The owners of Chicken Point Cabin and their two young children bought the waterfront property—located half an hour from their house in northern Idaho—in order to build a lakeside cabin. Their intent was to be able to use the house year-round, but especially during the summer, when the local weather can get oppressively hot. Their only directive to Tom was simple: make the house as open to the water as possible. Tom’s response to this challenge was as direct as the request: a large pivoting picture window on the waterside that literally opens up to the landscape. “Little house, big window,” in Tom’s words.
The cabin’s big window wall (30 feet by 20 feet) opens the entire living space to the forest and lake. This direct and powerful gesture imposed a multitude of design and technical challenges. At first a simple counter- balance device using sandbags was proposed, then a power-generated mechanical system that treats the twenty- foot-by-thirty-foot window as a large garage door. The desire to design something that required direct action by the user, however, proved to be too irresistible. The final solution is a hand-cranked mechanical contraption employing a counterbalance principle through a set of gears, like that of a bicycle, that allow minimal input of force to pivot the six-ton steel and glass window. Although the gizmo employs sophisticated mechanical engineering, the result is not unlike the opening of a tent flap, allowing fresh air and unimpeded views to enter the cabin proper.
Although the family approaches the house by water during the summer months, during the winter the approach is by road, and the house is entered through the nineteen-foot steel door on the west side. A plywood loft containing the master suite is suspended into the concrete-block shell and overlooks the living space, while additional bedrooms and service spaces are saddlebagged on the two sides of the main volume.