These two young artists quit their jobs to build this glass house for $500
“The house is an experience at night,” Nick Olson said. “The fireflies start at the ground and merge to the stars …Plenty
of natural sunlight isn't an unusual quality of a dream home. But what
about a home built completely of glass so the light would never be
hidden? For a pair of young artists, a beautiful sunset and a thoughtful
conversation led to the construction of a breathtaking retreat in
mountainous West Virginia.
[Click here or on a photo to go to a slideshow of the glass cabin.]
As the sun sank behind a hill, the couple began talking about how
amazing the light appeared at that moment. What if, they pondered, there
could be a living space where light changed based on the time of day?
“Light is so different in the morning, at noon and at dusk. We wanted
to somehow build a house so that change happened in our living space,”
Olson said. “It’s about being closer to living with the elements.”
Both Olson and Horwitz had summer plans to work at their current
jobs, but agreed they had suddenly discovered a project worth pursuing.
In what Olson calls a “spur-of-the-moment decision,” the new couple
quit their jobs, rented a U-Haul and began driving state to state to
find the right windows for their retreat.
The couple's unique cabin was featured in "Half Cut Tea,"
a Web video series that explores artists and their works. (Their
episode is at the bottom of this blog post.) Olson is friends with one
of the series creators, Jordan Wayne Long, a performance artist originally from Bald Knob, Arkansas, who interviewed the couple and showcased their cabin.
Most of the windows the couple collected were found or scavenged,
Olson said. Some were purchased, but not many. The first the couple
found was in a big stack of old windows at an abandoned barn in
Pennsylvania. Horwitz describes finding that window as “serendipitous.”
When they had collected enough glass, the two began constructing the
cabin on the family land near New River Gorge National River park. The
closest town to the property is Hinton, West Virginia, Olson said.
The building process was sometimes frustrating, Horwitz said. The two
built the entire structure themselves – their only audience was the
occasional curious deer, rabbit or fox. The home’s front window wall is
about 16 feet high, but the base of the structure is another 4 feet off
the ground, Horwitz said.
“It was just the two of us trying to put up these gigantic posts. It
was scary and hard,” she said. “Looking at it now, it’s just totally
insane. It’s huge. I realize now that’s what makes it so amazing.”
Olson credits an artistic vision and frugality with their success.
While living on a diet of rice and beans, the two used nails, wood and
anything salvageable from an old barn on the property to piece their
structure together. They estimate they spent $500 in total on the
“Even the roofing we took from the abandoned barn,” Olson said. “We
were able to make it a reality because we are first artists and
creators. We had to be resourceful to do it cheaply.”
After months of work, the home was completed in December. On what was
once a pile of old windows and a patch of wooded land stood a beautiful
glass-faced building. Though there is no plumbing or electricity, the
two artists said they enjoy the space as an escape.
Horwitz described her favorite time of day inside the home as the “nighttime sun” – just as dusk falls.
“That’s when everything inside is on fire,” she said.
Olson said he’s awestruck after the sun goes down.
“The house is an experience at night,” Olson said. “The fireflies
start at the ground and merge to the stars up above. It’s really like
you’re sleeping under the stars.”
Someday Olson and Horwitz hope to build onto the home and add an
outdoor kitchen, solar power and a wood-burning stove, they said. But
for now, the Milwaukee-based couple said, they’ll enjoy the home as a
Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host, and managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.