Inside Cabinland, the Pacific Northwest’s Newest Off-the-grid Paradise

Jacob Witzling and Sara Underwood are building a self-sufficient cluster of artisan cabins in a secret spot in the Pacific Northwest rainforest
August 6, 2019Words by Zoe BaillargeonPhotos by Jacob Witzling and Sara Underwood

We’ve all found ourselves fantasizing about seeking refuge from life’s constant demands by decamping to an isolated mountain cabin from time to time. The unplugged (and photogenic) allure of these backcountry cabins has recently experienced a new surge in popularity, launching coffee table books, TV shows, and a massive social media following, tapping into escapist urges and dreams of a simpler, disconnected lifestyle. On cabin-centric Instagram accounts and hashtag lists with posts and followers in the hundreds of thousands, you can spend hours scrolling through carefully curated feeds of winsome cabins of every type, from sleek A-frames to traditionalist log behemoths replete with stone hearths. 

Jacob Witzling and Sara Underwood

On these accounts, some of the most eye-catching and whimsical examples to be found are the work of cabin-builder extraordinaire Jacob Witzling, who has achieved renown for his otherworldly, one-of-a-kind designs and reuse-recycle ideology, using salvaged materials to create his tiny masterpieces. With five unique cabins under his belt, he’s now embarking on building his magnum opus with the help of his life partner Sara Underwood: a place called Cabinland. 
 

Jacob Witzling and Sara Underwood at Pump House and Truck Cabin


When completed, this off-the-grid oasis—nestled among an abundance of trees, ferns, and moss on a remote patch of lush woodland somewhere in the temperate rainforests of Washington state—will consist of eight-to-ten handcrafted, artisan cabins. Each cabin, which will be built using both new and recycled building materials, will have its own unique design and purpose. Located thirty miles from the nearest town and cut off from modern utilities, the 15-acre plot of land (which originally housed several now-dilapidated logger’s cabins and campers) is a perfect spot for Witzling’s self-sufficient vision. Power will be provided by portable generators. Until a new well is dug, water comes from the nearby stream. And the bathroom? A composting toilet and outdoor showers.

The Diamond House

Inside the Diamond House

Since construction began at the beginning of this year, two cabins have been completed. The first, the Diamond House, was constructed with a broad, hexagonal base topped with long beams tapering upwards to a diamond-pointed roof. The ground floor houses a cozy living room with a stove and chic furniture, and a ladder-accessible loft space has been outfitted as a bedroom. With weathered shingles taken from one of the old logger’s cabins covering the base and vibrant moss coating the roof, it looks like something out of a fairy tale; a cozy place to hide away from the world. Were it not for the gleam of sunshine on the windows or the luminous, freshly treated wooden front door and porch, it almost perfectly blends into the surrounding forest. 
 

Pump House


The second house, known as the Pump House, was built with a more pedestrian purpose in mind: to house the pump for the new well. But Witzling and Underwood didn’t skimp on the design, creating a striking structure with an angular, lopsided roof heaped with moss and a triangular-patterned door. 

Jacob Witzling's cabin designs

This woodland community—which will be connected via a network of trails—will be the culmination of a lifelong love of cabins for Witzling, who first became interested in the art and functionality of cabin-building as a child reading his father’s copy of Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art. After building his first mainly-upcycled cabin at 22 for a mere $800, Witzling has gone on (with the help of family and friends) to design and construct four other stand-alone, off-the-grid cabins in forested spots around the US, each different but bearing his signature stylings, like polygonal frames, geometric-patterned walls and doors, and moss-covered roofs. Witzling also makes all his cabins on the small side, usually measuring no more than a couple hundred square feet at the base, adding loft spaces for bedding and extra storage.

Truck Cabin


Jacob Witzling and Sara Underwood in their Truck Cabin


But the Cabinland venture is a joint effort and dream for both him and Underwood, who is known to the world for her work as a model and actress. The pair first met several years ago when Underwood contacted Witzling hoping to use one of his cabins for a photoshoot, only to discover a mutual love of cabins (and each other). After brainstorming the idea for Cabinland, the duo constructed the Truck Cabin, a quirky, 40-square foot cabin built into the flatbed of a 1979 Ford pickup, and toured the US to find the perfect spot, eventually finding what they were looking for in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Both have jumped into the project full-time, with Underwood investing a significant amount of personal capital and Witzling taking a sabbatical from his job as a second-grade teacher. 

Jacob Witzling walking inside Diamond House in Cabinland

Roughly half a year into their estimated two-year build, Witzling and Underwood are keeping Cabinland’s exact location a well-guarded secret until it’s complete and ready for a full unveiling. But they are documenting the journey with a Youtube series and dedicated Instagram page. With their Cabinland Youtube videos, not only are viewers treated to insider looks at the challenges and rewards of the design and construction processes (as well as Witzling’s goofy personality), but Witzling also shares instructional videos, like how to make a patterned floor or properly moss a roof (Pro tip: You can’t just put moss on the roof and call it a day). 
 

Inside the Diamond Cabin

While the pair haven’t announced any hard-and-fast plans for Cabinland’s future, there is a possibility that some of the cabins will be open for renting when the site is completed. Until then, cabin-lovers will just have to make do with the dreamy pics and videos of Witzling’s bold, innovative cabins set against the misty, verdant backdrop of a Pacific Northwest forest. Cabin porn, indeed.


Diamond House
 



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