Magazine article Sunset

Call of the Wild

Magazine article Sunset

Call of the Wild

Article excerpt

How one couple turned a remote cabin near Juneau, Alaska, into the tiny home of their dreams

"FOR SALE: SMALL WATERFRONT CABIN ON A TRAIL. NEEDS A LOT OF WORK." Something about that ad caught Jennifer Jenkins's attention. "I kept reading it over and over. I just had a feeling," she says. She and her husband, Noah, had recently moved from Montana to Juneau, Alaska, where Jennifer had what was originally a 9-month contract as a speech therapist. The listing was located in Tee Harbor, a cove 18 miles north of Juneau with a sizable population of bald eagles and river otters.

Abandoned for six years, the house was a dump. Its previous owners had left behind moldy bags of clothes and thrown out their furniture in the yard. The porch had collapsed, the basement walls had rotted, and a hemlock tree was growing through the roof. Apart from the basement, the house measured only 740 square feet-and the only access was by boat or by hiking down a half-mile trail. Nevertheless, Noah and Jennifer were hooked.

"It was September, and the weather was gorgeous," Jennifer says. "I remember looking at the view and thinking, How can we make this happen? Our families tried to talk us out of it, but a few days later, we made an offer." The couple purchased the home for $110,000, then moved in and embarked on a three-year remodel that cost an additional $35,000. Noah, a carpenter turned firefighter, took on the construction work himself, with Jennifer as his assistant.

First on the list was a monumental cleanup. "It took us weeks just to get rid of all the garbage," Jennifer says. This entailed piling a 1-ton load of debris on a floating dock and towing it across the cove behind their 14-foot skiff. Then Noah ripped off the hazardous porch and replumbed the house with the help of a neighbor. He took out a wall between the kitchen and dining room, and stripped the kitchen and bath down to the studs.

Much of the remodel took place in the dead of an Alaska winter, during which the couple, with dog Flannery and cats Merle and Schmitty, spent nights huddling around a space heater. "There were setbacks, but I tried to stay positive," Noah says. "We'd made a commitment to seeing it through."

Charming seaside details

The Jenkinses' revamped cabin makes the most of its small scale. In the living room, white headboard walls, exposed beams, and sloping ceilings enhance the snug and sheltered feel.

Coastal motifs are a natural part of the decor. Noah and Jennifer found old oars on the property and fashioned them into handrails for the stairway. Homemade mobiles are everywhere: clam shells on jute twine by the front door, colorful fishing lures downstairs. In keeping with her interest in salvaged goods, Jennifer turned a slab of wood found at a state auction into a dining table with recycled copper pipes as legs.

Outside, Noah replaced the rotten siding with Western red cedar shingles treated with bleaching oil, which weathered to a subtle gray. The front door was painted crimson.

Noah later constructed a two-level deck, which meant towing a thousand pounds of lumber up the rocky beach. '(Inevitably, the cable broke, the lumber slid into the bay, and Noah had to fish for it with a boat hook.) "We built this deck so Sadie can eventually ride a tricycle around it-it's a 1,000-square-foot playpen," he says. "And it's nice to have a big space outdoors when you have low ceilings and narrow rooms."

Life in the cabin comes with a unique set of challenges. When Jennifer was seven months pregnant, a heavy storm forced her to trek the half-mile footpath in snow up to her knees. Most of the time, however, the everyday nature walk is "a great way to decompress," Noah says. …

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