Designing Our Remote Alaska Lake Cabin

Submitted by Ana White on Mon, 04/13/2015 - 07:33

Thank you all for all the nice comments and likes last week!  We couldn't be more excited to have this opportunity to build a dream cabin in Alaska, share the process with you through blogging, and if that wasn't enough, get to work with DIY Network to film it all!  

When our new baby was just nine days old, we took a quick trip down to look over the property that we had just purchased, and I had not yet seen.  There was several feet of snow, so we could not find the corner posts of the property to determine the property lot lines.  We'd brought along our Aunt to watch the baby in the car, but at just over a week old, I was in a hurry to get back to the baby.  So our quick winter visit didn't give us much perspecitve on the property we had purchased.

Despite not having a good feel for the land, as the winter months passed, we started talking about what our dream cabin would look like and how it would function.  In Alaska, cabins are normally left cold, and then heated up when used by a wood stove. That means when you arrive at your cabin, it could be extremely cold, and it could take several hours for the cabin to heat up to room temperature, depending on the size of the cabin.  So building small is generally favorable.

But we didn't want to go too small, where the space becomes uncomfortable and overcrowded when guests join us.

My original idea was to build two small cabins, each with their own wood stove, and connect them with a breezeway.  

The breezeway would also be the entryway where coats and boots could be stored.  The main cabin would be sized just for our family with a kitchen and small living room.  The second cabin would be a bunkhouse where guests could stay.  With the two cabin design, if it was just our family of four, we could just warm up the main cabin.  If guests join us, we could then put a fire in the woodstove of the second cabin, and have it toasty and ready for them.

via Pinterest

It was the breezeway that I wanted more than anything.  I dreamed about driving up to the back of the cabin, and opening the front door into this breezeway, and the lake is right there in front of me.  Wouldn't that be glorious?

When spring finally arrived, I could hardly wait to start laying out the cabins.

We hiked in last May, and took a look at the property.

We are thankful for every square inch that we own of this property, but the lot itself is very small.  And with the lot sloping downward to the lake, with a sizeable hill on the back side of the property, I knew my two cabin design was just not going to work.  We just didn't have the space to spread out multiple cabins, and connect them with a generous breezeway.  And with the downward slope, there would be no space behind the cabin to make the breezeway rear entrance possible.

I was so sad to shelf that idea, maybe for a new cabin, maybe you could use it for your cabin.  But for us, on this lot, on this lake, we would need to come up with a new design with a more compact footprint.

Back to the drawing board.

This time around, after looking over the land, we made a new list of all the things we would want in a cabin.

- The cabin should run lengthwise, parallel to the lake, so there would be more rooms with direct views of the lake

- The overall shape should be long and thin, so the front of the cabin isn't too high above the lake (there's no way we could dig a basement so with the sloping lot, the wider the cabin, the higher the front will be off the lake)

- I wanted a kitchen window above the sink that looked right out at the lake

- Jacob wanted a large entryway for hanging coats and drying boots

-Two seperate sleeping areas upstairs, so the children would have their own space to play and sleep, that could be used for guests as well

- We both wanted a cabin that looked like it had always been there, true to tradditional Alaska style

- And since we both love wood so much, a beautiful beamed roof 

- Simple, compact footprint that conserves space and is easy to build

- Integrated covered decks on both sides


So I sketched this up on scratch paper for a design,

The new floor plan would be much simpler, a 32 foot long by 24 foot deep square.  The decks on either side would be eight feet.

I then started modeling the cabin in Sketch Up.

As I was designing the cabin, I felt a little sad that we had this amazing property, a one of a kind, once in a lifetime property, a piece of property that we hope to hand down to our children - and we were building a box on it.  I wanted the cabin to be just a little bit more special than four walls and a roof.  I wanted it to have meaning, so that in fifty years, when we are too old to build, for our grandkids to be inspired by the work that we did when we were young.  My grandma and grandpa handmade this cabin, the did all this work by hand ...

How could we make this simple foundation better? 

I've always loved timberframe structures.  Although we both have never built a timberframe home, or even had much experience with or around one, we started talking about possibly creating a roof out of timbers.

I started drawing timbers into my design.


We both immediately knew this was the route we wanted to go. The timberframe just added so much beauty, charm and wood to the design.

Having no experience with timberframe joinery, we started working with a timberframe design company to take our design, and help us create a structurally sound and beautiful timberframe roof plan.

A few small changes had to be made to my original design support the timbers correctly, but out little square box cabin became this!

And this is the final design.  Isn't it hard to believe that this cabin is just four walls with a beautiful roof?

Although we did have to make some compromise, like nix the two-cabin-breezeway design altogether, we are so happy with the design of this cabin. What do you think of it?

We start building and filming today, so follow me on Instagram for live updates, and of course, I'll be blogging the whole process, so hope you can check in sometime and see how things are coming along.

XO Ana + Family



Mon, 04/13/2015 - 09:08

I am so excited that you've been picked up by DIY Network. I've been hoping there would be an opportunity for you there. Can't wait! I've been missing the momplex posts because there was such an element of your family working together and we all felt like we were getting to know a set of characters up in Alaska. I love to hear about everything that's going on with the build and with the family.

Thanks for all your plans. I'm just finishing up the clubhouse bed build and I'm in the painting, resand, re-wood-filler stage :) Looking cute. I added a slide to it and modified it to be full size bed. Thanks for the inspiration!

Ana White

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 12:04

Hi Pam! Yes, we were quite sad to have to shelf that idea, but I didn't want to consume all the outdoor land with such a large footprint :( We may end up adding a bunk house on the hill above the cabin at some point - we'll see how much space we need for guests over time. Thanks so much, it's always wonderful to hear from you! Ana


Mon, 04/13/2015 - 11:17

I love the design! Can't wait see the finished product. Will you be showing ( blogging) how the foundation was done


Mon, 04/13/2015 - 12:01

I love your design, and I am so happy for the show too! I can't wait to follow along!


Mon, 04/13/2015 - 14:22

Do you think building a 1,400 sq. cabin is off the the charts? We want it as a full time home. We want it to be off the grid also. I love the breeze way idea because I want a homeschool classroom that is not a part of the living quarters. We need as much help and suggestions as we can get.


Tue, 04/14/2015 - 10:13

The design is amazing! Can't wait to see it come together. My 7 year old wants to know if he can come hunt Caribou with you? He made a ground blind out of pallets for the Michigan spring turkey hunt over the weekend, and asked me to build him a "cabin". We're starting the "cabin" (playhouse plans) this weekend. Thanks for all the inspiration!


Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:19

Any chance to get the plans. Looking at building a lake cabin in Wisconsin. This is beautiful.