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A 320-square-foot cabin offers refuge in upstate New York

A man builds a literary escape

This library-cabin in upstate New York is an expression of one man's history, heritage, and passion. It's inspired by Japanese architecture, Norwegian design, and some of the best parts of owner Jason Koxvold’s childhood.

Koxvold is half Italian, half Norwegian—and while growing up in the UK he visited his grandfather's family farm near Valdres, Norway, often. “My grandfather built the place himself. It started as one home, but as the family grew, it expanded to some 15 buildings,” he says. “As children, my cousins and I spent time there sledding and getting into trouble. But as we got older, the maintenance of the buildings started falling to us.”

It was the memories and the maintenance that led him to start constructing a second building at his own getaway in upstate New York. “Maintaining those buildings at my grandfather's farm, and adding on to them, gave me the confidence to build something for myself—it was kind of the opening salvo,” he says. “I was definitely emulating my grandfather (whose name was Leif, which is now my son’s middle name).”

The little cabin's exterior is painted black. When the leaves are on the trees, it is hard to see. Here, it is glimpsed between thick leaf cover.
Architect Brandon Padron says that the cabin’s black exterior fades into the forest in the warmer months.
Looking through a big picture window, you can see bookshelves crafted with large, square beams (they are roughly 8 x 8) made from light-colored oak wood.
Square beams were crafted from trees felled during the construction of the main house. Here, you can see them through the small structure's large window.

Meeting Brandon Padron, principal at Studio Padron in Menlo Park, California, ignited the spark of an idea into a flame. “We met on a holiday weekend at a friend's house, and began talking about ideas over beers,” says Padron. “Those ideas became a guest house-library in the woods.”

The basis of the idea: Koxvold wanted a guest house and a contemplative, book-filled getaway that used recycled materials. And he wanted it to be simple enough to build himself. Let's be clear, Koxvold may be experienced working on his grandfather's property, but his resume includes entries like artist, photographer, and advertising exec, and doesn't necessarily qualify him for a contractor's gig. "“Many times during the design process I asked Brandon not to make it too complicated,” he says.

Complicated was not what Padron had in mind. “We envisioned a monolithic, black structure in the woods,” he says. “Black was something Jason had in mind, and I loved the idea because it gives the cabin an air of mystery and sophistication. In the summer, it blends into the forest, in the winter it stands out in a beautiful way.”

A stack of logs sits near the stove.
The cabin is heated by a wood stove, and fuel is at the ready.
The interior has a large, floor-to-ceiling picture window and a window placed above the desk.
Although the front facade is windowless, the back of the cabin embraces the wooded surroundings with windows.

But to step through the dark-hued door is to be surprised. The outside is a windowless, dark facade; but the inside has the warmth and charm of a cozy cabin.

Although it comprises walls, floors, and a ceiling of honey-colored wood, this is no pioneer-style cabin. The walls are lined with logs that are roughly 8 12 by 8 12 square. These are stacked in a mod Lincoln-Log style that leaves voids for Koxvold's extensive book collection. Many of the logs come from trees that had to be felled during construction of the main house.

The books and distinctive shelves may be the first thing you notice, but there's more going on in this single-room space. Two windows give the illusion of being deep in the woods: A large floor-to-ceiling picture window that embraces tree views from trunk to tree tops and a smaller window is positioned to look out at the forest from the desk.

The owner stands on a tree stump in the woods.
Jason Koxvold stands in the woods surrounding his upstate New York home.
More than half of the wood-paneled interior is covered with bookshelves.
Much of the interior is dedicated to Koxvold's books.

A bed makes room for guests, and a small wood stove makes occupants comfortable in the winter months.

It's serene and beautiful—but the tranquility belies some tough building moments. “I honestly thought it would take three months to build, and approached the task with a ‘how bad could it be?’ attitude,” Koxvold says.

He started using the help of a contractor for the framing, but when that man dropped out of sight, Koxvold continued on his own, with only a few friends who occasionally lent a hand. “The worst part came in January, when I was using acid to treat some metal and, at the same time, the space heater was spraying oil in my face,” he says. “But I'm stubborn, and I loved the idea of completing it myself—but it took a full 12 months.”

A narrow, black wood burning stove sits on a metal hearth.
Koxvold says the small wood-burning fireplace reminds him of the sort he grew up with in Norway.
The cabin's big window mirrors the trees around it.
The reflection of the trees in the picture window acts as camouflage for the one-room cabin.

And although it has just two years since it was completed, the family is imbuing the cabin with memories. Guests are asked to make use of paper and pens to compose notes and hide them in the pages of the books. “I love the idea of people stumbling across a message as they read,” says Koxvold.

The name Koxvold chose for the place also speaks to its character. He calls it Hemmelig Rom, which means “Secret Room.” He explains: “My Norwegian relatives think it's a strange way to describe it. But, maybe because of the notes in the books, I view it as something of a time capsule for secrets.”

But what Koxvold hopes it means to the next generation is no mystery. He says: “I hope that my son looks at this and sees that people really can build things with their own two hands.”

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