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Modern Moose Road Cabin In Mendocino Costs Under $200 per Square Foot To Build.

Two couples came to architecture firm SFOSL with a shared vision of building a cabin in a remote location. They had a limited budget, but a strong passion for the site and sustainable principles in which immediately appealed to SFOSL.

At the highest point of this property in Mendocino County, views can be seen of a valley, a mountaintop and a rock formation called “Eagle Rock”. Their clients were adamant about seeing those views from their new cabin, but were also resolute about preserving the oak trees scattered throughout the site. The strategy employed by SFOSL was to capture the views while preserving the trees, and to find a way to do it for under $200 per square foot.

An additional site constraint: the roots of the oak trees were shallow and wouldn’t survive a conventional foundation. Since the trees grew on a thin layer of topsoil, they found our opportunity. By drilling precise holes between the roots to the bedrock, they were able to build the structure on stilts. With the need to access the now hovering ground floor, they poured a tiny foundation for the stair and made this the one place where the building meets the ground. This foundation also encases a concrete bathtub. The remaining three “arms“ of the building quietly hover at different heights above the ground and the raised mass. Its geometry takes full advantage of the summer breeze to keep the building cool.

Budget constraints forced SFOSL to reduce the number of window openings, and as they wanted to frame particular views, they chose to limit the use of windows to the ends of each of the “arms“. The exception came at the intersection of the views, the entry, and the communal spa.

The first arm is a living/dining/communal space. Two of the arms provide each couple with a bedroom behind a centered functional pod containing a toilet, sink and storage. In order to provide the three views at all times, they chose to center the pods and integrate the doors into the walls so that when in an open position, nothing hinders the eye.

The clerestory glass above the pods lowers the solid mass from the ceiling and allows natural light to permeate the space, even when the doors are closed. A communal spa is also seamlessly solved: the tub drops into the floor – all cast in the same concrete material. A floor to ceiling window faces the valley and you can lie in the tub and enjoy the view. The humble building interior is left simple with OSB floors and plywood walls.


In contrast to the interior, the exterior of the project is more alien to the natural surroundings. It is clad in unfinished raw steel that changes color with the sun, due to “oil canning”, the buckling of the steel sheet material.

The interplay between the oil canning and the shadows cast by the oak canopy paint magical moving pictures year round and celebrate the trees and setting. The project is 1170 sq ft and has a total cost of $209,000 USD– That's $178 dollars per square foot. This budget made them think differently – and made them realize how much can be achieved for so little.

This project has been a sustainable journey from day one. The clients pushed SFOSL and they were happy to comply. The constraints mentioned above were some of the topics generated by this holistically sustainable approach. In most all of their projects SFOSL is first and foremost focused on how far they can question the need for each square foot. If a space has no intention – it is unnecessary and obsolete. There is no site grading. they optimized the framing. They limited windows. As mentioned above, the most sustainable square foot is the one they do not build.

all images courtesy of photographer Bruce Damonte for SFOSL

Architecture firm: SFOSL
602 Minnesota Street
San Francisco
Team: Grygoriy Ladigin, Casper Mork Ulnes, Andreas Tingulstad.
Photo credits: Bruce Damonte.

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