The Japanese Forest House


Kayaking instructor and boatbuilder Brian Schulz built a beautiful little home in the woods for about $11,000. It took year-and-a-half to complete. The Japanese Forest House (Schulz is inspired by Japanese architecture) appeals to both a rustic western and traditional eastern design.

upstairs tatami stoveandtable

On his website, Shultz writes:

The structure is simple, stout, timber framing sitting on a 200-square-foot concrete pad. Frame wood was sawn from logs found floating in a flood, except the corner posts, which were blown-down trees hauled from the forest on a friend’s property. 2 × 4’s were scabbed into the frame to provide nailing surface over which we horizontally nailed roughsawn 1″ × 20″ (yes, you read that right) hemlock (also nailed to the frame). Over that we vertically nailed live-edge, board-on-board cedar siding.

The inside was stuffed with cotton insulation over which we stapled roughsawn spruce lath, over which we troweled sand/clay/straw plaster, over which we skimmed a commercial earth plaster, over which we painted with milk paint. The roof is 6-inch fir skipsheet nailed onto spruce 1 × 10’s. Split cedar shakes (and shakefelt) are stapled atop that.

Inside the roof is stuffed with R-30 cotton insulation and covered with a polyethylene vapor barrier, then covered with D-grade (mill rejects) tongue and groove fir. The upstairs flooring is an even worse grade of reject fir flooring. The downstairs floor is stained concrete.

stairsandlittledoorThe trim I milled from misc. scrapwood. The windows were 40 dollars (for all of them) from the local dump. I found the french doors on Craigslist (refinishing them was a pain!). The stove is a tiny Jotul cook stove that is perfect for the space. The counters are walnut slabs that we milled off a tree in Portland 8 years ago. The stair rail is simple alder poles cut from beside the house and fastened with lag bolts and deck screws. The staircase is from the forest on a friend’s property, it is held in place with BURLY steel knifeplates that I made. The treads are 2 × 10 fir from a log I found on the bay and milled. The little tables are simple rounds off a cedar stump with natural legs from a piece of Port Orford cedar I found on the beach. It took about two hours to make all three. The deer skull is from a deer I shot and ate last year.

Total, I think I put about 11k hard cash into the building, mostly for concrete, shakes, and insulation. It took about a year and a half to build in my spare time. Finally, yes, I did end up using a few simpson ties, specifically a handful of RT7’s to tie the rafters to the top plate beams, probably not necessary but hey, what’s your roof not blowing off in a hurricane worth? Idealism is good, but so is common sense, and I’ve never been a purist anyhow.

kitchenclose kitchen

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3 Responses to The Japanese Forest House

  1. Lovely…I wish I could have done more myself, on my last building project; I love the concept of sourcing locally. Too old, too arthritic…but I love it anyway.

  2. This house is so beautiful and full of Alexandrine patterns everywhere. Especially I like the profound feeling of a sheltering roof:

    In a cold climate I really don’t think anyone can stay mentally sound without living in a sheltering roof. So many here now go to Greece and Spain and think flat roofs is the thing. But there they live ON the roof, while here we live IN the roof. Just imagining having a flat roof makes me freeze inside and outside!

  3. Beautiful and simple…:))

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