A Well-Curated Escape
It’s a long drive out to Stephen Elliott’s property, a ⅓ of an acre on a small lake in the Pacific Northwest. Near the end of a dead-end road, his DROP Structure sits, barn doors closed over glass walls, hiding the interior like gift wrapping. Open the doors wide, and the glass reveals an immaculately styled interior. Stephen has gathered bespoke and uncommon parts and pieces from around the world, each with its own story of research and discovery.
“We worked really hard to define our needs, develop a narrative, and choose the materials for the structure,” Stephen said. “I wanted that if it burned down, it would just be a campfire as opposed to becoming a toxic plume.”
Even though Stephen’s Mono DROP Structure is a single room, he’s somehow managed to gather enough stories inside to fill a house. But the stories weren't the point. It started as a simple project so that Stephen, a busy man living in a busy city, could have somewhere to relax.
If you sit long enough on the deck of the Mono, you might just catch a glimpse of an orange-bellied salamander, but you’re almost guaranteed to see meandering deer or dragonflies darting through the grass. For Stephen, the richness of nature is important.
“This is a spot I go to to get away from a busy life of being a single parent in an ever more crowded city with a complicated, high-pressure job,” he said. “I don’t go out there in order to bring all this with me. I go out there to get away.”
Before his Mono, Stephen camped on the property with friends but things weren’t as ideal. Hauling all his gear out every time he wanted to escape restricted his use of the property. Stephen’s answer was to build a small storage shack for his gear. But, as he started doing his research, and talking with his son, his inklings of a dream getaway grew and he began looking at Pre-Fab structures. And when he discovered the Mono, its minimal design ticked all the right boxes for him.
“Tiny houses, they just feel like they’re kind of heavy and clunky and not very natural,” he said. “I feel that often they’re just taking a room we’re used to living in and then replicating and shoving it out somewhere else. The Mono doesn’t feel like that at all. You go inside and it smells like wood.”
This respect for the material is weaved throughout the structure, from the unfinished birch pegboard to the cast-bronze, exterior light.
When Stephen says, “Every piece was pretty carefully chosen,” it’s a bit like a European saying the building she lives in is ‘kinda old.’
Point to anything in the building and a story of meticulous research will unfold, ending with a boutique company that hand fabricates the piece. Stephen’s list of hand-chosen details, from lamps to sewage lines, is long and spans over four continents.
“I’m mostly operating on instinct – and it’s incredibly painful because when I go to back ideas up with research, it frequently sends me down a different path altogether,” Stephen said.
It’s been a long road to this diverse collection of pieces, paved mostly through exhaustive research, discovery, and problem-solving. But the result is undeniable: the structure and everything in it is a painting of the world – a global aesthetic.
The beauty of Stephen’s DROP structure is more than skin deep. Though plenty of time was put into finding the perfect stove, or set of lamps, even more thought was invested into making sure he didn’t bring the same commodified, disposable culture from the city out to the pristine, untouched woods. But this made everything more complicated.
“You look at it and think, ‘it’s a toilet, it’s a sink, I need some pipes. How complicated could this be?’” Stephen said. “And the answer is: it’s very complicated if you want it to last and be safe. You have to make a lot of design decisions and complicated choices regarding materials and components.”
His plumbing, for example, is a conglomeration of a French toilet that operates on very little water and energy to pump out waste through butyl-lined sewage hoses brought in from Italy and connected with fittings from Germany.
Though the European tour may seem excessive, the parts were bought so the system could last, without having to rely on traditional plumbing and the constraints that go along with that.
“When you choose to build something outside the spectrum of normal, you have to step in to solve basic problems and then go find the right bits and pieces to make it all work,” he said.
All of this was created in an effort to last – and last it will.
A place of one’s own
Though the structure is designed and built by DROP Structures, the end result is closer to a collaboration between Stephen and the rest of the world. With all the thought, all the effort put into this Mono design, the intent is to create a place that will last for years, and adapt with requirements, from storage to bedroom and beyond – as a pure escape into the woods.