Recycled cabin

🕔Jun 13, 2011

Ons Tweede Huis (Dutch for “our second house”) is not your typical little cabin in the woods. It’s a recycling project, and while that may not sound very glamorous or relaxing, it’s all Jon and Jana Seinen could dream of—and more.

Tucked away in a bay near the remote village of Oona River on Porcher Island, about 40 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, the Seinens’ cabin is an example of how to incorporate local and salvaged materials into a vacation property.

When Jon decided to start building in 2009, he ordered framing lumber from Oona River’s local mill. The cabin’s floor-joists and beams were milled by chainsaw on the beach, a feat in itself, and heaved with ropes to the foundation. Cedar shakes for the roof were split from blocks of cedar driftwood.

No equipment besides cables, chainsaws, ropes, pulleys, shovels, axes, froes and muscles were used to construct the cabin. In the early stages, those muscles belonged to friends and family who were easily coerced by Jon to join him on several “work” trips.

“So many raw materials can be found on the beach,” says Jon. “It’s almost like a building supply store at your front door.” Not a shoddy workshop, considering Jon can catch glimpses of wolves, deer, otters and killer whales while working on-site.

Jon grew up fishing the waters of the north Pacific Coast with his father, Henry. The father-son team would pack supplies for a week, hitch up the boat trailer, and head out from their ranch near Houston, BC, to launch their boat at Port Edward, about 15 kilometres south of Prince Rupert. They spent hours exploring fishing holes and beach-combing hotspots, and eventually discovered Oona River. Henry was hooked and purchased land there in 1996.

“Even though I enjoyed fishing as a kid, I had the most fun on the beach,” says Jon. “I want my own kids to experience being on the edge of the unknown. Porcher Island is mainly an uninhabited wilderness and the collection of people who do live there—distinctive characters from different lifestyles and backgrounds—create a truly unique place.”

Innovative transport
Last spring, Jon and Jana and their two children—Liam, 4, and Sydney, 2—spent three months living in Oona River, first in an apartment rented from the Oona River Housing Association, and then in their own cabin, once it was habitable. They arrived in style, on a floatplane with 809 pounds of gear. The next day, the barge arrived with their 1980 Dodge pick-up loaded to the roof and higher with building materials and supplies. This year they chartered a boat from Prince Rupert to transport themselves and 48 boxes of cargo.

Since their cabin is a 10-minute boardwalk from the settlement, the Seinens have found innovative ways to transport building materials and supplies from the wharf to their property.

One morning last spring, Jon decided to load materials on a small skiff and drive around the point to their property. However, low tide meant he had to wait until the afternoon. So, instead he did four trips across the boardwalk carrying 1×8 cedar for the roofing.

Another time he loaded some salvaged windows and a patio door into the skiff on dry ground, while it was low tide, but the boat didn’t float for another week, meaning he had to wait patiently for the tide to rise sufficiently and for the locals to stop smirking.

Jon and Jana used stones from Oona River’s “Pebble Beach” to create a hearth around the woodstove, which itself was salvaged from a house off-island. Jana meticulously cleaned, hauled and placed the rocks to create a unique base and backdrop for the stove.

In all phases of construction, the Seinens aim to preserve the natural state of the site. With a cedar-shake roof and cedar siding, the small structure blends in with landscape. Jana is enhancing the area with local perennials—that is, if they’ll fit in her backpack, if she can keep the deer at bay, and if the rain doesn’t wash away too much topsoil. Composting and raised-bed cultivation are essential.

“Being Dutch borders on being green,” says Jon, referring to his heritage and environmental views. “If you’re not in a rush, you can find quality used materials for a lower price. I don’t like to be wasteful.”

Jana agrees, “We don’t want to add to unnecessary spending. We could buy something because it’s convenient, or we could use the resources we have available to us. We want our kids to look for and see value in everything around them, and we need to be their example.”

Independent sort
Being on the ocean, the Seinens can supplement their diet with fresh salmon, halibut and prawns, but groceries need to be delivered by boat or plane. Often someone from Oona River will make a trip to Rupert for supplies and pick up grocery orders.

Oona River was once a booming fishing village, but activity slowed with the economy. The year-round population is 15, but the number doubles in the summer. Forestry is the main industry on the island now but once the snow starts to fall, wet and heavy, operations stop. The government fish hatchery also employs a few people.

Ben Vanderheide, a local sawmill operator, has lived in Oona River his entire life. He says there are three couples, beside Jon and Jana, who have vacation properties in or near the community. Oona River is accessible by boat, water taxi, barge and float plane. It also boasts public Internet access at the old schoolhouse, a community hall, post office and a public wharf.

“I think it’s awesome what Jon and Jana are doing,” says Vanderheide. “Jon’s an independent sort but he is always willing to learn and to lend a helping hand. He takes his time and does quality work.”

As Jon and Jana tweak and add to their second home, they do so with hospitality in mind. From the outdoor decks built to accommodate tents to the open kitchen and dining area with seating designed to double as beds, the cabin is meant to be filled with family and friends.

This year Jon is working on installing electrical service, building a better washing facility and finishing the back room. In the future, he’d like to add more deck space and perhaps even a bunkhouse with bunk beds to accommodate larger groups of guests.

Jon recalls the hours he spent splitting shakes. Every now and then, just when he thought he’d never get enough shakes, he’d cut into a block and with minimal effort split a dozen shakes, or he would spend two hours fighting with a log to get half that number. “You learn quickly to recognize the better pieces with tight, straight clear grain and avoid the twisted, knotty pieces,” says Jon. Perhaps it’s that drive to discover and create that keeps compelling Jon and his family to return to the quiet cove just beyond Oona River.

You can follow Jon and Jana’s progress at .