "k + b studio - bath: inside out"

Custom Home Magazine, Spring 2006, "Mountain Hideaway: A working vacation isn't so bad in an office like this"

Fine Homebuilding Magazine's Getaway Homes, Winter Spring 2006, "Communing with Nature"

The Travel Channel, Amazing Vacation Homes, "Mountain Getaways" Episode 107

Custom Home Magazine, March 2004, "Mountain Hideaway"

Trends Magazine, November 2003, "Open To The Stars"

Wood Design and Building, Winter 2003, "Cabin At Elbow Coulee"

Coastal Retreats: The Pacific Northwest and the Architecture of Adventure, Linda Leigh Paul, Universe Books, November 2002

Sunset, July 2002, p. 96, "Cabin Ingenuity"

The Smart House, James Grayson, Loft Publications, June 2002

Category: Green Cabin Design Winthrop, WA