This forest retreat in British Columbia offers architectural shelter

SM Studio’s Forest House is a refined contemporary take on traditional cabin design, offering up seasonal variations and a more grounded pace of life for their clients 

Forest House by SM Studio (photograph by Luis Valdizon)
(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)

The cabin in the woods is one of the purest and most aspirational forms of shelter. Architect Simon Montgomery’s Vancouver-based practice, SM Studio, has created this contemporary update of the classic form – a forest retreat for a client in British Columbia. SM Studio’s low-energy ethos is driven by a commitment to sustainability, creating projects that touch the ground lightly and use natural materials along with highly insulated interiors and ultra-efficient ways of generating and saving energy. 

View of deck and woodland at Forest House by SM Studio

(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)

On Bowen Island, a heavily forested piece of land a few kilometres from Vancouver’s waterfront, the studio had the chance to put its approach into practice. The Forest House is nestled amongst the surrounding Douglas firs, but also up above the rocky landscape.

In order to minimise the impact of the house on the forest floor, SM has turned the structure into a bridge that spans two large outcrops to leave clear space below and reduce the need to blast foundations into the rock. 

Living room inside forest retreat in Canada

(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)

The structure itself uses a combination of concrete slab and timber structure, with a steel framework used to span the gap. The blackened Western red cedar exterior cladding creates a hard-wearing outer shell.

The interior is accessed through poured concrete steps, and the main living space reaches up to the rafters, complete with the custom joinery fashioned in Douglas fir. Roof lights provide glimpses of the treetops from within. 

Wooden kitchen inside forest retreat in Canada

(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)

A separate building containing an office space, a car port, a utility room and a wood store is set at an angle to the house. The main house contains two bedrooms, one en-suite, with carefully planned space for a walk-in closet, laundry room and pantry.

The second bedroom has a high-level bunk, and the floorplan also accommodates a generous flexible space adjoining the kitchen, with space for a desk and storage. Large windows bring the outside in and maximise light, even on the forest floor.

Dining area and kitchen with high ceiing and skylight

(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)

In addition to providing accommodation for three, the Forest House brief stipulated covered outdoor space, giving the owners somewhere to sit out amidst nature even in the wettest Pacific North-West weather.

The clients formerly lived and worked in Vancouver and chose SM Studio to create a house that emphasises the relationship to the landscape and a slower, more season-driven pace of life.

Concrete steps leading up to forest retreat

(Image credit: Luis Valdizon)


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.

With contributions from