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Couple buys piece of land in Santa Cruz Mountains, builds bathroom

It began with a hole in the ground

Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Waldman

High in the Santa Cruz Mountains sits a sleek and stylish outhouse smack dab in the middle of the woods. Nob Hill residents Molly Fiffer and Jeff Waldman built the cube-shaped bathroom nestled among the terrain’s redwoods.

“Molly and I live in SF and we'd been looking for land for a few years,” says Waldman. “It's obviously nice having a spot to get away, but something we lack in the city is an opportunity for communal projects—that shared sense of accomplishment when you and your friends make a thing.”

After scoring the land a little over a year ago, the couple, who have no formal design or architecture training, then had to decide what to build first. In lieu of starting with a home or a cabin, they began with a loo.

“We've never designed or built any sort of a finished structure before,” notes Waldman. “This was an opportunity to develop those skills (and make mistakes) before stepping up to something bigger, like a cabin.”

As for why the two created such a fabulous john—why not? Bathrooms should always be a space reserved for the most impressive of aesthetics.

“I enjoy a nice bathroom,” Waldman goes on to explain. “But more than that, we also have a lot of friends... who come and help work on projects, and offering them some basic amenities, like good food, a hot shower, and a sweet spot for that morning constitutional, seems like the least we could do.”

Initially considering a composting toilet, they decided to go with a pit latrine (a type of toilet that collects waste in a hole in the ground) after talking to several experts on the odorous subject.

“It's simpler, and barring ground water contamination (not an issue here at all), [it’s] ecologically friendly,” he says.

The outhouse’s clean design was partially inspired by Muji huts, cube prefab dwelling units. Their bathroom measures a perfect 10 feet by 10 feet with the recess halfway in, boasting a cedar exterior treated with Swedish pine tar, ideal to weather the area’s fog and winter rains.

“We really enjoy the contrast of sharp lines against the natural landscape, but at the same time it's appealing having elements that blend in,” says Waldman. “The blacked pine tar really gets lost in the woods and the structure is hard to see from most angles.”

This bathroom isn’t the only thing to be found on their land. Fiffer and Waldman also conceived and beautifully executed a firewood shed, a small tree deck, a lumber shed, a larger tree deck, an outdoor shower up in some redwoods, and a pavilion.

The couple’s next item of business will be a residential unit, where they will use all of the tricks and techniques learned from the toilet project. A cabin, now in the works, is anticipated for next year.

Perhaps best of all, Jeff and Molly share the space with friends and family.

“We get together with friends and cook big meals, shoot some arrows, do arts and crafts,” says Waldman. “Hopefully it'll be that way for a long time and the basic amenities we've added, such as running water, a hot shower, and a bathroom, will further entice friends to spend time there.”