A 1960s A-Frame Cabin Becomes an Architect’s Dream Retreat

Every summer as a child, architect Joe Herrin looked forward to his family’s boat trips to the San Juan Islands. Those trips led to a love of boating and a lifetime affinity for the islands. That love drove the Heliotrope Architects’ principal and his wife to acquire a modest, 1960s A-frame kit cabin on Orcas Island. The cabin lives on a shared 36-acre waterfront that’s held in common with eight other families and is located adjacent to a seasonal stream, wetland, and alder and fir forests. The Buoy Bay A-Frame Cabin was originally built by the preview owners on a tight budget. Over time, Joe and Belinda have renovated the modern cabin, transforming it into a cozy retreat.

angled exterior view of modern gray A-frame cabin surrounded by green trees and tall grass

The couple’s commitment to sustainable living is evident, from the installation of solar panels that zero-out energy use to the careful selection of reclaimed pine floors and birch-ply cabinetry. The focus on maximizing daylight and comfort resonates in every corner, creating a space that feels simultaneously expansive and intimate.

back exterior view of modern gray a-frame cabin with water behind

Throughout their ownership, Joe and Belinda have installed a foundation, rebuilt the deck, added insulated windows, cut-in a big skylight, and insulated the roof. Most recently, they renovated the kitchen and bathroom, and created an addition in the back, which added an entryway and a shower.

exterior view of entrance into modern cabin with door open

angled closeup view of weathered colorful buoys hanging

Interior view of modern a-frame cabin with pitched light wood ceiling and open modern living space

The open interior feels spacious with the exposed fir structure that’s been finished with wood bleach, along with beams that have been painted to hide the original dark stain.

partial interior view of small modern kitchen

angled closeup interior view of modern kitchen in cabin with slanted window looking out to water

partial interior view of modern cabin with wood dining set and views of water behin

The living and dining room open out to the large deck, making the interior feel double in size.

partial living room view of modern cabin with slanted wood ceiling and blue daybed

partial living room view of modern cabin with slanted wood ceiling and blue daybed, with staircase behind

A staircase leads to the upper loft, which houses two beds and additional floor space for extended family to sleep.

triangular top floor bedroom of modern a-frame cabin

triangular top floor bedroom of modern a-frame cabin

minimalist modern shower with large vertical rectangular white tiles

angled view of modern bedroom with wooden ceiling and walls

side exterior view of modern cabin's outer deck with sliding glass doors open

The cabin is clad in stained TI-11 plywood, with the exception of the addition, which is wrapped in locally milled stained cedar.

view from desk with chairs looking out to water in background

person sitting in front of wood burning stove on waterfront

Photography by Sean Airhart.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.

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