These hand-built Washington cabins are livable sculptures made of moss and salvaged materials
Pacific coast mornings are second to none. Sunbeams pierce the canopies of towering fir and hemlock just as that famous fog rolls down the mountains swallowing everything in its path with one gigantic gulp. This is the world Jacob Witzling rode his bike through on his way to the hidden spot in Washington state on which he’s building his fourth cabin.
Locally-sourced lumber, a table saw, and bags of cement have already arrived and are waiting for him among sprouting ferns on the soft forest floor. Time to raise some walls.
“Cabins have been part of my life since I was 16 years old,” shares Witzling now 34. “I lived in one during my last two years of high school in New Hampshire. It was built in the 1920s and was nestled way back in the woods. It was near my parents’ house where I’d do laundry, shower and have dinner before finding my way back to where I really lived. Inside was a wood stove that I fed and stoked through the harsh winter nights . . . I had my freedom and my fire. They were all I needed to be happy.”
A few years later, while studying to be a teacher at Evergreen State College in Olympia, he found himself dating a girl who, as fate would have it, lived in a cabin outside the city.
“Each time I would go out and visit her, the vision for my life only got more clear. I craved a life that was secluded, simple, and fed my soul. Not to sound cheesy but it was during that relationship where I heard the call of the wild. I needed to exist in the woods, and even though I had never built anything other than a blanket fort, I knew that my passion to create would be sufficient. Here I am, 15 years later, and I’m not only building my fourth cabin, but I’m raising it on that very same property.”
His father is an architect and engineer whose facility with shapes and expertise in the functionality behind a design left an impression on Jacob.
“I remember pouring over the pages of my dad’s favorite book, Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art. I would gaze at the pictures from inside my blanket fort and daydream about building one of my own. The uniqueness and zero restriction of the handmade homes is what inspires me to create these livable sculptures from sustainable and local materials.”
At 22, Jacob built his first cabin for $800 using recycled materials and scavenged scraps from job sites. He actually lived in it for the next three years.
Today, Jacob still utilizes architectural salvage shops, local lumber mills and even Mother Nature herself to build his cabins! He sustainably harvests moss by the garbage bag to create living roofs on all his cabins. Because the moss is native to the area, it requires no upkeep and gives the cabin the appearance of an indigenous species of Pacific Northwest flora.
“I enjoy making permanent structures that complement the environment rather than inserting something completely foreign into the surroundings. I want these cabins to look like they sprouted from the ground and have been watered like a plant. It’s a home in its home.”
If you feel the urge to build something, and don’t know how to get started, Jacob will tell you that the only way to begin is to simply begin.
“If I waited to do something until I knew how to do it perfectly I would never have created this unique life for myself. Perhaps being a second grade teacher and part-time cabin builder for so long has helped me keep a firm hold on optimism and wonder. I mean, here I am, untrained, in the deep woods, building a cabin alone out of a mud pit. No matter what, I’m always proud to step back and stand in appreciation of every piece of timber, fiber of moss, and all 300 hours it took to create each cabin. Each one is authentic and honest and beautifully imperfect.”