A 10-foot-high concrete base keeps Paul McKean and Amy Donohue’s cabin safely above the flood line of nearby Neal Creek.

Image: Jon Jensen

FOR MOST PEOPLE, Hood River is the ideal launchpad for outdoor adventures in the scenic Columbia River Valley, whether that’s windsurfing the Columbia or bicycling rural byways lined with orchards of summer-ripened apples and pears. But on weekends, when Paul McKean, Amy Donohue and their 15-month-old toddler, Matilda, make the 60-minute drive east from Portland to their Hood River getaway cabin, they usually enjoy the area’s natural wonders from the comfort of their own living room.

The tall windows in their cedar-clad shoe box offer an expansive view of the magnificent surrounds: groves of stately fir trees through which the twinkling waters of Neal Creek can be glimpsed, and forested hillsides beyond.

“We’re still totally blown away by [Oregon’s] landscape and topography,” says Donohue, 35, a Florida native who studied architecture at Princeton and worked at the New York studio of legendary modern architect Richard Meier before moving to Portland in 1996. McKean, 38, arrived a year earlier, following a stint at Chicago’s Schema Design, where he helped design an addition to a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The couple met at BOORA Architects, where Donohue remains as a principal.

McKean and Donohue’s exhilaration over the Columbia Gorge’s stunning landscape may be the only way to explain their willingness to endure a two-year ordeal to build a modest, 930-square-foot cabin—a quest that involved struggling against both frustrating perceptions (on the part of the banking system, which balked at financing a boldly modern house) and immutable physical facts (a nearby creek that threatened to flood).