An Off-Grid Garden House on the Oregon Coast

An off-grid garden house provides shelter from harsh coastal conditions—and energy bills.

| July/August 2011

  • Two solar panels, one remotely located, provide all of the home’s electricity needs.
    Photo By Obie Bowman
  • Timber frames funnel water to cisterns.
    Photo By Obie Bowman
  • A wall of built-in shelves provides storage space, while built-in countertops offer a solid, compact crafting area. Southwest-facing windows allow for maximum solar gain while the dark concrete floor provides thermal mass, storing heat and warming the small garden house.
    Photo By Obie Bowman
  • Two solar panels, one remotely located, provide all of the home’s electricity needs.

The coast near Mary Ellen White’s home in Gold Beach, Oregon, isn’t an ideal place to garden: Winds can reach up to 100 miles an hour, and unstable serpentine rock makes the site prone to geological slides. Determined not to let location get in the way of gardening, Mary Ellen brought in architect Obie Bowman to design a garden house where she could start seedlings out of the wind, store harvested plants and create floral wreaths and bouquets.

The 325-square-foot garden house—which doubles as a work studio and a guest house—receives almost as much use as the nearby main house, Mary Ellen says. Passive solar design and two photovoltaic panels, one remotely located, take this tiny house off-grid, providing all of its electricity needs. Timber frames hewn from locally grown Port Orford cedar provide support against strong winds and rock slides, and they also help funnel rainwater into collection tanks for use in the garden.

Bowman’s selection of climate-adapted, unfinished, local materials means the home requires little maintenance, and it blends in with its natural surroundings. “So many architects design buildings that are eyesores in their native settings,” Mary Ellen says. “Obie designs buildings that seem part of the native setting. It gives me a usable space out of the wind and rain but feels as much as part of the forest as a treehouse.”

The Good Stuff 



• The corrugated sheet metal roof helps direct rainwater into an underground cistern; solar-powered pumps transport the water uphill to the garden. Timber frames funnel water to cisterns.

• Flying buttresses made from locally grown Port Orford cedar support the home against strong winds and rock slides. Slat siding is made from salvaged redwood.



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