False Bay Writer’s Cabin by Olson Kundig
Designed in 2010 by Olson Kundig, this 500 sqft prefab cabin is located on San Juan Island in the state of Washington.
This five-hundred-square-foot cabin serves as a private writer’s retreat and guest cottage. The owners asked for a space that felt connected to its island setting—the mild climate, scenic views, and proximity to wildlife. At the same time, they needed a structure that could be easily secured when not in use.
The cabin was designed as a glass house surrounded by three wooden slat decks that can be raised—through a system of hydraulic winches, wire rope, pivoting sheaves, and lead blocks—to serve as shutters. Open, the shutter decks are outdoor living space, connecting to the cabin’s interior through tall windows and sliding doors; closed, they secure the cabin. The fireplace rotates 180 degrees to be enjoyed indoors or out. An inverted roof with deep overhangs forces water to drain to the rear of the cabin.
“It is intended to be a shelter of extremes, open or closed, the architect says. “In order to feel cold, you have to feel hot; in order to feel safe, you have to feel at risk. Contrast is the true measure of a complete experience.
Inside, the cabin is essentially a single room with a modest back area housing a bathroom and kitchenette. It is a small, contemplative shelter that can morph to suit the needs of the writer: introspection or complete openness. Finishes are restrained, punctuated only by a blackened steel inlay that bisects the floor from the fireplace to the slot window at the rear of the cabin. A rack attached to the back of the cabin organizes the owners’ kayaks. When the murphy bed is lowered, the transformation from writer’s retreat to guest cottage is complete.
Photography by Tim Bies / Olson Kundig