Ask nonlocals to imagine the Arizona landscape, and the cactus-studded desert is likely what comes to mind. What Arizonans know, however, is there is a very different ecosystem—that of high-altitude forests—in and around Flagstaff. There, a muted palette of grasses and coniferous trees complement the aspens that dot the higher elevations. A setting such as this is what Kathleen Shea and Jason Rio dreamed of when looking for their escape from the desert heat—an alpine cabin that could be both a cozy winter retreat and a summer hiking HQ.
Working in concert with Rio, who is a builder, architect Cavin Costello took cues from the environment. “It’s very flat, other than these large, volcanic mountains that seem to explode from the ground, and we wanted to have a similar feel with the house in this meadow-ish area,” Costello explains. “Our concept was to have it break from the horizontal landscape and burst upward.”
To create the architectural equivalent of a mountain range, Costello designed the dwelling with three gabled forms that echo the surroundings. Those gables also help define the interior spaces of the home. “One of the peaks is the main living area, another is the primary bedroom section and the third is a secondary storage space,” the architect notes. In another nod to the natural environs, the abode’s black board-and-batten siding references the lava rock that covers parts of the terrain. “It sits like a little shadow in the landscape,” Costello says of the structure. “It’s not too reflective or dominating, but it’s pretty powerful.”
For the interiors, Costello and designers Etta Cowdrey and Mandy Sherman leaned away from the traditional American notion of the cabin—antlers, brightly patterned blankets—and toward a less-is-more, Danish hygge approach. Hemlock tongue-and-groove ceilings and custom cabinetry bring in warmth, as do the stacked Texas limestone fireplaces and kitchen backsplash. The radiant heating concrete flooring adds another soothing element—and a practical one, as it’s designed to withstand the wear and tear of hiking and skiing footwear.
In line with Nordic aesthetics, everything is minimalist and earthen. “It was a fun challenge because they were very into neutrals—not really any color, no pattern,” Sherman says. “We had to be creative about texture and use a variety of different materials on the furniture.” Turning to stacked stone for the fireplaces was one solution for creating depth, as was the use of tadelakt plaster walls in the bathrooms. Woven rattan—in lighting fixtures, furniture and wall decor—nubby fabrics and natural fiber rugs all infuse the spaces with an inviting tactility. Leather and hides bring a slight Southwestern touch, but tastefully so, such as the cowhide on the bunk room floor.
As the cabin would be used year-round, the designers were careful to make sure the decor didn’t feel particular to any one season. “It’s a mashup,” Cowdrey says. “You have those cleaner lines and the airiness of the color of the material, but then because there’s so much texture, it also feels cozy.”
For Kathleen, the seating plan surrounding the fireplace in the great room was key to ensuring both the opportunity to enjoy the surroundings and each other’s company. “The grouping is very intimate, so people are facing each other for conversation,” Cowdrey says. “But there are swivel chairs, so you can spin around toward the views beyond.” Adds Sherman, “The minimalist aesthetic allows you to take in the exquisite vistas from a cozy setting.”
Both designers relished the chance to work on a project that went beyond the typical cabin. “Etta and I are Arizona natives, and we’ve been to Flagstaff a lot,” Sherman says. “It was fun to move away from that typical Pendleton-style cabin with red, green and blue, and do a really beautiful, neutral Danish space.”
That pared-back approach was one of the elements they—and the owners—loved most. “Sometimes when you walk into a cabin it seems cozy but also a bit cluttered or messy,” Sherman says. “We love that this one is fresh and clean while still feeling warm and layered. We want it to be a place that you want to stay for a while.”