Bamfield, B.C., can feel like the ends of the earth. To get there from the mainland, it's a ferry, a two-hour drive along a winding road to the west coast of Vancouver Island—and then a final trip by water taxi. The next landfall is Japan. It's the kind of spot just inconvenient enough to keep the population down to 250 people and, in high season, attract the dozen or so hikers who spill off the West Coast Trail each day.
Which is why it's surprising to learn that Calgarian Marc Boutin chose this place for his vacation home. Add a flight to that epic journey, and the question is—why? For Boutin, Bamfield was exactly the kind of remote, untouched spot—with just the right amount of community life—that the architect and his family were searching for. "It's so remarkable to have a corner store, a coast guard, an active village life and a pub," says Boutin. "It has its own particular charm, yet it's still small enough to be authentically West Coast."
Though his property is just steps from the ocean, Boutin had a vision of creating a jewelbox in the middle of the forest—where the walls would act as lenses to the greenery outside. "We were a little romantic about what the right materials would be for the West Coast," he explains. The more time they spent in the area—one of the wettest spots in the region—the more they appreciated how the locals lived. Aluminum was integral to the boats, wharfs and docks in the nearby marina. Paired with naturally rot-proof cedar, the material would make the cabin more than tolerate the heavy rainfall.
Building an eco-friendly cabin
The cabin boasts a humble footprint—Boutin removed just two trees to create space for it—and, at 840 square feet, it's efficient enough to house the family of five each summer. Glass window walls frame two sides of the cabin, while both ends are covered in millwork. At one end, storage accommodates books, natural collections, off-season clothing and all the accoutrements of cabin life. At the other, five Murphy beds drop down for the kids and their friends. Boutin and his wife sleep on a custom sofa bed they brought in from Calgary.
In the centre of the cabin sits a floor-to-ceiling tiled "cube" that houses the bathroom, kitchen, laundry and service room. And though the space is essentially an open-concept rectangle rotating around this central cube, each "room" can be closed off: sliding aluminum doors, crafted by a local boat-builder, run on exposed tracks to provide privacy when needed.
Easy to clean interiors
Because Boutin's three boys (and two dogs) would inevitably track in sand and water from the nearby beach, it was important that the interiors be easily cleaned. The fix: an outdoor closet, right by the entranceway, that holds raincoats and wetsuits, and prevents some of the moisture from getting dripped inside. Rubber mats on the entrance floor sit in aluminum pans; the mats can be lifted up to vacuum out sand or leaves.
The cabin is a work in progress for Boutin, one of the benefits of being his own client. Those rubber mats were installed only after he discovered the cleaning challenges that come with living so close to the beach, and there are future plans to add a second level with a walkout roof deck. But the location is one thing they don't regret. "The local kids have a tradition of creating these rope forts throughout the forests, where they swing 30 feet above the ground in an Avatar-like environment," says Boutin. "And in the last couple of years we've visited the First Nations settlement that has been there for over 5,000 years. It's a truly remarkable place to be."
Building a Cabin in a Wet Climate
Tips from architect Marc Boutin
Build an outdoor closet. Boutin and his family shed their wet clothes outside and allow them to drip-dry in a covered outdoor closet. The grating on the door allows air to flow through so the clothes dry naturally.
Bring in plenty of light. The floor-to-ceiling glazing and two skylights allow for natural light to flood the room even on grey days.
Use a wood-burning stove. A wood stove adds an aesthetic pleasure, sure, but it also quickly dries the air and warms the room.
Plan for wet feet. The rubber mats and aluminum tray were carved into the floor after the family had spent some time in the home and realized they needed to catch drips and dirt. wl